At the Second Review Conference of the Ottawa Convention, the Red Cross (ICRC) and Handicap International joined the REI Foundation to help Colombian landmine victims who do not receive state assistance.
At the conference, which began on Sunday in Cartagena de Indias, the ICRC and Handicap International united with the REI Foundation to provide assistance to over 8,000 landmine victims across Colombia who are struggling to survive without help from the State.
Though Colombia joined the Ottawa Convention in 1999 (which bans the use, production and stock-piling of land mines) thousands of Colombian farmers still suffer mutilation by land mines, which continue to be laid by the various forces in the country’s armed conflict.
Novis Jimenez, coordinator of the orthopaedic lab for the REI Foundation, revealed that the majority of victims coming to the medical centre were farmers and fishermen from the country’s northern departments.
“We offer them rehabilitation, transport from their homes to Cartagena and provide accommodation and food,” explained Jimenez.
Carlos Cecilio Cardenas, a patient of Jimenez, originally came from the northern city of Santa Marta. In 2001 Cardenas lost a leg, arm, eye and ear when he stepped on a mine while bathing in a river.
“My life changed dramatically, I tried to commit suicide four times. It is civilians who are paying for Colombia’s war,” stated Cardenas, who is currently preparing to receive prostheses.
Prosthetics and the accompanying treatment cost around US$8,000 – not including the cost of replacing the limb every four years, or more if it breaks, reported news site CMI.
Cardenas, however, like over 8,000 other land mine victims, does not receive a disability pension – he only received compensation of approx US$6,000 from the state which was rapidly spent on blood transfusions, medication and his first prosthetic limb.
Many others who lost their ability to work when they lost their limbs, are less fortunate than Cardenas. Jimenez asserted that for many victims it has been several years since they have been able to work and yet have never received state compensation, let alone a pension.
“There are victims who are prostrate in chairs, others lose arms and legs. We are all victims, what we want is… to be treated equally. We need to be offered a pension,” said another victim, 25-year-old Luis Alberto Fuentes.
Amongst other initiatives the REI Foundation has begun producing its own prosthetics, and training land mine victims in how to make them. This project has now become a crucial aspect in the rehabilitation process for those wounded by landmines.
Representatives of more than 150 countries are gathered at the Ottawa Convention summit to discuss progress towards a mine-free world. The summit will last until December 4.