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What Americans Think of International Humanitarian Law

Americans reading humanitarian law articles
Today's youth are tomorrow's soldiers, policy-makers, and presidents.

Dr. Brad Gutierrez, Director of International Policy and Relations at the American Red Cross, in collaboration with Sara DeCristofaro and Michael Woods, former interns in policy and law respectively at the American Red Cross, recently had their work published in the Interna­tional Review of the Red Cross.

Their paper, titled “What Americans Think of Inter­national Humanitarian Law,” delved into the subject of in­ternational humanitarian law (IHL) and how it is perceived by the American public. This highlights the importance of educational opportunities through which people can achieve a better understand­ing of international humani­tarian law. “What Americans Think of International Humani­tarian Law” discusses many challenges related to IHL, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)’s first aid instruction to members of the Taliban in Afghanistan, to illustrate the connection between American perceptions of IHL and how the U.S. engages in foreign policy.

Their assertion is that perceptions--such as the fact that two in 5 young people believe that it is permissible for U.S. soldiers detained abroad to be tortured in some circumstances—do matter. The mes­sages that youth receive are important and will “shape how they be­have when they are faced with the battlefield decision whether to de­stroy a village, kill or torture a captured soldier, or provide medical aid to a wounded enemy combatant.” Today’s youth are tomorrow’s “soldiers, policy-makers, and presidents”, and the article serves to emphasize how the gap that exists between Americans’ awareness about the Geneva Conventions and their actual knowledge about in­ternational humanitarian law can effectively be filled by such programs as “Exploring Humanitarian Law.”

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About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.