Code of Honour

Honour in War

The RAAC is preparing a document which, in due course, will be submitted to the interlocutors for approval. This document will address the difficult issue of honour in war. It will cover all controversial subjects, including the use of drones, prisoners of war, suicide bombings and the issue of collateral damage, among others. A first draft of this document is below:

The Religious Affairs Advisory Council

The Religious Affairs Advisory Council (RAAC) promotes inter-religious dialogue for conflict resolution. Membership of the RAAC is by invitation. The RAAC responds to world events that have a specific and identifiable religious dimension. A coherent, multi-faith response will be made by the RAAC for use in conflict resolution.

The current interlocutors associated with the council as consultees are Ayatollah Safavi of Iran, Bishop Michael of Lichfield, Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Church and Sheikh Abbas Shouman of Al-Azhar. The convener of the council is Reverend Larry Wright of Birmingham.

What is the Code of Honour?

The Religious Affairs Advisory Council regards all wars as a failure of human endeavours to find peaceful means of resolving conflicting claims by nations or peoples. Once war is declared, the human, social, economic and environmental costs are terrifying, and the moral and ethical consequences far reaching. Wars have been prevalent throughout human history, but the industrial and technological advances of the last two hundred years have increased the destructive power of weaponry beyond anything previous generations could conceive. Those with the most sophisticated technology are now able to kill and destroy, from vast distances and through computer-guided weaponry, while a lone suicide bomber can kill or mutilate scores in an instant. The development of weapons capable of annihilating most of human life as we know it has put the future of humanity and our planet in peril.

Across the centuries, mindful of the savagery and destruction war creates, people have attempted through custom or codes to moderate and minimise the extremes of human conduct in the heat of battle. Codes of honour in war developed; often based upon religious or philosophical precepts and these have been incorporated into legal codes. Examples of these faith-based codes are those incorporated in the Western theories of Just War and Justice in War (jus (or ius) ad bellum, jus in bello); terms which distinguish between the conditions required for engaging in armed conflict and the conduct of warfare once commenced.  The Just War theory has its origins in Western Christian theology, notably Thomas Aquinas, who regarded a just war as one declared by a right authority, for the right cause and with the right intention. Legitimacy relied upon virtue and a just war could be rendered unjust by its conduct. Islam and Judaism have comparable teachings on the legitimacy and conduct of war and, drawing from their sacred texts and traditions, all three Abrahamic religions have teachings on the treatment of the victims of war.

Just War theory, Justice in War and latterly Justice Post War have all been developed and incorporated into military theories and international conventions relating to war and human rights legislation, particularly The Hague and Geneva conventions. However, combatants, their leaders and their governments often wilfully disregard these internationally recognised codes. War crimes are a wide spread phenomenon, and further legal structures have been developed to prosecute perpetrators – notably The International Criminal Court.

Many current conflicts are predicated on the use of state of the art weaponry in an atmosphere of religious or ideological extremism that disregards all codes of honour. Without any restraint and fired up by mindless bigotry, the brutality unleashed by these forces of destruction is an affront to God and lacks any sane moral justification. Non-combatants are increasingly caught up in armed conflicts, and their dignity, lives, homes and livelihoods are endangered while industrial scale bombing destroys human settlements, economic infrastructures and degrades the natural environment – sometimes for years to come.

The Religious Affairs Advisory Council believes it is timely to restate some of the principles that have emerged historically to govern the conduct of warfare and to address their implications to current conflicts.

This document will address the difficult issue of honour in war. It will cover subjects such as the use of drones, treatment of prisoners of war, suicide bombings and collateral damage. This document is divided into sections relating to combatants, non-combatants and weapons of war.

Section I: Combatants

For the purposes of this document, a combatant is defined as anyone who is engaged in fighting in conflict. This definition is in line with internationally recognised bodies. The 1985 UN Commission on Human Rights, which identified members of all forces in the Afghanistan conflict, ‘those of Governments as well as of the opposition’[1] as combatants. It also takes into account the International Committee of the Red Cross’ definition, itself based on Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions (1949), which states that ‘all members of the armed forces of a party to the conflict are combatants, except medical and religious personnel’.[2]

a. Prisoners of War

The Third Geneva Convention (1949) calls for the adequate treatment of prisoners in war and is ratified by all 193 UN member states. However, the convention is rarely enforced in times of war. In most contemporary conflicts, such as those in Syria or Yemen, prisoners are rarely taken. The few that are taken prisoner are often tortured by their captors in a bid to obtain military and political intelligence before being executed.

