“I was ten years old when I jumped on an anti-personnel mine in Cambodia," Gniep says as she addressed the public in front of the Palais des Nations in Geneva. "This mine took everything from me: my leg, my childhood dreams.” Gniep was one of Humanity & Inclusion's first beneficiaries from the 1980s. She was fitted with a prosthetic in the Kao I Dang camp located on the border between Cambodia and Thailand.
On January 31, the Trump Administration effectively committed the U.S. to resume the use, development, and stockpiling of antipersonnel landmines.
"On behalf of all mine victims around the world, I call for a the international community to push back at the Trump administration and demand the abandonment of this policy that will cause death and suffering."
Barbaric weapon from another time
Presented today by the Trump government as "an important tool," it is, however, a weapon that is designed to injure or kill. In 1997, the adoption of the Mine Ban Treaty marked a real victory against these indiscriminate weapons.
“We thought we had almost won with the signing of the Ottawa Treaty, and then the drastic reduction in the number of victims year after year," Gniep continues. "After all these efforts, the mines had really become 'outlaws,' but today all this is called into question!"
This decision by the American government reasons like a thunderbolt for the thousands of victims and the hundreds of NGOs which, like Humanity & Inclusion, have campaigned for the ban on this weapon. The United States was one of the few countries that has not yet joined the Mine Ban Treaty. However, for almost 30 years, the country has abstained from using them.
Fears that trade of landmines will return
Among the 6,897 victims counted in 2018, only 332 people were victims of so-called conventional mines. The other counted victims were injured or killed by “artisanal” or improvised mines.
“The market was dry, the mines were no longer sold," said Emmanuel Sauvage, Humanity & Inclusion's Violence Reduction Officer. "With their new so-called 'smart' mines, the Trump government is making an irresponsible decision that could kick-start the market for these cowardly weapons and reach new victims."
Humanity & Inclusion and Gniep Smoeun call on Signatory States to the Ottawa Treaty to use all their weight to push back on the Trump Administration. Their appeal is launched on the occasion of the 23rd international meeting of directors of national mine action programs taking place this week at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
The Ottawa Treaty prohibits the acquisition, production, stockpiling and use of anti-personnel mines. It was opened for signature on December 3, 1997 and entered into force on March 1, 1999. 164 States are parties to the Treaty, or 80% of the nations of the world. The annual number of victims identified has been divided by ten in 15 years. In the early 1990s, the world tallied 30,000 victims, compared to 6,897 in 2018. Since the entry into force of the treaty in 1999, at least 2,200 km² of mined land has been cleared and States have destroyed 54 million stockpiled landmines. Mines still terrorize civilians in 60 states and territories, where mine contamination and explosive remnants of war lurk. Since 2014, the multiplication of conflicts has seen the use of mines increase.
Decades of campaigning to protect civilians
Humanity & Inclusion was created in 1982 in response to the horrific landmine injuries suffered by Cambodian refugees. Soon, we realized that action needed to be taken at an international level to ban these indiscriminate weapons.
Humanity & Inclusion played a key role in founding the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, for which we were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, following the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty in 1997.
We are a founding member of the Cluster Munition Coalition, and we actively support the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which came into force on August 1, 2010.
Humanity & Inclusion is also a founder and coordinating member of the annual Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, which monitors these two international treaties and produces annual reports on their implementation. And we are a founding member of the International Network on Explosive Weapons.
Eight-year-old Channa’s face lights up and then breaks into a big smile, revealing the playful little girl inside. But between bouts of laughter, a more serious Channa all too easily takes her place. This little girl’s life has not been all fun and games.
Born premature at nearly 2.5 pounds, Channa's mother Sokra remembers the joy of seeing her adorable little face for the first time. When she realized that her baby had been born with deformed fingers and a left leg almost detached from her body, a chill ran down her spine. The doctor immediately decided to amputate. Shocked, the young mother took a long time to adjust.
Deep in her native village in Cambodia, Channa grew up under the helpless gaze of her parents. Sokra was overprotective of her daughter and suffered in silence as the other children in the village took their first steps. Her daughter would never be able to walk. Or so she thought. “The first time Humanity & Inclusion's social worker came to explain that my daughter could walk with a prosthesis, I felt so relieved,” she explains. “It was wonderful to hear that Channa had a future too! It really upset me to see her drag herself along the floor at an age when most children were taking their first steps.” At 18 months, Channa took her first few steps with her new leg.
Channa visits our orthopedic center in Kampong Cham when she needs to be fitted with a new prosthesis, better adapted to her growing body. She can’t imagine life without her faithful companion: “I love my prosthesis,” Channa exclaims. “It changed my life. Now I can walk and play jump rope!”
Enrolled at school for the last two years, Channa had to repeat her first year. She had problems learning to write because of her deformed fingers, but she persevered and now she can write like her counterparts. The most difficult challenge for Channa: fitting in at school. “When I started school, it was really hard. Some of my classmates would beat me and laugh at me. I didn’t want to go anymore,” she confides.
“I didn’t say anything. It was my cousin who spilled the beans. Mom was very angry. She went to see my teacher and they had a chat. The teacher talked to the children who were hurting me and since then, the problems have stopped. Now, I have lots of friends.”
Channa loves learning! One of her favorite times of the school day is when she can connect with her friends and play jump rope. That’s when she becomes the star of the playground, as light as a feather, her face beaming with a smile!
Provide one week of school to a child with a disability.
Vimean Srun, 46, has been a Humanity & Inclusion physical therapist in Cambodia for the past 20 years. He recently shared the story of why he became a physical a therapist and where his career has taken him.
“I decided to become a physical therapist at a time when there were almost no Cambodian PTs,” says Srun. “Physical therapy departments were just beginning to open in hospitals.” He was inspired to become a PT after witnessing the plight of people who had lost limbs due to landmines as a result of the civil war in Cambodia.
“I was deeply saddened seeing people who suffered bodily mutilation caused by explosive remnants of war planted during the Khmer Rouge regime.”
After working for several years as a physical therapist at the public hospital in Kampong Cham, Srun joined the Kampong Cham Physical Rehabilitation Center run by HI in 1998. Today he is the head of the physical therapy department at. Although he is a manger now, he still loves working with patients. In addition to providing care for people injured during the war, he cares for children and adults with many different types of injuries and disabilities.
Today he is working with Khin Sou, a four-month-old baby diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Srun massages Khin Sou’s muscles and performs exercises designed to help improve his reflexes and motor skills. And after two months of treatment, the Khin Sou has already regained some of his functionality.
“Working with patients like Khin Sou and see them improving thanks to my efforts gives me the motivation to get up every morning and come to work,” says Srun. “It’s the fulfillment of the dreams of my youth.”
Two decades ago, the adoption of the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty marked an unprecedented diplomatic victory against these cowardly weapons. The treaty led to a fall in casualty numbers, the destruction of millions of mines, and a virtual end to their use. Since 2014, however, the use of mines has increased in many current conflicts, with a resulting rise in casualty numbers.Read more
Eight-year-old Channa’s face lights up and then breaks into a big smile, revealing the playful little girl inside. But between bouts of laughter, a more serious Channa all too easily takes her place. This little girl’s life has not been all fun and games.Read more
Seven-year-old Chetra is one of the youngest patients at the Handicap International rehabilitation center in Kompong Cham, Cambodia.Read more
In 2011, three-year-old Chetra’s life was turned upside down when a speeding motorcycle struck him. He had been picking leaves from a small bush on the edge of the road near his home when he was struck at such a force that his foot was torn from his leg.Read more