When Playing Call of Duty 4, Don’t Forget to Consult the Laws of War
I don’t know what I think about this report by two Switzerland-based NGOs analyzing a number of popular video games for their consistency with rules of international humanitarian law (h/t kotaku). Apparently, many video games encourage blatant and unrepentant violations of the laws of war.
In the scenes, there seems to be no assessment of proportionality in the attacks realised in civilian areas and we do not know whether precautionary measures were taken to minimize civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects. However, in a real life situation, one is often confronted with similar circumstances: regular armed forces and irregular armed groups are very unlikely to give any information about the planning of the preparation of military operations to international organisations or human rights bodies. Without such information, it is difficult to establish that a military operation was not proportional, in particular whether the attacker took all the precautionary measures necessary to avoid, and in any event to minimize incidental loss or civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.
In addition to the extensive destruction, some of the scenes portray the members of “Bad Company” taking gold and “treasures” found in the civilian houses they have just destroyed. Upon obtaining them, the players get points. These actions amount to pillage, which is strictly prohibited under IHL and thus have also been labelled as “strong”. This illegal action is confirmed in one of the scenes where you can hear a member saying that “Pillaging is an old war tradition.” Pillage is considered as a war crime both in international and non- international armed conflicts.
There is something to this. Check out this photo from Call of Duty 4. Looks like a war crime to me. Do we need international law requiring video game makers to follow international law in their video games? Sure, as long as this resulted in lucrative consulting gigs for law professors….