This trend of favouring executions in the field rather than taking prisoners is a consequence of factors that may be tactical, economic and / or predicated on emotion:

  1. The practice of not taking prisoners intimidates the enemy and might increase rates of desertion from defensive positions, as seen with the fall of Mosul to ISIS in 2014.
  2. Groups simply cannot afford to take prisoners, as prisoners require shelter and food, which is difficult to provide in a war-zone. This is particularly true for insurgent-style conflicts, such as that in Syria and Iraq, where combatants are not supported by state infrastructure.
  3. Insurgencies and civil conflicts often generate intense distrust and even hatred between combatants, especially if family dependents have been killed who might otherwise have been taken prisoners.

Even the Peshmerga in Iraq, arguably the most professional ground forces in that country, have executed ISIS prisoners in the past, in some instances by beheading. To their credit, however, the Peshmerga have changed their approach and started taking prisoners. (The last major reported incident of the Peshmerga executing IS prisoners, was in September 2017 in Tal Afar). The fact that no armed group, other than the Peshmerga, regularly takes prisoners in current conflicts in both Iraq and Syria means that those conflicts are far more brutal than they might otherwise be. Soldiers fight to the death, as surrender is not an option in battle.


The trend towards summary execution in lieu of taking prisoners has created brutal, zero-sum conflicts, which create chasms between societal groups. Any post-war reconstruction is much harder in such a political climate. RAAC believes that international backers and funders of combatant groups should insist that they properly respect the Third Geneva Convention. The execution of prisoners of war is morally repugnant in all circumstances.

b. Child Soldiers

Today there are an estimated 250,000 children serving as soldiers in conflicts around the world. Of that number, roughly 60% are boys and 40% are girls[3], who are often used as sex slaves by the male combatants. Some child soldiers are as young as eight, and may serve either with government forces or armed rebel groups. Activities of child soldiers range from taking part in direct hostilities, such as fighting on the front-line or engaging in suicide attacks, to more supportive roles such as carrying messages and acting as lookouts. Child soldiers can also be used strategically as human shields or for propaganda.

Children are enlisted to take part in military conflicts either by force, recruitment, or out of desperation when adult recruits are unavailable. Child soldiers overwhelmingly are recruited from the conflict zones themselves, and the children often have disrupted families. Child soldiers are often ‘volunteers’. In the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the early twenty-first century, surveys of former child soldiers found roughly 60% had ‘volunteered’ for service due to poverty.[4] In particular, militias offer paid employment and opportunities and these can be very tempting to children and adolescents with few options in a conflict zone. Importantly, once ‘in’, it is often extraordinarily difficult to leave the militias, and child soldiers often grow up embedded in violent groups, and, with little education, have few opportunities outside of the militia. In addition, children are sometimes forced to kill or maim a member of their family or community, making them an outcast and preventing their return.

Although some regard anyone under the age of 18 participating in a military conflict as a child soldier, international law does not prohibit the voluntary recruitment of 16 and 17 year olds by armed forces. In conflict zones, there is clearly some ambiguity over what ‘volunteering’ constitutes; children interviewed by social scientists have repeatedly claimed they had ‘no choice’ but to volunteer.

The question of when a child can take up arms is a grey area in international law. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 38 (para. 2, 3) clearly affirms that children under the age of 15 should not take a direct part in hostilities, nor should they be recruited by States.[5]  It states that they may be used in other ways subsidiary to actual armed combat. However, such involvement may be equally dangerous or traumatising. While the US and Somalia are the only countries that have not ratified the convention, they have adopted the Optional Protocol on the use of children in warfare. It is noted that in the International Criminal Court Statute Article 8 (xxvi) widens the definition of war crimes as, “Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities.”[6] In the three Abrahamic holy books the age for responsibility is thirteen, yet many countries do not abide by this in their legal codes. Although it is a tragedy that any child has to take up arms, it is clear that many are forced to do so out of desperation.


RAAC believes it is morally wrong for anyone under the age of 13, in any circumstances, to be asked or forced to bear arms or to be used in any way to assist in the furtherance of armed conflict. Further, we note the International Conventions and War Crime legislation relating to children in warfare have ambiguities relating to age, activities and the authorities responsible for using or enlisting child soldiers in armed conflict. We strongly recommend further work be done by appropriate bodies to clarify definitions and activities.

  1. Conscientious Objection

Conscientious objection is the refusal to participate in military service on religious or moral grounds. During the First and Second World Wars, conscientious objection was permitted by Britain.


