A message from Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion:
President-elect Joe Biden has an opportunity to send a clear message to civilians caught in conflict that America cares about their fate.
The United States has long been out of step with its allies and the broader global consensus to ban landmines and cluster munitions. The Biden Administration can reset U.S. policy and finally join the Mine Ban Treaty and Convention on Cluster Munitions. Further, the Administration should fully support the diplomatic process towards an international agreement against bombing in populated areas.
Cluster munitions have recently been used in the Azerbaijan-Armenia war. Landmines still cause around 6,000 casualties annually. These two indiscriminate weapons remain a clear danger to civilians. 123 States have joined the Oslo Convention that bans cluster munitions, and 164 States are parties to the Ottawa treaty banning anti-personnel landmines. Meanwhile, the use of heavy explosive weapons in urban areas has become common in modern conflict, with civilians making up 90% of the victims.
The Biden Administration should quickly recommit to its campaign pledge to limit using antipersonnel landmines except in Korea, announce an intention to eventually stop using or transferring landmines, forswear use of cluster munitions, and commit to the diplomatic process that will lead to an international agreement against heavy bombing in populated areas. We hope the administration will eventually ratify the Ottawa Treaty, completely banning the use of anti-personnel landmines.
Image: A man conducts mine clearance in Lebanon in 2018 as part of a project funded by the United States Arms Removal and Reduction Office and the U.S. Department of State.
Ravaged by 50 years of armed conflict, Colombia is the world’s second-most densely mined country, just behind Afghanistan. Mines and explosive remnants of war contaminate land in 31 of Colombia's 32 regions.
In May 2016, the Colombian government granted Humanity & Inclusion full authorization—one of two organizations with this status—to conduct mine clearance operations in three of the country’s regions, as part of the new peace agreements between the government and Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC). Since then, Humanity & Inclusion launched a mine clearance operation, with a specific focus on indigenous land, in the regions of Cauca, Meta, and Caquetá.
Check out these photos of the demining and first aid training exercises in Colombia:
Silver Spring, MD—Humanity & Inclusion is deeply concerned about civilian suffering in the Armenia-Azerbaijan clash over Nagorno-Karabakh. As violence rapidly escalates, both sides are using heavy explosive weapons—including banned cluster munitions—in populated areas, putting the lives of civilians in grave danger. Humanity & Inclusion supports the international call for a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh and call on states to develop a strong international agreement against bombing in populated areas in 2021.
Since September 27th, both parties have carried out direct attacks on urban targets. A rise in civilian casualties has been inevitable: Azeri artillery fell on Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh's capital. In response, Armenian artillery shelled Ganja, Azerbaijan's second largest city, home to 330,000 people. Civilian casualties have been reported in high numbers in the cities of Stepanakert and Ganja. Vital civilian infrastructure has been destroyed and families have fled.
“These recent battles imperil countless thousands with heavy bombs in the mix,” says Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion. “When exploding weapons are used in populated areas, not only do many people suffer immediately, but the bombs destroy critical infrastructure—hospitals, water treatment systems and schools—on which they depend daily.
“Many heavy explosive weapons used in urban warfare today were originally designed for open battlefields. They are inaccurate weapons putting entire neighborhoods at risk, multiple rocket systems simultaneously firing over a wide-area, munitions producing large blasts and fragmentation effects... This practice has major humanitarian consequences and it must be stopped. The fact that cluster munitions, one of the most pernicious of weapons and banned by the Oslo Treaty, are being used in the conflict only heightens the risks to civilians caught in the middle."
Such bombings force civilians to abandon all their belonging and to flee to safer areas. Already, a reported 50% of Karabakh's population and 90% of women and children —70,000 to 75,000 people — have been displaced, according to the Karabakh rights ombudsman Artak Beglaryan, who was quoted by the AFP news agency. Previous Humanity & Inclusion reports clearly link displacement and bombings.
