Red Cross Survey Finds Young Americans Unaware of Rules of War

Did you know that the Geneva Conventions are the core of international humanitarian law (IHL) and have been adopted by every country in the world? If you did, you may be in the minority. A new American Red Cross survey reveals that only 1 in 5 American youth are familiar with the Geneva Conventions. The survey, carried out in February, reveals many other startling discoveries:

• Nearly 3/5 youth (59%) – compared to 51% of adults – believe there are times when it is acceptable to torture the enemy.

• More than 2/5 youth (41%) believe there are times when it is acceptable for the enemy to torture captured American prisoners, while only 30% of adults agree.

• More than half of youth (56%) believe that there are times when it is acceptable to kill enemy prisoners in retaliation if the enemy has been killing American prisoners, while only 29% of adults agree.

The Geneva Conventions are critical during times of conflict. These rules protect civilians in conflict zones, allow safe passage for the sick and wounded and promote humanitarian treatment of prisoners. “The Geneva Conventions are at the foundation of the work of the Red Cross and are at the core of international humanitarian law. These rules have been adopted by all governments in order to reduce suffering in war,” says Bonnie McElveen Hunter, Chairman of the American Red Cross.

The survey clearly demonstrates the need for further education, especially since nearly 7 in 10 youth say they have a relative or a close friend who is a veteran of the armed forces and these rules of conduct protect their loved ones in time of war. Surprisingly, the survey shows that almost half of American youth have never even heard of the Geneva Conventions or international humanitarian law.

“Through my experience of promoting the International Humanitarian Law among college students, I, too, realize that many students are not aware of the significance of the Geneva Convention and International Humanitarian Law. This survey further emphasizes the importance of promoting IHL/EHL education,” says National Youth Council member Melissa Zhu.

Addressing this need, educators across the country are taking the opportunity to teach IHL on the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. The American Red Cross urges teachers to use the Red Cross curriculum “Exploring Humanitarian Law,” which can be incorporated into social studies and history classes. More than 1200 schools in all 50 states already use these resources.

To learn more or download the Exploring Humanitarian Law curriculum, visit

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