RAAC believes individuals who choose to object should be given the opportunity to contribute otherwise, whether in an alternative civilian service or in non-combatant roles within the military. International organisations, including the United Nations, recognise that conscientious objection is a human right and therefore it is wrong to force individuals to fight where it conflicts with their freedoms of thought, conscience and religion..

d. Suicide Missions

In the post-war era, rates of suicide attack have increased exponentially, from an average of less than five a year in the 1980s to 596 such cases in 2014.[7] A suicide attack is one of the weapons of choice for many contemporary terrorist and/or guerrilla groups, not just because of the physical damage it inflicts, but also the psychological damage it can wreak and the guaranteed media coverage it brings. Moreover, suicide attacks are able to inflict severe damage. The correlation between Islam and suicide missions is misplaced, since the first insurgents to use the tactic extensively were in-fact the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.[8] Indeed, suicide is illegal in Islam and in most major world religions, as is the deliberate murder of the innocent.

There is a grey area regarding the targeting of enemy combatants, rather than civilians, with suicide attacks, which may arguably be justifiable as a legitimate weapon of war. However, the explosive force of the attack means that the victims are rarely afforded proper religious burial. Nevertheless, the ultimate morality of a suicide mission is determined by its target. While the targeting of civilians is always immoral, the vast majority of suicide attacks today either deliberately target civilians or regard civilian death as admissible collateral damage.


The deliberate maiming or killing of innocent civilians, under any circumstances, is completely unacceptable. RAAC feels that the deliberate targeting of civilians in any suicide attack is immoral and heinous. Such an attack is an act of terror and is condemned.

e. Extrajudicial Assassinations

An extrajudicial killing is when a person is deliberately targeted and killed without due process in a constituted court. Extrajudicial killings are widespread, with many governments even executing dissidents amongst their own citizens without due judicial process.

By removing the risk to military personnel associated with capturing high-profile individuals, this has increased the prevalence of combat drones as a weapon of war. This has driven a rise in extrajudicial assassinations. International law remains ambiguous on the subject as it struggles to catch up with technological advances. An example of extrajudicial assassinations is the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen killed in Yemen, a country not at war with the U.S., by an American drone strike in September 2011. President Obama authorised the CIA to execute al-Awlaki due to his terrorist activities. However, no court mandated his death.[9] The perceived injustice of this action led others to initiate further violence; Anwar al-Awlaki was cited as an inspiration by the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 as well as the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015.[10]

Some see targeted killings as legitimate when the person targeted poses an “imminent threat” to the country concerned. In the above case, the US would argue that such extrajudicial killings are legitimate since the US and its allies are engaged in the ‘War on Terror’. In particular, NATO Article 5, the ‘all-for-one and one-for-all’ Article, which states that an armed attack against one member is an attack against all, was invoked in the wake of the September 11th attacks. From a legal standpoint, the US and its allies would argue that they are technically at war, although not with a specified country. This puts domestic and international laws concerning the right to a free trial in an ambiguous position. In spite of this ambiguity, governments should conduct trials in absentia before carrying out an extrajudicial assassination, to accommodate the right for free trial. This process could overcome the need to physically capture the defendant, and a free and fair trial would allow governments to act under a lawful sentence.

Besides the issue of legality, there is also an issue with the collateral damage that occurs as a result of extrajudicial killings. Even when specific individuals are targeted, collateral damage is common. Between 2004 and 2014, there have been between 2,489 and 3,989 people killed by drone strikes. Of these, between 423 and 965 were classified as civilians and between 172 and 207 were children.[11]


Extrajudicial assassinations by governments of individuals residing in a country with which they are not at war are unethical. RAAC believes that such extrajudicial assassinations are morally repugnant and views extrajudicial assassinations, other than in the context of an honourably declared war, as illegitimate. Therefore, in an instance where a state, for reasons of self-defence, wishes to conduct an assassination by drone attack, the individual concerned should first be tried in absentia. Even in an honourably declared war, extrajudicial assassinations often involve collateral damage to civilians which is unacceptable.

f. Legitimate Targets

An honourable war can only be waged when targets are legitimate. It is absolutely clear that the maiming or killing of an innocent and unarmed civilian is illegitimate under any circumstance. However, there are several grey areas when it comes to which targets are “legitimate”.

One such grey area is the issue of armed and unarmed civilians, such as the case of Israeli settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories. Although some argued the presence of Israeli settlers in disputed territory is illegal under international law, they are not legitimate targets, even if they are armed. This is because the Palestinian Authority, which is the recognised government of the West Bank, is not currently in a state of war with Israel and wishes to conduct negotiations for a full peace settlement.

A distinction must also be drawn between combatants when they are on duty and when they are off-duty. For example, a military attack on a barracks is unjustified when the soldiers are sleeping or playing a game of football.

Private military companies (PMCs), essentially mercenaries that operate in combat zones or dangerous regions, further complicate the matter. Governments, NGOs, and private companies employ PMC services. PMCs are unregulated and there have been several controversial cases around the actions of PMC members in combat zones.


