In 1982, two doctors working in refugee camps in Thailand started helping survivors of landmine explosions who had been injured fleeing across the heavily mined border. There they met Gniep, a young girl who had lost her leg after stepping on a landmine. Gniep was one of the first children ever supported by Humanity & Inclusion. This is her story.
I was 5 years old, living under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, four long years in absolute darkness of uncertainty, anguish and fear. In 1979, fleeing misery and hunger, I left my village with my aunt, leaving everything behind, believing that it was temporary.
Antipersonnel landmines were all over Cambodia. To this day they still kill and mutilate an alarmingly high number of people. At the time, we were not informed about the risk they posed. While in the camp, I went to fetch water and that’s when it happened: I stepped on a mine.
I remember it as if it were yesterday; the violence was such that I was thrown in the air. Stunned and dizzy by the shock of the explosion, I did not know that I had just stepped on a mine. I tried to get up and walk three times before understanding that my right leg was torn off at the calf, and that the left one was badly affected, too.
By instinct of survival, probably, I moved myself to a path, where two soldiers passing by found me and brought me on their motorcycle to a makeshift dispensary. There, the analgesic I was given was a stick that I had to bite on when the pain became too much.
Then, I was transferred to a refugee camp in Thailand commonly known as Khao I Dang. I had to undergo 17 operations because the surgeon wanted to preserve the joint, but my leg was gangrenous and I fell into a coma for a month.
Not long afterward, I met the founding members of HI. They were a small group of young people, who were friends, husbands and wives, full of enthusiasm, their heads full of dreams and ideals, animated by a crazy desire to help people like me who had been stripped of everything. With great humanity and respect, they put me back on my feet again.
My first prosthesis was very simple, made of recycled materials like wood, car tires, and resin. I admit that I had a hard time accepting it because it was heavy and hard to put on.
It's hard to believe that was 40 years ago. Today, despite my disability, I lead my life like everyone else. I am a night nurse, working for young people with multiple disabilities. And I am a mother of a young and beautiful girl. I am so very grateful to those women and men who helped me all those years ago. They gave me back my smile and dignity, which everyone should have!
One billion persons have a disability worldwide, but meaningful inclusion remains a challenge.
In this Q&A, Ruby Holmes, an inclusive governance global specialist for Humanity & Inclusion, expands on the organization’s commitments ahead of the Global Disability Summit, which will be held virtually Feb. 15-17.
What is the Global Disability Summit?
The Global Disability Summit (GDS) is the second summit of its kind. The first one brought stakeholders from different governments, civil society organizations, the UN and organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) together in 2018, to discuss disability inclusion and inclusive development.
Disability inclusion is a key topic: about 1 billion persons, that is 15% of the global population, have a disability – and this is only an estimate due to lacking global disability data. Persons with disabilities are the largest minority group in the world.
Because of a lack of awareness amongst governments and service providers, persons with disabilities face many barriers, such as accessibility factors. However, one of the main barriers is attitudinal, as they face a lot of stigma and discrimination. One of the major challenges today is awareness raising, to show that persons with disabilities have equal rights and must have access to services just like everybody else.
Why is the GDS a key moment for inclusion and disability rights?
The GDS is important because of the momentum that the disability rights movement is gaining globally. We really want to keep those conversations, those partnerships going. It is also extremely important to hold stakeholders accountable to implement their commitments and ensure they are including persons with disabilities and OPDs in all of their programs, policies and initiatives.
A report by the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities found that between 2014 and 2018, less than 2% of international aid was disability relevant. So international stakeholders must really continue to support funding, providing more direct support to OPDs and pay them for their expertise.
What are HI’s commitments for the GDS?
Inclusive health, inclusive education and inclusive humanitarian action are part of the topics and themes that were produced by the Summit Secretariat. They are also pillars to Humanity & Inclusion's work and interventions.
