A fifth of Australians think torture of captured soldiers to obtain important military information is OK but almost 60 per cent disagree, according to the results of a new survey commissioned by the Red Cross.

While the proportion of Australians who believe torture is acceptable in such circumstances is greater than in Syria (20 per cent), Russia (20 per cent), China (15 per cent) and South Sudan (18 per cent), it’s well below the 46 per cent of Americans who believe so, the 50 per cent of Israelis and the 76 per cent of Nigerians. Overall, one in three people around the globe believe torture in such circumstances is OK.

The findings are from a global survey of attitudes towards war and international humanitarian law, People on War, which was commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross. It polled more than 17,000 people across 16 nations – 10 of which are experiencing conflict - earlier this year (the Australian Red Cross conducted their own survey locally in conjunction with the broader poll).

Other findings from the global study show that only 38 per cent of people polled believed the Geneva Conventions prevent wars from getting worse (down from 52 per cent in 1999) – although in war-affected nations this figure rises to half.

Meanwhile, 36 per cent of respondents believe that if combatants on one side don't respect the laws of war, those on the other side also have the right to disrespect them.

And while four our of five people globally believe that attacking hospitals, ambulances and healthcare workers in order to weaken the enemy is wrong, 13 per cent said it was “just part of war”.

Peter Maurer, president of the ICRC, said it was “heartening” to see that the vast majority of people believe the laws of war matter. But he said the results also showed “we all need to redraw a line in the sand: torture in any form is forbidden”.

“We demonise our enemies at our own peril. Even in war, everyone deserves to be treated humanely. Using torture only triggers a race to the bottom. It has a devastating impact on the victims, and it brutalises entire societies for generations."

Other findings from the Australian poll show that Australian men are more likely than women to agree captured soldiers can be tortured to obtain information – 24 per cent of men compared to 18 per cent of women – and that people aged under 20 or more than 65 are less likely to support torture.

~ www.redcross.org.au/files/4291_002_PeopleonWar_FINAL.pdf