Despite some ambiguities over the ‘legitimacy’ of targets, RAAC considers all unarmed civilians to be illegitimate targets for any attacks, whether intentional or unintentional.

Section II: Non-Combatants

For the purposes of this document, anyone unarmed and not engaged in fighting in a warzone is a non-combatant.

a. Property

The destruction of property can be used to intimidate, as a way to punish or warn against further action, such as when Israel demolishes the family homes of someone accused of terrorism. Under the international laws of armed conflict, civilian property cannot be targeted without a credible military target or strategic objective. Unfortunately, these guidelines for civilian property protection are rarely followed in times of war. A famous historical case of property destruction was the firebombing of Dresden in 1945, when the Allies flattened Dresden, a cultural city of no real military importance. Roughly 25,000 people were killed, mostly German civilians, and most of the property that was destroyed or damaged was civilian-owned.[12]  Property destruction for defensive purposes can be seen as justifiable. A contemporary example is the Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq that have demolished villages near the front in Kirkuk Province in order to create a clear defensive line against invading ISIS troops.


Destroying property for reasons other than strategic defence is unethical, and such destruction during war cannot be considered a case of collateral damage. The destruction of civilian property leads to the displacement of people and inhibits societal reconstruction after a war ends. Therefore, RAAC condemn any attempts at wanton property destruction during times of war.

b. Ethnic Cleansing

Ethnic cleansing is the forced removal, or murder, of distinct ethnic or confessional groups from particular areas or the deliberate targeting of such groups through campaigns of intimidation and oppression with the purpose of leaving them then no alternative but to remove themselves. An example of this was the deportation of more than 200,000 people from the Baltic region to Siberia between 1940 and 1953.[13] A contemporary case is the violence against black ethnic groups in Sudan since 2003. The military and several militia forces have been accused of killing hundreds of thousands of people, expelling more than two million people and burning down hundreds of villages.[14] Ethnic cleansing is sometimes a policy enforced by authoritarian states to create a desired population map, especially in border zones.


Killing and forcibly removing a population on an ethnic basis is unjustifiable. RAAC believes that to remove a population against their will amounts to terrorising a population and is inexcusable.

c. Collective Punishment

Collective punishment is a form of retaliation whereby a suspected perpetrator’s family members, friends, acquaintances, sect, neighbours or ethnic group are targeted. According to the UN, collective punishment is illegal. According to Article 33 of the Geneva Convention, “No persons may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed.”[15]

Although the international community condemns this form of violence, in times of war many have used it as a weapon to terrorise populations and achieve a certain objective. The punished group may often have no direct association with the other individuals or groups, or direct control over their actions. During armed conflicts, collective punishment has resulted in numerous atrocities. Historically, occupying powers have used collective punishment to retaliate against and deter attacks on their forces by resistance movements (e.g. destroying entire towns and villages where such attacks have occurred).

It is useful to draw the distinction between a blockade and a siege when discussing collective punishment. They are similar in the sense that both cut off supplies and restrict access into or out of that location. However, sieges are typically focused on a city or specific urban area whereas blockades are usually targeted at regions or countries. In addition, a siege is a military operation with the intention of forcing its defendants to surrender. While blockades may involve a military component, such as the closure of ports using warships, there is no direct violence against those being blockaded.

A widely known contemporary example of collective punishment is the blockade of Gaza. Since 2007, Egypt and Israel have engaged in a blockade of the Gaza strip after the seizure of the territory by Hamas. Another comparatively recent example was the siege of Fallujah in Iraq in which an entire town was punished by allied forces for the misdeeds of a few of its citizens.


RAAC condemns collective punishment as a policy and believes it engenders more harm than good.

d. Sexual Violence

Rape and other forms of sexual violence have been used as a tactic in armed conflicts throughout history. Women and children are often targeted by combatants during armed conflict or military occupations in order to achieve military or political objectives, although sexual violence against men also takes place. Sexual violence is a common yet distinct weapon of war, the effects of which can erode the foundations of communities in a way that many weapons cannot.

Systematic rape is an orchestrated combat tool to terrorise populations and destroy communities; in many cases the harm inflicted is not just on the individuals themselves but also on their family and community. The masculinised nature of rape, which uniquely affects the female population, underlines its use as a tool of humiliation against the state. Rape is commonly used in cases of ethnic cleansing as a way for combatants to perpetuate their social control and, in some instances, change the ethnic make-up of the next generation. For example, during the Bosnian war, rape was used as a strategy for ethnic cleansing where one group aimed to control the other by impregnating women of the other community because they saw it as a way of weakening and destroying the opposing community.[16] The same tactic was used by members of the Pakistan military during the fight for Bangladesh’s independence in 1971, where thousands of Bangladeshi women became victims of rape.[17]

There have also been cases where women and children have been forced into prostitution, increasing the already high risk of sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV/AIDS, which usually accompanies sexual violence.