“We fear that if the violence brings the region closer to all-out war, there will be long-term humanitarian consequences in the region,” says Humanity & Inclusion Armed Violence Reduction Director Emmanuel Sauvage. “We’d see permanently displaced families, contamination of large zones by explosive remnants, complex injuries and long-term psychological trauma, and a sharp reduction of vital services. Some bombs and other explosives fail to detonate on impact, so even those who manage to escape death or injury from the immediate blast find it next to impossible to remain living near the bomb site. Inevitably even more die or are displaced by the indiscriminate destruction and the dangerous debris.”
The BBC reports that 220 people have been confirmed killed since September 27, and states that there are fears both military and civilian casualties are much higher. According to the French NGO ACTED, more than 500 private homes have been completely destroyed or seriously damaged.
Working toward an international agreement against bombing in urban areas
Almost a year ago to the day, a diplomatic process began to reach a political declaration against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, a practice that has long-term and deep humanitarian consequences. More than 70 States have been involved in the drafting of this international political declaration.
“We call on all States to develop a strong international agreement with clear and strong commitments against the use of heavy bombs in towns, cities and other areas that are populated by civilians,” says Anne Héry, Humanity & Inclusion advocacy Director. “This agreement must have concrete effects on the ground by better protecting civilians.”
"This political process should have the world’s attention,” Meer adds, noting that that U.S. has yet to support the political declaration.
The draft of the political declaration is at its final negotiation stage between States, UN agencies, international organizations and civil society. The international political declaration will be proposed to States for endorsement during a conference in Dublin next year.
Previous, relevant reports can be found on our website: https://www.hi-us.org/publications_research_conventional_weapons_ewipa
Humanity & Inclusion is a co-founder of INEW, the International Network on Explosive Weapons, and sits on its steering committee.
Various experts available for comment in Europe and North America
Contact Mica Bevington | [email protected] | +1 (202) 290 9264
About Humanity & Inclusion
Humanity & Inclusion is an independent international aid organization. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict, and disaster for 38 years. Working alongside people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, our action and testimony are focused on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions, and promoting respect for their dignity and basic rights. Since it was founded in 1982, Humanity & Inclusion has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. The network of eight national associations (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States) works constantly to mobilize resources, jointly manage projects, and to increase the impact of the organization’s principles and actions. Humanity & Inclusion is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 and the winner of the Conrad N. Hilton Award in 2011. Humanity & Inclusion takes action and campaigns in places where “living in dignity” is no easy task.
Eight international non-governmental organizations working in Yemen strongly condemn the reprehensible attack that took place on Monday July 15, in the north of Yemen, killing 13 civilians – including four children.
Mohamed Abdi, Country Director for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Yemen, said: “These 13 people should not have come under attack and their families should not be mourning them today. An investigation must take place, and warring parties responsible for their deaths must be held accountable if it is confirmed that this strike violated international humanitarian law.”
This morning also saw numerous airstrikes on Sana’a, including in residential areas.
The attack on 13 civilians happened the same day as the publication of the UN’s Children and Armed Conflict report, which saw the Saudi Arabia and UAE-led coalition removed from the report’s blacklist for the first time in three years. This is despite the fact that, according to the report, the coalition killed or injured 222 children in Yemen last year. In total, all parties to the conflict were responsible for 689 such casualties last year.
A unilateral ceasefire was announced by Saudi Arabia in April, but there was little evidence that this translated on the ground, and it has since ended. Violence by all parties to the conflict has continued, even during the ceasefire, including airstrikes and shelling.
Muhsin Siddiquey, Country Director of Oxfam in Yemen, said: “We condemn all violence by all parties to the conflict. What the people of Yemen need now more than ever is a nationwide ceasefire, and a return to negotiations between the warring parties. More than five years since the escalation of this bloody conflict, it is high time that action is taken to ensure that peace can return to Yemen.”
INGO signatories of the statement:
- Danish Refugee Council
- Handicap International/Humanity & Inclusion
- Mercy Corps
- Norwegian Refugee Council
- Save the Children
Notes to Editors
- Figures on child casualties can be found within the UN Secretary General’s report on Children and Armed Conflict. According to this report, the coalition will be subject to one year of monitoring and any failure to further decrease child casualties would result in it being listed again next year.
