Animals are the unknown victims of armed conflict. They are regularly looted, slaughtered, bombed or starved on a massive scale during such hostilities. Their preservation should become a matter of great concern. However, international humanitarian law (IHL) largely ignores this issue. It only indirectly, and often ambiguously, provides animals with the minimum protection afforded to civilian objects, the environment, and specially protected objects such as medical equipment, objects indispensable for the survival of civilian population or cultural property. This regime neither captures the essence of animals as sentient beings experiencing pain, suffering and distress, nor takes into account their particular needs during wartime. To address these challenges, two strategies are possible: the first strategy would be to apply existing IHL more effectively to animals, if necessary by creative interpretation in line with the animals’ needs. This strategy comprises two options: animals could be included into the categories of combatant/prisoners of war or of civilians. Animals would thus benefit from many guarantees given to human beings in armed conflict. Alternatively, and perhaps more realistically, animals could be equated with “objects” under IHL, while the relevant rules would be reinterpreted to cater for the fact that animals are living beings, experiencing pain, suffering and distress. The second strategy, which could be envisaged as a long-term objective, would be to adopt a new international instrument specifically aimed at granting rights to animals, notably in relation to prohibiting the use of animals as weapons of war.
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