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close this bookThe Medical Profession and the Effects of Weapons - Report of the Symposium (International Committee of the Red Cross , 1996, 62 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. Preface
Open this folder and view contents2. Executive Summary
View the document3. Weapons: A Question of Health?
Open this folder and view contents4. The Symposium
View the document5. Correspondence and related publications since the Symposium
View the document6. List of Participants

3. Weapons: A Question of Health?

The world is awash with weapons. In Liberia young boys run through the streets toting automatic weapons bought for the price of a chicken. In the United States handguns are the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 11 and 16. Rockets and mortars are fired indiscriminately by many of the world’s guerrilla groups. Around the world 2,000 people are killed or maimed by landmines every month. The technology now exists to blind soldiers on the battlefield.

Armed violence takes an enormous toll not only on the health of individuals but also on the medical structures providing health care. Installations for the provision of clean water and electricity may also be targeted when combatants use disruption of public health as a means of warfare. Weapons are designed to have an impact on health in one way or another; from this perspective, the effects of weapons today constitute a global epidemic.

The use of some weapons such as exploding bullets has been successfully controlled by international treaties. Attempts to limit the development, design and transfer of weapons have met with little success. It is possible that the future will see epidemics of the effects of weapons using acoustic beams or electromagnetic waves. These weapons are being developed. It is not known how their effects can be treated.

International negotiations which set the military utility of a weapon against the human suffering it causes take place in an atmosphere of confrontation; there is little compromise and emotion and political leverage play as great a role as objective fact.

A framework for negotiation is needed to which both military and humanitarian arguments can relate. A primary consideration of the effects of weapons in terms of health provides just such a framework. Only by opening a dialogue can the current epidemic of the effects of weapons be addressed and epidemics of the future effects of weapons be avoided. What are the responsibilities of the medical profession? Should not the effects of a weapon on health determine its legality? Should not a politician or military commander, when choosing a weapon, weigh its effects on health against its military utility? Should the medical profession permit the development of a weapon whose effects are clearly abhorrent, illegal, or both?

Because the effects of weapons are clearly an issue for the medical profession, the objectives of the Symposium were:

- to enable the medical profession to recognize that the effects of weapons constitute a preventable global health problem;

- to establish that the effects of weapons on health is a subject common to military, technical, legal and ballistic considerations;

- to formulate an objective definition of “humanitarian concerns” in relation to the effects of weapons;

- to promote the links between an epidemiological approach to the effects of weapons, public opinion and the law relating to weapons;

- to clarify ethical issues for the profession in relation to the design, use and effect of weapons.