Abuses to Older People During Armed Conflict

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During armed conflict, the rights of older people are often violated.

Human Rights Watch found that government forces and non-state armed groups have abused the rights of older people in countries all around the world.

In many cases older people have been executed, indiscriminately attacked, detained, tortured, raped, and had their property and communities destroyed.

Government forces and armed groups should respect international law and end abuses against older people.

 In Ethiopia in August and September 2021, Tigrayan forces briefly occupied Chenna village in the Amhara region, where they committed a series of summary executions.

‘’Just before they left, they took my father and great uncle outside the front of the compound. Two of them tied my father’s hands behind his back and then shot him. Four of them then shot my great uncle.”

In Mali, Human Rights Watch spoke to a 60-year-old shepherd, who had been detained in the Nampala military camp in 2015 and tortured by government forces. 

“They tied me and hung me upside down from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. They asked where the jihadists were; I said I only care about my animals. Then a soldier thrust his gun into my face with force. I lost half my teeth.”

In South Sudan, rape has been used by all sides to terrorize civilians. 

HRW spoke to a woman in her late 50’s who had been raped by a soldier during government operations in February 2019.

“He started shooting around me and then hit me with his gun and said, ‘Mama lie down, I want to have sex with you.’ I said, ’Why would you do this; I am a born again Christian and you are like my son.’ He beat me again and then forced himself on me.”

In May 2021, Israeli airstrikes destroyed scores of homes and businesses in the occupied Gaza Strip. Jawad Mahdi, 68, lived in a high-rise building there with dozens of family members.

“All these years of hard work, it was a place of living, safety, children and grandchildren… All our history and life, destroyed in front of your eyes. It’s like someone ripping your heart out and throwing it.‘’

When their communities come under attack, some older people stay to protect their property.  Others are unable to flee the violence.

In 2017, ethnic Rohingya who had fled Myanmar described security forces pushing older people who could not flee back into burning houses.

"I saw them push my husband's uncle into the fire. I saw them push him back into the burning house… …He is weak, maybe 80 years... I think they wanted everyone to leave and those that could not leave they put into the fire.”

Governments and non-state armed groups should ensure older people in conflict areas are provided with humanitarian assistance and protected from abuse.

UN bodies should include protection of older people in armed conflict in their work.

(New York) – Older people are often at heightened risk of abuses during armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. All parties to armed conflict should end abuses against older people and facilitate humanitarian assistance to older people in need. The United Nations Security Council should ensure that the UN addresses the need for enhanced protection of older civilians in armed conflict in its work.

The 49-page report, “No One Is Spared: Abuses against Older People in Armed Conflict,” describes patterns of abuses documented by Human Rights Watch between 2013 and 2021 against older people affected by armed conflicts in Burkina FasoCentral African RepublicEthiopiaIsrael and the Occupied Palestinian TerritoryMaliMozambiqueNagorno-KarabakhNigerSouth SudanSyria, and Ukraine. The report also draws on the serious protracted violence in two English-speaking regions of CameroonMyanmar security force atrocities against older ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State, and the experiences of older refugees in Lebanon displaced by conflict in Syria.

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