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Nigeria: "People on war": ICRC consultation on Biafra civil war

16-06-1999 News Release 99/24

" Attacking civilians is the work of the Devil " , exclaimed a mother who had lost several of her children in the Biafra civil war (1967-70). She was taking part in one of eight group discussions on that war and the rules of international humanitarian law which the ICRC and the Nigerian Red Cross Society have organized since 1 June in Lagos, Enugu, Port Harcourt and Kaduna.

These discussions are part of the " People on War " project now being conducted in 12 countries stricken by war in their recent history. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, which protect the victims of armed conflict, the ICRC wants to give a voice to those involved in and affected by war. In Nigeria the mothers of victims, medical staff, captured soldiers, contemporary journalists, students and teachers, together with former field commanders of both the Federal armed forces and the Biafran army, have expressed their feelings and opinions on topics such as the protection of civilians, the blockading of humanitarian aid and the process of reconciliation. The group discussions will be followed by a representative survey carried out in 12 Nigerian states, and will be supplemented by a series of in-depth interviews with individuals.

Even now, 30 years after the civil war came to an end, many Nigerians are still overwhelmed by the suffering it caused. " I was so small, so helpless " , sighed a nurse who tried to treat wounded soldiers and civilians near Port Harcourt. Recalling images she has only seen on TV, a young university student said: " I feel pain, agony and suffering over and over. I see useful talents wasted. I see dreams that never came true. I see events that cast a clo ud over this nation. I see regrets. "

The results of the worldwide " People on War " consultation will be presented to the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in November 1999, with the aim of achieving fuller respect for the rules of international humanitarian law in the twenty-first century.