In inclusive education, Humanity & Inclusion commits to working with local education actors to train teachers to include students with disabilities. The work will include a focus on supporting children and young people with a range of diverse and complex needs, such as intellectual disabilities, communication impairments and psychosocial disabilities. Humanity & Inclusion commits to developing a guidebook and toolkits within the next two years, to developing research on the itinerant teacher and support mechanism model, and to applying these innovations in at least five new flagship projects over the next two years. Amongst other actions, Humanity & Inclusion also commits to advocating for financing efforts, to strengthen inclusive education systems and increase investments, in international platforms and networks.
For the health sector, Humanity & Inclusion is focusing on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Among other items, the organization is committing to develop at least four new inclusive SRHR projects over the next four years, through meaningful participation of organizations of persons with disabilities. In addition, through continued and renewed advocacy with key partners, Humanity & Inclusion commits to influence at least four policies, strategic planning or budgeting processes in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom and European Union in the next 4 years.
Inclusive humanitarian assistance
Persons with disabilities are routinely ignored during disaster preparedness and often left behind when disaster strikes. More climate-induced disasters will increase the vulnerability of persons with disabilities. To fight against that, Humanity & Inclusion is committing to support persons with disabilities to meaningfully participate in humanitarian responses. By the end of 2025, the organization will develop, pilot and share two sets of tools for field professionals and three lessons learned from case studies.
Humanity & Inclusion has also created a commitment on meaningful engagement and sustained partnerships with OPDs across all of its projects. Throughout livelihood and education initiatives, Humanity & Inclusion will implement capacity building on advocacy and inclusive policies in five countries by the end of 2026. The organization has also made a commitment on acknowledging disability, gender and age as cross cutting components and critical vulnerability factors for populations affected by sudden onset or long-term crisis or poverty. Recognizing the diversity of the disability community, Humanity & Inclusion is committing to implement its disability, gender and age framework within all its projects by the end of 2023, to ensure that further marginalized groups, such as persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, receive equal opportunities and representation in all initiatives.
The meaningful participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities is also key in many other topics, such as climate action and disaster risk reduction. Humanity & Inclusion attended COP—a global climate change summit—in Glasgow in 2021 and disability inclusion was not at all on people’s radar.
What outcomes is HI expecting of the GDS?
We need to increase the scale and ensure that disability inclusion is meaningful, not just a tick mark. Humanity & Inclusion is definitely advocating for more funding on inclusion projects. The organization also wants stakeholders to be intentional about disability inclusion from the very beginning and include OPDs in the design of their projects.
Humanity & Inclusion is expecting more dedication from States, UN entities and donors to support inclusive actions. Commitments are not legally binding agreements and there was a lack of response from some stakeholders at the last summit. For this summit, there has to be more pressure, more follow-up. Commitments have to be much more time-bound and practical, so that they are more likely to be achieved.
What added value can HI bring?
The GDS is very aligned to Humanity & Inclusion’s work and mission. For 40 years, Humanity & Inclusion has worked alongside persons with disabilities and populations living in situations of extreme hardship, in order to respond to their essential needs, improve their living conditions, promote and respect their dignity and fundamental rights. Humanity & Inclusion is also unique in that it is working in situations of poverty and exclusion, but also conflicts and disasters. The organization’s actions encompass the thematic pillars of the summit, focusing on more development context through education and health but also working in many situations focused on humanitarian action.
Furthermore, through its disability, gender and age policy, Humanity & Inclusion is taking more of an intersectional approach to inclusion. This approach is gaining a lot of traction globally: it is an important time and momentum to look at the various identities of a person and the role they play in their everyday lives.
Why is it important to support OPDs?
Obviously, we have to stay true to the disability rights motto: nothing about us without us. How could we work on disability rights without including persons with disabilities? They are the experts of their own needs, the barriers they face and accessibility. They must play a central role in ensuring that their human rights are translated into concrete measures that improve their lives.
OPDs are a way for persons with disabilities to come together and have a united voice. That uniform voice and collective movement has really played a huge role in the traction that the disability movement has had globally.
Humanity & Inclusion has historically always partnered with local organizations, to promote their meaningful participation, equal access to opportunities and resources as well as accessibility of the environment.
