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NATO Summit: Handicap International reminds governments of obligation to protect civilians in Afghanistan

Source: Handicap International - UK - Tue, 2 Sep 2014 12:46 GMT
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ERW in Afghanistan, 2004 © Zak Johnson/Handicap International
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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is organising a summit on 4th and 5th September in Newport, Wales, as part of plans to wind down its military operations in Afghanistan. Handicap International is calling on all International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troop-contributing nations to immediately mark and clear areas contaminated by explosive remnants of war (ERW) and to provide non-discriminating and impartial assistance to all the victims of the conflict, by financing mine action activities through the UN pooled funds.

Military bases and firing ranges are now being closed at a rapid rate but have not been systematically cleared of ERW stored, abandoned or used by military personnel. Furthermore, all the maps of land contaminated by ISAF operations are not yet being made available and people are not sufficiently aware of the risks they face, hampering efforts to prevent further civilian casualties. Extra thousands of square kilometres of land are now contaminated by ERW from ISAF’s operations, posing a threat to Afghan lives. According to UNAMA, the number of reported civilian casualties of ERW increased dramatically in 2013 and 2014.

NATO will be holding a summit in Newport on 4thand 5thSeptember 2014 as it prepares to bring an end to thirteen years of military operations in Afghanistan. The summit hopes to secure the successful withdrawal of ISAF by ensuring the effectiveness of the Afghan security forces and their ability to maintain the country’s security through a training and support mission beyond December 2014.

Handicap International will take this opportunity to remind governments attending the summit of the need to mark and clear all areas contaminated by their ERW and to finance a wide-reaching victim assistance program as part of the transition process. ERW marking, clearance, removal and destruction as well as victim assistance are compulsory under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons Protocol V, to which most of the ISAF troop-contributing nations are party.

International military bases, including firing ranges, which have been closing and their perimeter progressively handed back for civilian use since 2010, have not been systematically cleared of ERW. According to a report published by the Washington Post in April 2014, at least 2,000 sq.km. of land has been contaminated by grenades, rockets and mortar shells that could explode at any time, killing or wounding civilians. More than 300 sites of battles are also littered with ERW used by ISAF. These risk areas have not been properly mapped. The current lack of data hinders a comprehensive estimation of the clearance costs or the exact surface to be cleared. 

One of the key challenges is to obtain precise data from the international military forces. The governments of ISAF troop-contributing nations, including the major European powers and the United States, have to allocate a ERW clearance budget and define a clearance strategy, despite a step-up in troop withdrawals”, says Anna Nijsters, Director of ENNA, the Brussels based European Network of NGOs in Afghanistan of which Handicap International is a member organisation.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported a 14% increase in civilian casualties caused by ERW during the first six months of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013 (206 civilian casualties in total; 76% of whom were children). This follows a dramatic 63% increase in 2013 compared to 2012 (343 casualties in total, 83% of whom were children) [1].

Rahmatulla Gholam Reza became a landmine victim at the age of 9. Today, he is an active member of a Ban Advocates [2] group and he fears for Afghan civilian casualties, especially for children: “My country was already one of the most contaminated countries in the world even before ISAF intervened. We need to ensure that the NATO-member countries meet their commitments to mark and clear ERW so they do not lead to the loss of more child casualties. I lost both of my legs as a child when I stepped on a landmine and it completely changed my life since. I don’t want to see that happening to anybody else.”

Present in the country for almost 20 years (since 1996), Handicap International, which has witnessed a rise in the damage caused by ERW, is outraged by the unbearable situation facing civilians. More than 180 people, including several mine and ERW victims, work for Handicap International in Afghanistan. Their efforts focus on physical rehabilitation, victim assistance, and mine/ERW risk education.

Notes

[1] UNAMA Mid Year Report 2014, Protection of Civilians, pp. 66-67. http://www.unama.unmissions.org/Portals/UNAMA/human%20rights/English%20edited%20light.pdf

[2] Ban Advocates are victims of mines or cluster munitions who speak at international events to express the demands of ERW accident survivors.

-Ends-

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About Handicap International
Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Handicap International is an international aid organisation working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. Working alongside people with disabilities and vulnerable populations, we take action and raise awareness in order to respond to their essential needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights.

Handicap International is a co-founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the Cluster Munition Coalition.
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