Although international efforts to counter sexual violence have gained momentum, sexual violence in conflict is still not treated as a war crime, but rather as an instance of collateral damage in times of war. This said, the United Nations Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict is working to rectify this to support efforts to ‘prevent sexual violence and respond effectively to the needs of survivors’.[18]

Those accountable for using rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war often go unpunished or unprosecuted. Few states seem willing to tackle what is often seen as a crime against individual women rather than a strategy of war. Those culpable should face punishments and thus changing international and national laws is a major step towards curbing sexual violence.


Wherever there is warfare, sexual violence follows. RAAC condemn the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and see it as ethically and morally repugnant. Sexual violence should absolutely be considered a war crime, and those responsible should be punished accordingly.

e. Slavery

Although most countries banned slavery over a century ago, the problem still exists and affects the world’s most vulnerable people. Modern slavery comes in many forms, including domestic servitude, sex trafficking, forced labour, bonded labour and child labour.

Slavery is often prevalent in warfare, and it can be directly related to sexual violence, slave soldiers, whether adults or children, and prisoners of war. For example, Islamic State is widely acknowledged as having taken slaves, particularly Yazidis. They have reportedly taken as many as 2,000 women and children to sell and distribute as slaves,[19] although further research in late 2014 put this figure at 4,800 with an estimated maximum of 7,000 enslaved Yazidis.[20] Yazidi women have especially been victimised by the extremist group, suffering enslavement and particularly sexual brutality. The use of children in warfare can also fall under the category of slavery, as child soldiers are often abducted and forced to fight. As previously mentioned relating to prisoners of war, groups will often try to mitigate their costs. Forcing children to become soldiers is one way to do this since children cost less to feed and maintain than adult combatants, and forced labour of prisoners of war is a second way to mitigate costs.

The Holy Quran states, “I shall turn away from my revelations those who show pride in the world wrongfully”(7.146). Islam regards ‘pride’ as one of the greatest sins. Slavery has always worked on the proposition that one human being is more worthy than the other, which is a sin of pride. Often in the global slave trade, the principles of property law are applied to human beings, and therefore slaves are treated as one’s property; allowing one to sell, buy and own accordingly. Slavery is recognised as the most abhorrent violation of a person’s liberty and its largely unhindered ongoing practice runs counter to the entire modern history of human rights.

One of the major obstacles in the fight against trafficking is toothless legislation. Many countries allow slavery to go unpunished. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted in 1948, prohibits slavery and calls for its elimination, yet slavery still thrives today in every inhabited continent and is especially problematic in times of war.


RAAC believes that those convicted of slavery of any shape or form should be subject to exemplary punishment. Indeed because of its ethical implications (the presupposition that one human being is of an intrinsically greater value than another) it is a fundamentally more serious crime than murder. There is never a circumstance where slavery has a justification. Whether reasons for it lie in the economic, social, or cultural sphere, we wholly condemn all use of slavery in times of peace and war.

f. Collateral Damage

Collateral damage is when damage occurs to structures or people that are not the intended target. It is frequently used as a military term for when non-combatants are accidentally or unintentionally killed or wounded and, non-combatant property damaged as a result of an attack on legitimate military targets. A contemporary case was the bombing and invasion of Baghdad in Iraq in 2003. Many civilian buildings, infrastructure and communities were destroyed, which resulted in an aggrieved population.


Although in times of war ensuring that precise targets are hit is challenging, we believe that rather than possibly radicalising a local population, states and non-state actors should ensure that civilian populations are left out of the equation to avoid collateral damage.

RAAC accepts that collateral damage to people or property may be inevitable in times of war. However, the premeditated acceptance of innocent human death in the event of military engagement is always deplorable. If you know in advance that your action will inevitably cause civilian death, that action is unacceptable.

Section III: Weapons of War

As long as there is war, there will be weapons. Weapons are devices designed to inflict physical damage to people, the environment, or buildings. Today, there is a wide array of weapons, each differing in capabilities, targets, and technology. Weapons can range from crude improvised weapons, such as barrel bombs, to state of the art advanced weaponry. As more weapons are designed, the ethics of their use should be considered more seriously.

a. Barrel Bombs

A barrel bomb is an improvised, unguided bomb in a metal container, commonly a barrel, and is often dropped from a helicopter. Barrel bombs are usually crude and comprise materials such as nails, shrapnel, oil, or chemicals, and are almost always primed with large quantities of high explosives.