For instance, Humanity & Inclusion’s teams are working in Iraq with the Iraqi Alliance of Disability (IADO). In 2019, Humanity & Inclusion supported IADO in a joint publication on a shadow report on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which helped the UN committee learn more of a civil society perspective. It led to 69 recommendations to the Iraqi government, which actually encouraged the Prime Minister to sign a decree to reserve a certain percentage of jobs for persons with disabilities.
What is HI doing to support OPDs?
Humanity & Inclusion has been supporting the implementation of the CRPD in 59 countries and currently has about 35 country projects across 25 countries, where it is working with OPDs. Humanity & Inclusion is supporting OPDs through small grants, capacity building (workshops and trainings on creating an advocacy action plan, for instance), partnership building and elevated advocacy efforts, from the local to the regional, national and international levels.
Humanity & Inclusion’s main goal is to work at the local, very grassroots level, and then support those efforts to reach the national and international level, to create networks and spark constructive dialogues. For instance, Humanity & Inclusion has a regional capacity-building program in 15 countries in West Africa. The lead OPD partner is the Western Association of the Federation of Persons with Disabilities, who is in turn supporting smaller federations of OPDs.
In most contexts, Humanity & Inclusion does not need to play the advocacy role, as the organization is only acting as a support and not replacing OPDs.
Ruby Holmes is an inclusive governance global specialist. She has been working at HI for over 3 years and represents the organization in a number of international consortiums. She is working alongside HI teams to help them support civil society and organizations of persons with disabilities, through training materials, capacity-building workshops, advocacy events, etc. She is making sure HI is partnering with local organizations and that they're being engaged in a very meaningful way.
More than 170 members of four national parliaments call on governments to make a firm and concrete commitment to the fight against the use of bombing in populated areas. The call follows a May 27 online conference organized by Humanity & Inclusion and attended by 80 participants to mobilize States against the bombing of civilians.
39 members of parliaments from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the United Kingdom along with a total of 80 participants attended the interparliamentary conference to mobilize the support of their States for an ambitious international agreement to address the harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
At the end of the conference, 172 parliamentarians signed a joint statement to call their government to “support the development of an international political declaration to strengthen the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and to strengthen assistance to victims of such practices.” The statement is further opened for signatures.
“More than 170 parliamentarians signed the joint statement calling their governments to commit to the current diplomatic process to negotiate a strong political declaration against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. We are pleased by the strong commitment of so many lawmakers. European governments should not shy away from their responsibilities: In armed conflicts, nine victims in 10 of explosive violence in urban areas are civilians. It is unacceptable. States have a historic opportunity to make a change.” - Alma Taslidžan Al-Osta, Disarmament Advocacy Manager
An international agreement
The draft of an international agreement against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is at its final negotiation stage between states, UN agencies, international organizations and civil society. A final round of negotiations will be held in the Fall. Then, the international agreement is expected to be finalized by the end of 2021.
This diplomatic process started in October 2019. So far, more than 70 States have been involved.
The Secretary General of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, called States to avoid any use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. This would create a presumption against the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas.
This solution is opposed by some States like France and the United Kingdom. Humanity & Inclusion is calling on reluctant governments to change their position on the wording of the declaration and to make a contribution that will have a concrete impact in the field and ensure the effective protection of civilians.
Stop bombing civilians
Bombing continues to destroy the lives of thousands of civilians in Syria, Yemen and more recently in Palestine and Israel. Between 2011 and 2020, 91% of victims of explosive weapons in populated areas were civilians. The use of explosive weapons in urban areas has systematic humanitarian consequences for civilian populations.
Explosive weapons kill and injure civilians, cause severe psychological trauma, destroy vital infrastructure such as schools, health centers and roads, and force people to flee their homes. Bombing also leaves behind explosive remnants of war that threaten the lives of civilians long after fighting is over. It is more vital than ever to adopt a strong political declaration to protect civilians.
