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Putting an end to anti-personnel mines: from words to action

Explosive weapons

On the occasion of the International Day of Mine Awareness on April 4, Handicap International, which shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for its mobilization against landmines, wants to recall the scale of the task and the necessary mobilization of the entire international community to address this issue.

Mines

Mine action program in Senegal. Deminer Elizabeth Sambou | © J-J. Bernard / Handicap International

10 years. 10 years since I have been meeting with victims of anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions in Laos, Cambodia, Lebanon, and Colombia.

10 years of witnessing ravaged bodies and battered spirits, heartbroken eyes of mothers who have lost their children and the anger felt by communities — people who, in addition to mourning their dead ones and amputees, live in the middle of minefields.

When these explosions strike, the victims suffer from more than the immediately devastating effects of the blast on their eyes, arms, and legs; they are amputees, this is it.

Amputees, from a future, from an intimacy, from the gaze and attention of others.

Amputees, from the assistance that’s been promised to them since the late 90s but is still slow to reach the most vulnerable.

Amputees, from the necessary safety for any kind of development, any revival. Time presses on and every hour, every day that passes more innocent people are threatened.

I was in Colombia in the beginning of March. Handicap International has been conducting operations there since the late 90s, including a major assistance program for victims of anti-personnel mines supported by Canada since 2012, which just ended.

Two days spent with these survivors and their families is not much. But yet I am filled with equal parts of joy and anger, laughter and tears.

How can we accept that old soda bottles and syringes are turned into explosive booby traps that threaten entire villages? How can we accept that it can take the wounded 8 hours to reach the nearest emergency medical services? How can we accept that only a small percentage of survivors are able to access the services they are entitled to? How can we comprehend that behind postcard-like beauty, hundreds of thousands of monsters are hiding, waiting for their prey, making Colombia the second most polluted country after Afghanistan?

Yet, those who live with this horror have turned their anger into energy. “Gracias a Dios, to Canada and to Handicap International,” they stand up, go back to school, are referred to existing services, know their rights, learn a new trade, start up a new business or even become deminers… Then they talk, bear witness and advocate.

For them, promises are not enough. They know what it costs to have a prosthesis fitted, what it costs to go to physiotherapy, what it costs to enroll in vocational training, what it costs to educate communities about the risks mines pose, what it costs to clear an area of mines that’s a 10-hour walk from the nearest paved road, or just on the other side of the school fence…

Above all, they know what it prevents: broken lives, tragedies, mutilated futures and anguish.

So, whether they’re from Columbia, Syria, Yemen, Senegal, Iraq, or Cambodia… what these people want is for us to move from talking to acting.

And when I look deep into their eyes, I can assure you that there is no doubt in my mind that this is our common responsibility.

What good would humanity be otherwise?

 

Jérôme Bobin
Executive Director
Handicap International Canada

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