Although men make up the vast majority of perpetrators in armed conflict, they are also victims – both in their role as combatants, and as civilians. Men constitute the majority of casualties in combat, but also suffer extensively as civilians, both directly and indirectly when their community or family members are targeted.Read more about combatants
Military organizations are heavily male-dominated and influenced by masculine values. Men who take part in the hostilities are seen as heroes, and their participation is commonly perceived as reaffirming their "correct" masculinity in accordance with the male stereotype, which has been characterised as powerful, aggressive and violent in nature.
The misperception of the male characteristics makes men vulnerable when they fail to perform in line with these roles. Groups of men who do not take part in hostilities, as old men and conscious objectors (pacifists), are many times suffering from the social stigma of “demasculinization”. In other words, their incomplete manhood stands in contrast to the dominant male ideal as constructed by society. For example, while the phenomenon of women victims of sexual violence is voiced by women organizations, one rarely hears the same discussions regarding men, who are also victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence during armed conflicts.
Where can you find reference to men in IHL?
There is no specific reference to men in international humanitarian law (IHL). All provisions of IHL – relating to either civilians or combatants – apply equally to men and women, with the exception of provisions where women are expressly referred to. However, the content of the four Geneva Conventions is by large majority negotiated by men, while having mainly men in mind.
One explanation for the lack of specific protection for men is most likely the false perception of men as inherently strong, and women as inherently weak. IHL affords women with special protection mainly due to their biological needs, and physical weaknesses, while men are assumed to be capable to manage the difficulties of war without any additional protection.Read more about feminist criticism of IHL
The only context in which men are expressly referred to regarding protection is in article 88 of the Third Geneva Convention, where it is stated that officers, non-commissioned officers, and men who are prisoners of war, and who undergo a disciplinary or judicial punishment, shall not be subjected to more severe treatment than members of the armed forces of the detaining power of equivalent rank.
Protection of men combatants
Men constitute the largest number of casualties resulting from the use of small arms and light weapons as men compose the far majority of soldiers, who participate directly in combat.
Many men suffer from disabilities or post traumatic stress due to their physical and psychological experiences on the battle field.
Men also constitute the largest number of forcibly "disappeared" persons, and in some conflicts men and boys are singled out for execution, for example as a means of ethnic cleansing. The large numbers of households that are run by women in conflict zones illustrate the vulnerability of men in the battle field.
Men as prisoners of war (POWs)
Men logically constitute the largest number of captured combatants, prisoners of war (POWs), as they constitute the majority of combatants. As such, they are victims of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in addition to the many times inadequate living conditions in the prison camps.
Male POW’s are also victims of sexual violence, which the jurisprudence of the International Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has determined as amounting to torture as well as to war crimes.
Torture and other inhumane and degrading treatment are prohibited by international customary law as well as by the four Geneva Conventions.
Sexual violence against male prisoners can be seen as a violation of article 13 of the Third Geneva Convention, which provides that POWs shall be treated humanely.