In June 2022, the Biden Administration barred the United States' use, production, stockpiling, and transferring of anti-personnel landmines, with the exception of on the Korean Peninsula, if necessary. These landmines are outdated and inaccurate weapons of war that kill and maim thousands of innocent men, women, and children every year.
By signing the petition below, you are helping us tell President Biden and his administration to go one step further. 164 countries—including all of the members of NATO except the U.S.—have signed an international Mine Ban Treaty and it’s due time we join them.
The United Nations Security Council discusses the protection of civilians in armed conflict the week of May 20, 2019. A delegation from Humanity & Inclusion is at the United Nations headquarters in New York to convince States to commit themselves against bombing populated areas. Arms Advocacy Manager, Alma Al Osta, is at the helm of the delegation. She took time to explain Humanity & Inclusion's actions:
Meetings - lots of meetings!
The Humanity & Inclusion delegation has planned several meetings with state delegations to convince them to commit themselves against bombing populated areas. A few days ago, we addressed them by letter to encourage them to refer to bombing in populated areas as a major problem for the protection of civilians in armed conflict when they speak at the Security Council debate. We also asked them to support the political process initiated by Austria, Ireland and several States in favor of an international political declaration against explosive weapons in populated areas. Humanity & Inclusion has been working for years with States and other NGOs on such a political declaration.
Civilians front and center
Bombings in populated areas have disastrous and long-term consequences for civilians--consequences that Humanity & Inclusion confronts daily in places like Libya and Yemen, and among Syrian refugees. At a breakout conference of the Security Council debate on May 23rd, we will report on what we have seen in the field: the suffering of civilians caused by bombings in urban areas. That includes disabling injuries, psychological trauma, destruction of vital civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and schools, population displacement, contamination by explosive remnants...
Bombing populated areas: 92% of victims are civilians
Bombing in populated areas has become a common practice in armed conflicts. Civilians are the main victims. According to Action on Armed Violence, more than 42,000 people were killed or injured by explosive weapons of all kinds - bombs, mortars, rockets, etc. - in 2017. When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, 92% of the victims are civilians.
Protection of civilians
During armed conflict, those who do not take part in the fighting must not be attacked. They must be spared and protected. The concept of "protection of civilians" thus encompasses the rules of international humanitarian law to protect all those - men, women, children - who do not take part in fighting.
20 years since the first UN resolution on the protection of civilians
Twenty years ago, in 1999, the United Nations Security Council noted that civilians had become the main victims of armed conflict and adopted its first resolution on the protection of civilians (Resolution 1265): "Civilians constitute the vast majority of victims of armed conflict and [...] combatants and other armed elements are increasingly targeting them." The same year, the Security Council decided on the first peace keeping mission dedicated to the protection of civilians (Sierra Leone).
Photo: On the 5th and 6th of December 2018, HI co-organized a regional conference in Santiago, the capital of Chile, on protecting civilians from bombing. 25 governments and a dozen civil society organizations and international NGOs attended. The organization raised awareness of this crucial issue and encouraged states to take a stand against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. © HI
Jessica with retired Senator Harkin in his Washington, D.C. office. (photo above)
More than one billion people on our planet have a disability—yet most still struggle to escape discrimination. The U.S. has been the world leader in promoting the rights of people with disabilities—until recently.
You can help change this.
An international disability rights treaty based on The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), aims to promote human rights and protections for people with disabilities around the globe. The world counts 173 ratifications/accessions to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)—but not the U.S.
In 2012, despite broad bi-partisan support, the U.S. Senate failed to ratify the CRPD by just five votes. It hasn't come to a floor vote since.
Call on your Senators to support the CRPD. Your name will be delivered in person to the Washington, D.C., offices of Senators to convince them it is the right thing to do.
Sign below to say:
I support the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I urge you, and your fellow Senators, to support the disability treaty when it next comes to debate and a vote.
Ratification of the CRPD is free. Ratification does not change U.S. law. Ratification tells the world that the U.S. is serious about protecting the rights of people with disabilities.
Please, Senator, lend your support to the U.S. joining the disability treaty.