The victims of war are not only the dead. They include the wounded, who may be severely mutilated, the bereaved, the psychologically traumatised, the homeless, the displaced, the newly unemployed whose workplaces have been permanently destroyed. Then there are those who die from exposure, starvation, epidemics, from sexual violence or who die later, sometimes years later, from wounds or accidents from abandoned weapons, landmines, or contact with deadly chemicals. Communities are destroyed, economies are wrecked and there can be a devastating effect on the environment, with plant and animal species obliterated.

Our days and nights are filled with thoughts of the atrocities in Gaza, where far more children have been killed than in any war in our era. And the war that Israel is waging against Palestine has already led to an unprecedented slaughter of civilians in only a few weeks. The situation in Gaza has been called ‘apocalyptic’ by the UN. Gaza’s social infrastructure has almost collapsed.

With our thoughts and our media focused on the killing and brutality in Gaza, we can understandably overlook the wars and armed attacks that continue elsewhere in the world and the devastation they bring to communities and civilians. Violence is rising on a global scale and there are many different crises, confrontations and conflicts and the potential for new wars to break out. We must not forget particular aspects of war either. Sometimes peace protestors are subject to draconian laws and risk imprisonment; many acts of sexual violence are carried out and women are scarred and traumatised for life by brutal rapes; civil wars lead to armies committing war crimes on their own people; overseas corporations determinedly pursue natural resources, and all the while arms companies benefit and watch with glee as their profits mount. Meanwhile the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) reported that their September figures showed that more than 114 million people worldwide had fled from their homes as a result of conflict, persecution and human rights violations. Many of these were escaping the wars in Ukraine, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar.

Russia/Ukraine War casualties and oppose the war in Russia at your peril

It has not been easy to discover accurate up-to-date numbers for those killed or wounded in this war.

Unnamed US officials released figures in August, but these have not been verified. They believed at the time that nearly 500,000 Ukrainian and Russian soldiers had been wounded or killed since February 2022. But is is difficult to obtain more than estimates, as Moscow is thought to play down the numbers of their dead and Kyiv does not disclose official figures.

Last month the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission reported that at least 10,000 civilians, including over 560 children, have been killed in Ukraine and more than 18,500 injured since February 2022.

The level of continued western support for Ukraine is uncertain but at present Ukraine is determined to continue to fight and Russia will not climb down. The US Senate has recently refused to endorse further support for Ukraine which could well tip the conflict in Russia’s favour.

Opponents of the war are treated harshly in Russia. Al Jazeera reported that a man who wrote ‘No to War’ with his finger in the snow at the entrance to an ice-skating rink in Gorky Park in Moscow was sentenced to prison for ten days. He broke a law which is aimed at anyone who is considered to have acted in public to discredit the country’s armed forces. For nearly a year laws to crack down on dissent have been in force and there are thought to be almost 20,000 people in detention and 800 criminal cases in progress. Last month an artist who replaced supermarket price tags with a message which called for the war in Ukraine to end was jailed for seven years in St Petersburg.

Sudan – hundreds of thousands flee brutal war crimes and rape

Fighting has engulfed Sudan since April this year. This war has been very sporadically reported in the west. Sudan is no stranger to war and Sudan’s military and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group have been fighting in various parts of the country, although the focus has been on Khartoum. CNN reported that the RSF killed thousands of civilians earlier this year. They took part in a massive amount of looting, they burned down a number of areas and raped women and girls.  Belkis Wille, associate crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), reported ‘a staggering number of rapes’. At the end of last month, HRW reported that the RSF and other militias allied to them killed hundreds of civilians in West Darfur early in November. They also detained members of the Massality community in the region and took part in looting and assaults. Hundreds of thousands have fled from the brutality in Sudan.

There have been many reports of war crimes in Sudan this year. And there are heartbreaking reports from the survivors of savage rapes, many reported by Human Rights Watch. One of these women describes how she was repeatedly raped by several men until she lost consciousness. Later she found that she was alone, surrounded by the dead, four men, three women and two children had been shot numerous times: “When I tried to walk, I couldn’t, I started vomiting. Finally at night, I was able to get the strength to walk. I didn’t know where I was walking but I was just walking and walking. I spent two days trying to find my family but couldn’t. And I couldn’t find any food or water.” She had not been able to find any medical treatment although she had been bleeding ever since the attack.

