On International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, Handicap International calls on governments, particularly the Colombian government, to take all necessary measures to assist mine victims and advance their rights.
The United Nations declared April 4, “International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action” in 2005. This year, Handicap International focuses on Colombia, one of the world’s most heavily mined countries, and home to thousands of landmine victims.
“As host to an international conference on assistance for mine and explosive remnants of war victims taking place this week in Medellin, Colombia’s government must ensure that mine victims have adequate assistance and opportunities to advance their rights,” says Elizabeth MacNairn, Executive Director of Handicap International U.S.
After 50 years of civil war, mines contaminate 31 of Colombia’s 32 departments, according to the Landmine Monitor 2013. Non-governmental armed groups regularly use these weapons, resulting in unnecessary injuries and deaths.
Indeed, between 1990 and 2013, Colombia counted more than 10,000 victims, half of whom were civilians. In 2012, officials counted an additional 500 new victims, making Colombia home to the second largest community of new ERW victims, behind Afghanistan. That same year, the civil war or the presence of dangerous mines and ERW’s kept more than 125,000 people from their homes in Colombia. The Medellin conference will provide Handicap International’s delegation with an opportunity to give a voice to these victims, with whom the organization works on a daily basis.
The Colombian government is required to meet the needs of mine and ERW accident survivors, as a State Party to the Mine Ban Convention since March 2001. But in fact, the reality is very different.
A qualitative survey conducted by Handicap International in 2013, found that the rights of mine and ERW victims have not been respected. More than nine out of 10 victims interviewed experienced difficulties finding work after their accident.
“Here in Colombia, if you don’t work, you don’t eat,” explains one survivor, 39, whose leg was amputated following a mine accident and who is still unemployed. “And if you want to be independent, you need a job.” In addition, most survivors interviewed do not receive the care or rehabilitation they need—or only after an unacceptable delay. Long and complicated administrative procedures, a lack of accessible facilities, and the high cost of care prevent many people from accessing adapted case-management for their injuries.
Handicap International has worked in Colombia since 1998, and has been involved in mine and ERW issues in ten of Colombia’s worst affected departments since 2005. The organization helps victims access the aid to which they are entitled under Colombian law, particularly by guiding them to services capable of providing them with care, rehabilitation, psychosocial support and help securing a job and a role in society.
Handicap International also works with public institutions, such as hospitals, or private facilities, like orthopedic centers, to raise awareness of the needs of these victims. The organization encourages them to provide services better adapted to mine and ERW accident survivors, and people with disabilities more generally.
 Quality of life of victims of landmines and explosive remnants of war in Colombia: A qualitative survey of a representative panel of 20 victims and their relatives or friends, conducted between July and August 2013: one-to-one interviews were followed by group discussions to promote discussion on key topics. You can access the survey by clicking on the link below (English only): http://handicapinternational.be/en/publications/quality-of-life-of-victims-of-mines-and-explosive-remnants-of-war