For human health, war is hell. One could pick any past or present conflict to illustrate how war damages health. Armed conflicts kill, injure and traumatize people; wreck health infrastructure and services; and expose populations to diseases. People flee war’s dangers, often only to live a desperate, destitute existence. This parade of health horribles appears once again in the ongoing Syrian conflict, widely recognized as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The Syrian case demonstrates many common responses to health crises spawned by war: identifying civilian death and suffering; providing humanitarian assistance; emphasizing respect for human rights and civilian […]

An often neglected but fundamentally important victim of conflict is the physical manifestations of a community, a people, a nation—their heritage. The cultural heritage of France and Belgium was utterly devastated during World War I, epitomized by the burning of the medieval library at Leuven and destruction of the cathedral of Rheims. A century later conflicts in states such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria continue to be characterized by the destruction of cultural heritage. So how far have we come in protecting cultural heritage from the devastating effects of war? Over the past century, surprisingly far, and at the same […]

Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riad al-Malki listens to a statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council at the U.N. headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, July 23, 2014 (AP Photo/Keystone, Martial Trezzini).

As the death toll in Gaza rises to over 730 Palestinians and 32 Israeli soldiers, legal definitions of what is permissible in war have been bitterly contested. International law defines war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute, but in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though both sides are guilty of violations, the classifications are difficult to apply. The exceedingly high and disproportionate number of civilian casualties in Gaza has prompted Palestinian calls to seek redress from the International Criminal Court (ICC). But legally, proportionality is not determined by a comparison of the number of casualties […]

Flor Garcia, 19, of Honduras, holding her one-year-old daughter, turned themselves over to Customs and Border Protection Services agents after crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico near McAllen, Texas, July 3, 2014 (AP photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez).

The rapid influx of migrants from Central America, many of them children, into the United States from Mexico has created political and logistical turmoil in Washington over how to respond. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and others have pushed for the United States to treat at least some of these children as refugees, given that many are fleeing violence and deprivation back home. In a statement last week, the UNHCR called on the United States to provide access to “asylum determination procedures” as part of a comprehensive solution. That could have a major impact on U.S. immigration […]