Assisting landmine victims is a specific promise made by Colombia and 160 other States through the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, or Ottawa Convention.
These women, girls, boys and men require emergency health care and evacuation, trauma care and surgery, and ongoing medical support. They will need services to support their physical and functional rehabilitation and to address psychological trauma. They normally will need these services in rural and remote areas, where most accidents occur. Most direct victims of mines will be left with a permanent disability. As such, they will face challenges in being able to participate in all spheres of society on a basis equal to others, including by experiencing social stigmatization
The promise to landmine victims to overcome these daunting challenges has given birth to the term known as landmine victim assistance. However, those of us charged with assisting States in the fulfillment of the obligations under the Convention need to recall that victim assistance is not a world unto itself. Rather, it is part of, or should be part of, other worlds. It is for this reason that the international community gathered in Medellin, Colombia on 3-4 April at the global conference, Bridges between Worlds.
Bridges between Worlds was held further to the understanding that assistance to victims of mines and other explosive remnants of war should be integrated into broader national policies, plans and legal frameworks related to human rights, disability, health, education, employment, development, poverty reduction, social security, transitional justice and other domains.
Other aspects of addressing the landmine challenge, such as the survey and removal of emplaced mines, have warranted the establishment of new domains, such as humanitarian demining. Victim assistance, in contrast, implies a set of activities that should be carried out within existing frameworks, each of which has its own established professional standards, State institutions and multilateral deliberative bodies.
Integration does not mean that victim assistance is made invisible in broader approaches to health care, disability and other domains. In fact, integration means that the needs and rights of landmine victims become more visible and are truly addressed in these broader contexts. For instance, national injury surveillance mechanisms should include “landmine or other explosive remnant of war” as a cause of injury and death and the same should be true as a source of disability in disability data collection.
This idea of integration has been understood for some time, going back to the Convention’s first formal meeting in 1999. What is important – 15 years after the entry into force of this landmark treaty – is to act on this understanding. This makes Bridges between Worlds particularly timely, as it is important that the international community ask some fundamental questions about the bridges between the world of landmines and broader domains.
- What efforts have been made to build bridges to date and what have been the outcomes of these efforts?
- What practical steps can be taken to further build and strengthen bridges between worlds?
- How can we ensure that when bridges are built they truly enhance rather than overlook the advancement of the full and effective participation of mine victims in their societies on an equal basis with others?
The purpose of Bridges between Worlds was to address these questions.
This was done particularly with a view to considering how victim assistance may be pursued by the States Parties to the Convention, following their third five-year review conference in June of this year in Mozambique. The outcomes of the conference will be more broadly applicable given the consistent approach taken to victim assistance by all relevant instruments of international humanitarian law, including the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.
The location of the conference was significant for a number of reasons, including the fact that Medellin is located in the Department of Antioquia – the most mine-affected in Colombia, registering, since 1990, a fifth of all landmine casualties in Colombia.
Furthermore, Bridges between Worlds takes the issue of victim assistance back to Colombia where, in 2009 at the Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World, the international community adopted the Cartagena Action Plan, which sees States commit to promote and protect the welfare and rights of landmine survivors and mine-affected communities.
In addition to acquiring greater understanding of the main Bridges between worlds, the conference resulted in the identification of some specific next-steps regarding how the international community might strengthen the relationship between the promise of victim assistance in international humanitarian law and the broader contexts of disability, inclusion, health, human rights, education, employment and development.
Landmine victims no doubt are growing tired of endless talk about our commitment to their well-being.
Bridges between Worlds was a new chance to turn this talk into action, and in a manner to ensure sustainable and constantly improved measures are taken, long after the last emplaced landmine has been located and destroyed.