Civilians may suffer inhumane treatment including: murder, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; being taken as a hostage; humiliation and degrading treatment; executions.
Hundreds of thousands of innocent people are presently being forced from their homes, getting caught in crossfire, and willfully being denied access to life-saving food and medicine. There is an increased recognition that the failure to protect vulnerable populations in armed conflict is more often because of a shortage of political will, rather than a shortage of conventions and protocols.
Governments have often treated armed opponents and their supporters with indiscriminate and ruthless ferocity. Anti-government forces are often willing to employ any and all means that might advance their end. In the past, civilian populations were chiefly indirect victims of fighting between hostile armies. In the 1990s these populations have become the main targets of the conflicts. In many places around the world, civilian populations are being bombarded, starved and displaced. Women are being raped for political purposes, and children shot dead by professional soldiers hiding in shadows.
The main challenges for international humanitarian law and its implementation are in the areas of strengthening protection for civilian populations in conflict and emergency situations, and protecting the most vulnerable groups, such as children, women and the elderly.