Protecting Libyan civilians

WASHINGTON, D.C. - On February 17, 2011, the Libyan people rose up against Col. Gaddafi's regime. One year later, after succeeding in his overthrow, the fighting has ended, but the threat posed by anti-personnel landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) deployed during the conflict continues to compromise the safety of civilians. 

Protecting civilians: A top priority for Handicap International
Handicap International strives to meet two key objectives through its activities in Libya: To clear ERW in former conflict zones, and to promote safety and prevent accidents by providing risk education for civilians. The organization began providing ERW risk-education sessions for at-risk populations in Libya in March 2011. Since then, the organization has extended its awareness-raising actions to include small arms, which are possessed by large numbers of civilians.

Clearing cities of mines and ERW
Over the past few weeks, three mine clearance teams from Handicap International have been clearing contaminated areas in various neighborhoods of Tripoli and Sirte to protect people from the risk of explosions. In less than a month, the organization has identified more than 600 ERW, which Handicap International will soon destroy.

“After the fighting ends, the first thing people want to do is to return home, even though their neighborhoods have been bombed and mined. As a result, many civilians unwittingly put themselves at risk,” explained Frédéric Maio, manager of Handicap International's operations in Libya. “Some of them are also tempted to recover metal or explosives from abandoned bombs. This extremely risky behavior provides us with a daily reminder of the need to destroy these weapons and to ensure civilians understand the dangers they pose.”

Risk education about small arms
When the conflict began, Gaddafi's forces opened arms stockpiles, and various other governments supplied Libya with weapons. These actions led to the proliferation of an unknown quantity of small arms, many of which are now in the possession of civilians who are not trained in their use, often resulting in accidents.

“For example, we need to [prevent] celebrations [from] turning into tragedies because civilians are firing into the air and injuring the people around them,” Maio explained. In just two months, between October and November 2011, 400 people were killed in accidents involving small arms in Tripoli. To prevent similar accidents, Handicap International has been organizing prevention sessions to teach people basic safety precautions, including direct sessions for the group most affected by these accidents: teenagers. The organization has also trained some 100 school teachers about best practices regarding these weapons, which they have been instructed to pass onto students and their parents. Awareness-raising kits also have been distributed in support of these activities, and in several cities, messages have been displayed on billboards in disadvantaged neighborhoods most acutely affected by this scourge of violence.

Risk education about unexploded ordnance
Handicap International trained some 100 Libyan nationals beginning in March 2011 to raise awareness among people who are at risk from mines and other unexploded remnants of war about the dangers posed by these weapons. This activity plays a vital role in preventing accidents. Handicap International's teams and its partners organize sessions in schools and businesses and for local authorities and organizations. The organization also distributes awareness information, fun and educational games for children, and broadcasts public service announcements on national and local radio stations.

For more information about Handicap International's work in Libya, please read the February 2012 Situation Report.