These bombs have devastating effect. The use of these aerial IEDs (improvised explosive devices) is controversial due to the fact that they allegedly cannot be precisely aimed. The bombs are rolled out of a helicopter into enemy-held territory, but could end up over a school or a hospital, possibly killing children. The reality is that they can be targeted virtually as accurately as a mortar bomb in so much as the loadmaster on the helicopter can see where the bomb is being dropped, and they are usually dropped at close range. Indeed, they are arguably easier to target than conventional unguided bombs, which are often dropped from high altitude. Because they are delivered from close range out of helicopters, they are rarely used against troops with the capability to provide strong defensive fire and are more likely to be used in heavily populated areas, making the number of fatalities much higher. Barrel bombs are used by the Syrian army, as well as by the Iraqi army,[21] particularly when more conventional bombs are unavailable. Furthermore, this is a cheap way to exploit aerial superiority against insurgents with light arms in built up areas. The flying shrapnel from these homemade bombs is what causes the greatest number of fatalities and the injuries can be terrible and crippling.

Barrel bombs have been made illegal under some international conventions. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 2139, passed on February 22, 2014, ordered all parties in the Syrian conflict to end the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs in populated areas. However, the Syrian government, the only party in the conflict utilising barrel bombs, continues to defy this ruling.


There is nothing about the make-up of the barrel bomb that makes it significantly worse than a car bomb or a mortar strike. However, it is the manner of its predominant use in civilian areas, rather than its intrinsic nature, which makes it a weapon of terror. RAAC believes that the use of this weapon should be condemned and legal means developed by the international community to prohibit its construction and use.

b. Sonic Bombs

Sonic bombs use sound waves, a ‘sonic boom’, to overwhelm and terrorise citizens, leaving them confused and anxious. The sound, which is occasionally deployed at night to prevent sleep, can be loud enough to shake buildings or shatter windows. The sound scares children in particular, and has been linked to a loss of appetite, bedwetting and other disorders. Sonic bombs can also cause headaches, stomach-aches and shortness of breath among adults and children. One study showed that 48 out of 50 people who lived in an affected area were diagnosed with vibroacoustic disease, which is the thickening of the heart tissue.[22]

This weapon, which has been utilised by Israel against the Gaza strip since the 2005 disengagement, is a form of collective punishment, making entire communities suffer for the actions of a few. The then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said regarding sonic bombs that “thousands of residents in southern Israel live in fear and discomfort, so I gave instructions that nobody will sleep at night in the meantime in Gaza.”[23] The sonic booms are created by low flying jets that travel at the speed of sound to create shock waves in the air, which generate a large amount of sound energy, which causes the loud, sharp sound.


Although this type of weapon does not kill, it is an egregious violation of international humanitarian law, specifically the prohibition of collective punishment. Furthermore, because more vulnerable members of an area, such as the elderly, the sick and especially children, are more likely to be affected by such bombs, this makes their use even more heinous and thus should be banned. It is, to the best of this council’s knowledge, almost the only weapon in common use (other than chemical weapons) that invariably causes greater damage to children than to adults.

c. Cluster Bombs

A cluster bomb opens up in mid-air, which releases tens to hundreds of submunitions, which can cover a large area and create significant damage to anything within it. These bombs are dropped from an aircraft or fired from the sea or ground and target personnel and vehicles. They frequently miss military targets and kill civilians.  The biggest problem, however, is that the submunitions fail to explode up to 30% of the time[24] so they land and remain, ready to explode at any time.

Cluster bombs have had a devastating effect on numerous communities. In Laos between 1964 and1973, for example, the US conducted 580,000 bombing missions in which over 2 million tonnes of ordnance was dropped. Approximately 80 million of the 270 million cluster bomblets dropped during that period failed to detonate, and as a result, more than 98% of known cluster bomb victims are civilians and 40% of these are children, who are attracted to the metal objects which resemble toys.[25] These cluster mines are practically impossible to fully eradicate. Over the past forty years, less than 1% of the bomblets that failed to detonate in Laos have been removed.[26] An international convention on cluster munitions was established in 2008. This is an agreement between 117 states, with the exception of a few key countries such as the United States, to prohibit the use, production and stockpiling of such weapons. The convention has now been ratified by 93 of its 117 signatories. However, cluster bombs continue to be used liberally in a number of combat zones, and there reports of their use in 2015 in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, and Ukraine.


Because cluster bombs remain dangerous even after being released, injuring innocent men, women and children long after a conflict has ceased, it is clearly an abhorrent weapon and should not be used in any conflict. RAAC believes the international community should seek legal means to ban their construction and use.

d. Mines

A land mine is a bomb concealed in or on the ground that can be detonated by proximity or contact with a person. Land mines remain dormant before they are triggered, and can therefore harm civilians even years after the end of a conflict. A mine cannot control whom it maims or kills. Anyone can detonate it: an adult, child or even an animal. As well as explosives, these mines can contain shrapnel.

