Symbiotic Partnership. International Organizations and Grassroots Assistance to Victims of Armed Conflict


Introduction Discussion of 'development' in Africa often uses macroscopic terms, such as the impact of infrastructure or human resource improvement on the overall increase in the GDP.


(09.06.2008)

But for the average African, perhaps the greatest impediment to achieving his or her highest potential lies in factors that may never cross the minds of those in the boardroom drawing up comprehensive development strategies. The threat of landmines for those living in many African nations is one example of such factors. Landmines have resulted in tens of thousands of casualties even since 1997 ' the year the Mine Ban Treaty was ratified by most of the world -- causing great losses in human resources for these countries. It has become a direct and immediate threat to the very survival of many. Yet, perhaps the solution lies not at the macroscopic approach of a singular comprehensive policy, but at the micro-level, particularly the individual efforts of private non-governmental organizations. Through my experience in founding the Landmine Survivors Network, I would like to highlight the potential such micro-level approaches have in enhancing the African standard of living.

There are more than 300,000 landmine survivors worldwide, and the cost of rehabilitating these survivors will exceed US$3 billion over the next ten years. In truth, no one really knows all the numbers. What we do know is that there are hundreds of thousands of landmine survivors worldwide, and most have no access to proper and affordable medical care and rehabilitation. Moreover, most survivors live in developing countries, especially in Africa, where, in many cases, international organizations provide significant funding and services.

Many people imagine landmine victims as individuals who have lost a limb to a mine explosion, and therefore requiring medical care and perhaps prosthesis to become mobile. Yet the impact of landmines and similar devices, such as cluster munitions, extends far beyond physical health to include economic, social, and psychological aspects of people ' such as dignity and livelihood, family and community relationships ' and to impact upon local and regional infrastructures. For this reason, the international community's efforts to assist munition-injured persons and affected communities must include a range of innovative international and local partnerships on a broad range of activities.

Even though NGOs helped achieve a nearly universal ban on landmines and international legal commitments to help the economic and social integration of landmine survivors back into society, much work remains. The process of supporting landmine victims with a broad range of integration and rehabilitative programs does not stop at the international level. The momentum must continue in donor policies, national parliaments, and program implementers to ensure that this international law becomes part of the legal and political fabric of mine-infested countries.

This article provides a summary of how international organizations have impacted African communities affected by landmines and the extent and limit of these efforts through a brief description of the work of the international non-governmental organization (NGO) the Landmine Survivors Network (LSN), and ends with a conclusion about the opportunities and challenges for international organizations to make a positive impact on the ground.

Effectiveness of international organizations in impacting landmine-affected local communities in Africa
Africa is the most landmine affected continent in the world. Most of the currently deployed landmines were used during World War II by British and German troops in northern Africa, during the Cold War by surrogate African states of the major powers, during pre-Apartheid South African military forces and allies in the southern African region, and during the post-Cold War era in internal and regional conflicts in the Horn of Africa and Central Africa.

On March 1, 1999, the Anti-Personnel Landmine Mine Ban Treaty (MBT) entered into force. Nearly one decade later, more than 150 nations have ratified the treaty, making it the fastest multilateral global arms control treaty to enter into force in the twentieth century. The treaty not only prohibits the manufacture, use, stockpile, and transfer of anti-personnel mines, but also urges governments "to do their utmost" to provide assistance for "the care and rehabilitation and social and economic reintegration of mine victims."

Article six, paragraph three of the MBT requires States Parties to provide mine victim assistance in order to reintegrate landmine survivors into society. This provision marks the first time in the world's history that a treaty banning or controlling weapons entitles victims to assistance from States Parties.

One method for determining a state party's support for the landmine victim assistance obligation is by measuring its actual financial support toward programs of victim assistance. Given that the MBT lacks a mechanism for tracking landmine victim assistance, it is difficult to monitor the behavior of all State Parties. Nevertheless, States Parties who are major donors have made some of their information regarding landmine victim assistance available. The data since 1993 show annual state financial assistance to mine action programms, including landmine victim assistance, has dramatically increased among the major donors. According to the Landmine Monitor Executive Summary 1999, mine action funding from the largest donors increased from US$10.2 million in 1993 to more than US$48.4 million in 1998, an annual increase of more than 30 percent. Moreover, during the 1997 signing of the Ottawa Convention, a variety of donors pledged US$500 million to mine action programs. Canada's increased generosity is especially noticeable. In 1998, Canada committed US$21.7 million to mine action, an amount exceeding 783 percent of its 1989 commitment. Germany's sudden commitment to mine action assistance is also noteworthy. In less than five years (1993-1998), Germany increased its mine action funding by more than 297 percent.