- This attack is in the context of a growing COVID-19 crisis in Yemen which, alongside mass flooding in several parts of the country, has caused an increase in humanitarian need.
- In light of this attack, upcoming UN Security Council meetings on Yemen and on Children and Armed Conflict are opportune moments to reiterate the calls for a permanent ceasefire, and for stronger calls to stop and denounce civilian deaths in conflict.
For media interviews, please contact:
- Sarah Grainger, Oxfam Senior Press Officer, [email protected]g.uk, +44 781 018 1514
- Riona Judge McCormack, NRC Communications and Media Coordination, [email protected], +353 85 257 1926
As a political declaration on the prevention of civilian harm from the use of explosive weapons is successfully moving forward, civil society, national and international organizations continue working alongside governments to ensure that the declaration will be comprehensive, and will effectively respond to the expectations of those who have suffered from the consequences of the use of explosive weapons.
With the aim of contributing to the Political Declaration process, Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Humanity & Inclusion launched an initiative with civil society and international organizations along with survivors to develop a common understanding on the needs and the rights of victims of explosive weapons.Sign up
More than half of the world's countries are contaminated by explosive remnants of war, including landmines and cluster munitions.
These weapons can lie dormant for many years, claiming victims long after a conflict has ended. They are a significant cause of disability, instilling fear in whole communities, deepening poverty and acting as a lethal barrier to development.
Faced with the devastation caused by antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions, Humanity & Inclusion realized that medical care alone would not be enough. We therefore made a commitment to work on all levels to help mine victims and their communities lead independent lives.
Crises in Yemen and beyond
In seven years of war, Yemen has experienced every manner of explosive weapons—aerial bombs and missiles, artillery, mortars, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and much more. The explosions destroy bridges, ports, roads, hospitals, water systems, and generate long lasting civilian harm. A June 2020 Humanity & Inclusion report highlights six case studies, showing the extent and impact of such bombings. Download the report, "Death Sentence to Civilians: The Long-Term Impact of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas in Yemen."
Humanity & Inclusion released a similar report in October 2021, detailing the impact of explosive weapons contamination in Iraq. Download the report, "No safe recovery: The impact of explosive ordnance contamination on affected populations in Iraq."
Experiencing conflict since 2011, 11.5 million people in Syria live in areas contaminated by explosive hazards. Nearly 6 million Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries. In Jordan and Lebanon, Humanity & Inclusion provides support to Syrian refugees, many of whom are recovering from conflict-related injuries.
Humanity & Inclusion is also responding to the Ukraine crisis, where civilians are being killed, injured and displaced by explosive weapons.
Stop Bombing Civilians
During recent armed conflicts, explosive weapons have been used on a massive scale, killing and injuring thousands of civilians. When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, a shocking 92% of casualties are civilians.
Humanity & Inclusion is working to build a movement to stop the bombing of civilians.
Weapons clearance, risk education, and victim assistance
Over the years, Humanity & Inclusion has evolved into the world's most comprehensive mine action organization, working to prevent accidents through education and clearance, and to support the victims.
Our donors make it possible to train and deploy teams of deminers to identify and clear conventional and improvised weapons from the paths of civilians. We work to educate the local population, especially children, how to spot, avoid, and report the weapons they find. Such lessons are especially vital to impart to people returning home after conflict-induced displacement.
People who survive the blasts and burns of war are in desperate need of rehabilitation. Through physical therapy and psychosocial support, Humanity & Inclusion teams work to restore the physical and mental strength of survivors. When physical recovery has advanced, it's often possible to fit artificial limbs and braces to ensure that the survivor can regain their mobility, and with that independence. To smooth their reintegration into the community, our inclusion specialists work with survivors to ensure their access to education, income-generating activities and decent work, and sport.
Decades of campaigning to protect civilians
Humanity & Inclusion was created in 1982 (under the name Handicap International) 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 effect on August 1, 2010.
Humanity & Inclusion is also a founder and coordinating member of 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.