Apart from loss of life, injuries that can result include loss of limbs, deep wounds from pieces of metal, burns and blindness. There are several different types of mines. Blast antipersonnel mines can cause serious leg or foot injuries and usually result in amputation. Fragmentation mines project hundreds of metal fragments, showering the victim and covering them with deep wounds all over the body. An even more severe version of these mines are bounding fragmentation mines which leap about one metre into the air before detonation so that the damage is more extensive and can target the face of the personnel directly. The most troubling aspect of mines, however, is that they are excessively difficult to disarm after a conflict and many remain armed years after a cessation of hostilities, an example being in Sierra Leone, where casualties from mines still occur.

There are many campaigns to ban the landmine, and the Ottawa Treaty (also known as the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention) was signed in 1997 with 162 signatories, with the notable exception of the United States, Russia and China.


The fact that mines are not selective in their targets and remain potentially active for years on end means that a significant number of civilians are harmed. RAAC believe that mines are unethical weapons as they target personnel in a way that needlessly causes pain and life-long suffering.

e. Weapons of Mass Destruction

Weapon of mass destruction (W.M.Ds) have enormous power, and the consequences of their use can be beyond devastating. There are three types of W.M.Ds: nuclear weapons, chemical warfare agents and biological warfare agents. These weapons can kill or injure anyone in a very large area, regardless of whether they are combatants or non-combatants. Many nations have W.M.Ds, but most of these nations are signatories of international conventions restricting and regulating their use. More dangerously, the threat of non-state actors acquiring and deploying such deadly weapons remains very real and continues to pose a serious threat to world security.

Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons have the ability to produce a massive explosive force that can easily destroy and level a city by blast, fire and radiation. Under a national security doctrine called “mutually assured destruction” (MAD), these weapons are often seen as the ultimate deterrence against any foreign attack. While nuclear weapons may act as a deterrent, seeing as they indiscriminately incur vast civilian

casualties their use is morally contemptible. In addition, the retention of nuclear weapons as a deterrent has limited moral justification as the soaring costs involved in military spending has been to the detriment of civilians whose basic needs go unmet. Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, and the U.S. all currently possess nuclear weapons capabilities.

Nuclear weapons have been detonated over 2,000 times,[27] but only twice in history have they been used in warfare, both times by the U.S. against the Empire of Japan. This act of nuclear warfare by the U.S. levelled two Japanese cities and killed many tens of thousands of people, mainly civilians, with many survivors suffering life-long radiation-related illnesses. Although there have been attempts at nuclear arms reductions, such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (1970), the New START treaty between the US and Russia and the ICJ Advisory Opinion on Armed Weapons, there are issues with implementation and monitoring. It is estimated that there are around 15,000 nuclear warheads in the world. 4,300 of these are operational and ready for immediate use.[28]


We believe there is no place for such world-threatening weapons, and all nuclear powers must strengthen their efforts to both prevent proliferation and work for the elimination of nuclear stockpiles. Furthermore, we consider internationally agreed reduction timescales are needed (similar to those endeavouring to combat climate change) and monitored for compliance. An emphasis must be placed on peace strategies alternative to mutually assured destruction.

Chemical Weapons

Chemical weapons are much more widespread and utilised more frequently than the other two types of W.M.D.s. Among the most common chemical agents deployed are G-series nerve gas (in particular, sarin), and mustard gas. Chemical weapons are indiscriminate. Children are particularly the hardest-hit from chemical weapon attacks as their bodies are more vulnerable. Numerous countries still have large stockpiles of chemical weapons despite the Chemical Weapons Convention, which required the destruction of stockpiles by 2012. Due to the Convention, 85% of the chemical weapon stockpiles across the world have been destroyed.[29] This is significant progress, but a considerable number of production facilities and stockpiles remain.


The use of chemical weapons is clearly abhorrent as it is an extraordinarily painful weapon to inflict on both combatants and non-combatants. RAAC believes that every country should sign up to the aforementioned Chemical Weapons Convention and ratify it.

Biological Weapons

Biological weapons are any toxin or an organism, such as a bacteria, virus or fungi, used for the deliberate infliction of disease among people, animals and agriculture. There are several different methods of deploying a biological weapon, such as disbursing the agent through an aerosol or contaminating food or water sources in the target area. Unlike nuclear and chemical weapons, there is no easy way to immediately detect when a biological weapon has been deployed, making them particularly damaging.

