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Assisting landmine victims

Explosive weapons Rehabilitation

Assisting landmine victims is one of the principal obligations of the Ottawa Treaty. It is also one of HI’s founding principles. 

Teenage boy with amputated leg laying on a medical table being tended to by a HI specialist who stretches his leg

Abdel was 16 years old when he lost his leg in a landmine explosion. HI has helped him rebuild his life. | © HI

HI’s history intertwined with that of landmine victims

HI was created 40 years ago out of outrage at the human damage being caused by landmines. In 1982, HI ran its first project to provide services which included the provision of prosthetics to 6,000 Cambodian refugees who had been injured or lost limbs in mine accidents. Ten years later, in 1992, HI teams had provided assistance to more than 10,000 people in 26 countries. Our work to address the human impact of landmines was reinforced by a political commitment to ban landmines. This commitment led to the adoption of the Ottawa Treaty.

What suffering do landmines cause?

Landmines kill and injure people. They cause physical and psychological damage, affect people’s livelihoods and can result in social marginalization. Landmine “victims” include not only those injured and killed, but their families and also their communities, as their land is contaminated by these weapons and other explosive ordnance. Being a landmine survivor triggers a chain reaction that can lead to disability and exclusion:

  • The injury often results in amputation that, without the necessary rehabilitation, can cause life-long disability.
  • The person may lose their employment and income due to discriminatory attitudes. If they were the sole financial provider, the whole family can be plunged into poverty.
  • Losing a limb can cause depression due to changes in self-perception and the way in which society perceives people with disabilities.
  • Prejudice towards people with disabilities can lead to exclusion from all other aspects of social life, such as cultural gatherings, weddings and other celebrations.
  • Additional barriers, including inaccessible buildings and information or discriminatory policies and laws, often means that the rights of people with disabilities are not respected or realized.
  • There is a higher mortality rate among women and girls injured by explosive ordnance, including landmines, as they are less likely to benefit from immediate first aid. They also tend to have less access to rehabilitation services, work and school than boys and men.

What are the objectives of Victim Assistance?

Victim Assistance is a mandatory provision of the Ottawa Treaty. Every State that joins the Treaty has a duty to assist victims through the implementation of specific activities or to financially support such activities.

The most important are emergency medical care, rehabilitation services – including the provision of prosthetics and orthotics, psychological support and facilitating people’s return to school, work and other aspects of social life.

The aim is to support the inclusion of survivors and other people with disabilities in society.

What challenges are involved in implementing Victim Assistance?

The majority of accidents occur in low-income countries where rehabilitation and other services are very scarce. Doctors and medical facilities tend to be located in cities, while survivors live in remote rural areas. Medical teams often have no proper training in amputation. The response by mental health and psychosocial support services tends to be insufficient when it comes to meeting mental health needs of survivors and indirect victims. 30% of casualties do not survive the accident through a lack of first aid. Training community-based volunteers in first aid can reduce this mortality rate to 10-12%.

Victim assistance must be life-long: a child who loses a leg in a landmine accident at the age of four will need approximately 40 prosthetic legs in his or her lifetime.

In 2021, only 6% of the global financial contribution to humanitarian mine action was assigned to victim assistance, while other humanitarian and development funding falls way short of ensuring that the necessary services are provided and societal barriers
reduced and ultimately removed. There are still 34 States Parties with significant numbers of landmine victim.

Date published: 11/04/22


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