Myanmar – civil war – 2 million displaced

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has experienced decades of poverty, civil war with ethnic minority groups and repressive military rule. 2011 saw a move away from military rule, and there arose hopes of democratic reform. However, the military still retained a good deal of control over the government and embarked on the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya. There was a coup by the military in February 2021 and a crackdown on protests began. A civil war and humanitarian crisis ensued.

Armed conflict has been escalating in Myanmar, and the number of people displaced is now about 2 million. The forces of the military regime, known as the Tatmadaw, which seized control nearly three years ago, are well equipped with aircraft, helicopters and heavy weapons. Weapons can be made in the country for the military to use against their own people with raw materials supplied by western countries, including US, France, India and Japan amongst others. This continues despite sanctions and diplomatic isolation. But the forces of the junta face armed resistance which has expanded considerably since 2021. The situation is complex, with the opposition consisting of numerous different groups. It appears that morale in the army is low and there have been defections and recruitment problems. And recently it has looked weak and beatable.

Last month the junta suffered a considerable setback. In Shan State three insurgent armies with the support of other armed groups that oppose the government overran numerous military posts and captured border crossings and the roads that carry the bulk of overland trade with China.

The military has destroyed villages which were believed to support the opposition and massacred the villagers, thousands have fled across the borders to India and Thailand, poverty has increased sharply, communities have been destroyed and the junta has made thousands of arrests and carried out acts of torture. Those arrested included journalists, medical workers, and opposition politicians. As always in war, the toll on the civilian population has been terrible.

Democratic Republic of Congo – death and destruction spanning at least three centuries

Once again there is an escalating crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR). In October the United Nations Special Envoy for Africa’s Great Lakes region made an appeal to the international community for assistance to resolve the situation in the eastern DCR, which threatens a wider area in the Great Lakes region. In the last six weeks more than 450,000 people have become displaced in the Rutshuru and Masisi territories in North Kivu. The number of human rights violations has soared. One of the reports from the UN refugee agency (UNHRC) reveals that yet again it is the civilians who suffer the most during armed conflicts and war and in their aftermath: ““Rape and arbitrary killings feature prominently in these results, along with kidnappings, extortion, and the destruction of property, illustrating a deeply concerning pattern of abuse inflicted upon civilian populations.” They also report that there has been a devastating impact on the lives of children and an increase in the number of violations against them.

Since 1996 the conflict in the DCR has led to approximately 6 million deaths. There has been an extremely complex situation and close involvement in the struggles, upheavals and shifting alliances with countries that border the DCR, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Angola. In the DRC there are huge reserves of rare minerals and metals, many of which we rely on in our electronic devices. We are increasingly dependent on minerals such as cobalt, zinc and copper and this has meant that more external groups have become involved. The US Department of Commerce has pointed out: “With total mineral wealth estimated in the tens of trillions of dollars, the DRC offers opportunities for American firms with a high tolerance for risk and familiarity operating in complex or fragile environments”. China has also been involved in this part of the DCR. So now the situation is complicated by large corporations whose main concern is to amass profits.

There seems to be no end to the suffering of the innocent in this part of the world. There were even allegations of abuses by peacekeeping forces. Eight peacekeepers were detained over claims of sexual abuse in October.

On 20th December this year, elections are to be held, with 24 candidates signing up in October. These are being hotly contested and have already led to disputes, allegations of corruption and the imprisonment of some candidates.

This part of Africa has a long history of exploitation and bloodshed. King Leopold of Belgium collared it to create his private fiefdom in the late 19th century and set up the Congo Free State. His rule inflicted unbelievable hardships and atrocities on the terrorised population and his Force Publique troops committed vile acts of mutilation, such as cutting off the hands of the Congolese, including children. The purpose was to terrorise the population and to maximise the output of labour and maximise profits. The legacy of this era and subsequent Belgian rule, another instance of shameful western colonialism, contributed to setting the stage for a troubled, violent and unstable future.

It would be all too easy to succumb to despair in the face of so much misery. But we in the West do not have the right to despair. We have a duty to resist our governments who are the ultimate sponsors of the war and mayhem that besets our world. We should take strength from the growing peace movements around the world and dare to hope that one day the living will see the end of war. And even in Gaza, with death and destruction all around, voices are raised in hope. Early in November Reefat Alareer, the writer, poet and professor from Gaza, who was targeted and killed on 7th December with six members of his family in an Israeli air strike, wrote a poem called ‘If I must die‘. He ended it with words of hope:

If I must die
Let it bring hope
Let it be a tale

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