Like with the other W.M.Ds, the weapon can create devastating long-lasting damage to an area and/or group of people. The effects of biological weapons can continue long after its deployment. If a transmissible disease is deployed, such as a weaponised smallpox or Ebola virus, then any person infected can travel and spread the disease to others.

Two treaties have placed restrictions on biological weapons: the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the more recent 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. Despite these treaties, many countries are still considered to have biological weapons capability.


Like with nuclear and chemical weapons, biological weapons are indiscriminate and the chance of collateral damage is all but assured if they are deployed. This is because there is no way to control or mitigate the damage once an agent has been released in a particular area. It is for this reason that RAAC views biological weapons as an unethical and abhorrent weapon of warfare, which should never be deployed regardless of the circumstances.

f. Drones

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS), are aircraft either controlled by pilots from the ground or autonomously, following a pre-programmed mission. They can either be used for surveillance or for offensive combat, with some drones armed with precision missiles. Drones, unlike manned aircrafts, have the ability to stay in the air for many hours and are significantly cheaper to operate than military aircrafts. Furthermore, as they are controlled remotely, there is no danger to any personnel if they are shot down. Drones are able to hover above their target for up to 18 hours and wait for the best moment to strike. This means that the chance of success is higher and the chance of harming civilians is theoretically minimised. This makes them perfect for hunting down and killing high-value insurgents, even when they are outside declared war zones such as in Pakistan. The U.S. has the largest drone fleet in the world and has initiated more drone strikes than any other nation.

If an enemy is regarded as an influential or significant leader, in a properly initiated Just War, and their death may minimise or avert further conflict, they can be seen as a legitimate target for a drone attack. However, clear evidence must be provided to justify their targeting.

There are several controversies about the use of drones, however. One key issue is that there is no form of restraint, as war is now being waged by one side that is not risking any personnel, making that party more reckless. Most controversially, there have been numerous cases of drone strikes causing significant collateral damage, with roughly 17-24% of all drone-strike related deaths coming from civilians.[30] This high collateral damage leads to radicalisation in the local community and increases recruitment numbers for terrorist organisations.


Drone warfare is controversial because of concerns relating both to the risk of collateral damage and also to extrajudicial assassinations. RAAC believes that if collateral damage from a drone strike is inevitable, then it is morally unacceptable. Surveillance drones, on the other hand, are justifiable in combat areas.


The Religious Affairs Advisory Council, The Next Century Foundation

Phone: +44 (0)207 821 6566  E-Mail:

[1] UN Commission on Human Rights (1985). Report on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan / prepared by the Special Rapporteur, Felix Ermacora, in accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 1984/55, p. 50. Available at: Accessed 21/11/17

[2] Accessed 22/9/15.

[3] Accessed 06/11/2015

[4] Singer, P. (2005) The New Faces of War. The Brookings Institution, p. 9. Available at: Accessed 23/11/17

[5] Accessed 06/11/2015

[6] Accessed 22/11/17

[7] Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism (CPOST). 2016. Suicide Attack Database (October 12, 2016 Release). Available at: Accessed 23/11/17

[8],8599,1193862,00.html. Accessed 20/11/17

[9] Accessed 23/11/17

[10] Accessed 22/11/17

[11] Accessed 30/6/16

[12] Accessed 17/11/17

[13]Werth, N. (1999) A State against its People In: The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, Translated by J. Murphy and M. Kramer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, p. 236.

[14] Accessed 16/11/17; Accessed 24/11/17

[15] Accessed 21/11/17

[16] Skjelsbæk, I. (2006). Victim and Survivor: Narrated Social Identities of Women Who Experienced Rape During the War in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Feminism and Psychology, Volume 16 (4), p. 375. Available at: Accessed 21/11/17

[17] Sharlach, L. (2000). Rape as Genocide: Bangladesh, the Former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda. New Political Science, Volume 1 (22), p.89. doi:10.1080/713687893. Accessed 21/11/17.

[18] Accessed 22/9/2015.

[19] Accessed 17/11/17

[20] Accessed 22/11/17

[21] Accessed 22/11/17

[22] Torres, R. et al. (2001) Vibroacoustic Disease Induced by Long-Term Exposure to Sonic Booms. Internoise 2001, p. 1097. Available at: Accessed 14/11/17

[23] Accessed 15/11/17

[24] Accessed 21/11/17

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Accessed 21/11/17

[28] Accessed 16/11/17

[29] Accessed 22/11/17

[30] Accessed 30/6/16


2 thoughts on “Code of Honour

  1. Pingback: An update on the Chemical Weapons Attacks in Syria – The Next Century Foundation Blog

  2. Pingback: Latest Update on Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria – The Next Century Foundation Blog

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