The treaty marks a landmark process in international politics of the global era because their principal impetuses were NGOs that were engaged in a variety of development and other activities in mine-infested countries. As a new issue, landmines attracted tremendous international attention. According to one governmental diplomat central to the treaty negotiations, the international arms control agenda was bare and therefore arms control negotiators were not distracted by the NGO call for a landmine ban. Even critics of the landmine ban movement credited NGOs with bringing the landmine issue to international attention. One critic writes that "[d]espite its considerable history, little has been recorded about the use of these weapons [landmines]," until they "attracted the attention of the media and humanitarian groups."

NGO representatives themselves argue "[g]overnments remained largely unaware of the degree of the landmine epidemic until the end of the Cold War. Yet the devastating, long-term consequences of mines were becoming all too apparent to those NGOs who were putting prosthetic limbs on victims, removing the detritus of war from the ground, providing aid and relief to war-torn societies, and documenting violations of human rights and the laws of war." During the Cold War, many NGOs did not have access to landmine-infested areas because of instability and politics, and accordingly were either unaware of the landmine problem or unable to properly assess the effects of landmine use.

These NGOs had determined that the human costs of landmines outweighed their military value and resolved to act together by forming the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) to have them banned. In 1997, the ICBL and its coordinator, Jody Williams, received the Nobel Peace Prize for demonstrating state behavior can be affected by NGOs in a clear and decisive manner--even when the major powers of the world oppose the changes being advocated.

The challenges for international organizations in positively impacting African communities affected by landmines were several. First, there was a lack of reliable data and survey schemes that leave most survivors empty-handed. Second, there was limited information-sharing and collaboration among service providers and local disability groups. Third, attention was focused on "limbs only" (prosthetics) with minimal attention given to other support services needed by survivors. Fourth, emphasis was placed on expatriate contacts with little consideration given toward capacity building in the early stages of project development.
To meet these challenges, governments and international organizations can undertake a range of victim assistance activities and initiatives. They can provide such assistance through NGO victim assistance programs earmarked for mine victim assistance, including ongoing treatment to aid in physical therapy, and mental and emotional rehabilitation of survivors and their families.

Landmine survivors themselves have defined victim assistance as "emergency and medical care; access to prosthetics, wheelchairs and other assistive devices; social and economical reintegration; psychological and peer support; accident prevention programs; and legal and advisory services." LSN and other NGOs argued that these activities can also take the form of broader public advocacy for disability rights and judicial reform aimed at removing barriers that hinder persons with disabilities from integrating into society. For example, if a nation does not have the financial resources to provide direct victim assistance, it can satisfy its obligation to assist victims through policy changes enabling survivors to become more fully integrated into society's economic and social realms. In this regard, States Parties can help NGO programming effectiveness by enacting and enforcing national legislation to promote effective treatment, care and protection for all disabled citizens, including landmine survivors.

Primarily through the efforts of NGOs involved in mine clearance such as the ICBL, the paucity of information regarding the actual numbers of African mine victims, their location, and their rehabilitation needs have now received international attention. Despite the increased awareness, the work of international organizations in Africa has met a range of failures and successes that is not commensurate with the notice garnered at the global level.

The extents and limits to which NGOs are capable of improving quality of life: The LSN Experience
LSN is the first international organization created by survivors for survivors. Its mission is to meet the growing needs of war victims around the world, including Africa. Today, the Network is working with a range of African survivors and local disability groups in several mine-affected countries to help war- wounded victims and their families heal from their trauma and become productive members of society.

Since LSN's founding in 1997, it has established survivor networks in five mine-affected countries: Bosnia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Jordan, and Vietnam and provided assistance to thousands of families affected by landmines. During this time, LSN staff have made nearly 40,000 home and hospital visits to survivors and helped launch hundreds of survivor-owned businesses. Today LSN employs more than 40 staff at its headquarters in Washington, DC, and nearly 100 people abroad ' most of whom are disabled. For example, in its Jordan Network, it employs full-time fourteen Jordanians and Palestinians, half of whom are disabled.From its headquarters in Washington, D.C., LSN has pulled together information form governments and private organizations that provide services to the disabled in African countries. It has conducted rehabilitation surveys describing the rehabilitation infrastructure and identifying services available to the disabled in Ethiopia and Mozambique. Thus far, it has empowered thousands of people in Ethiopia, Mozambique, and other African countries to reclaim their lives after suffering landmine injuries. Through its own intensive research, LSN has learned that recovery is an evolving process with three distinct phases ' victim, survivor, and citizen.

Part of this approach is to promote effective victim assistance by empowering survivors themselves through an array of activities. For example, LSN provides guidance for survivors to access available support services, including established prosthetic workshops and other rehabilitation-related service-providers. It also facilitates the development of small groups for community-based action, including micro-credit programs, sports and fitness, and vocational training. For example, in 2007 LSN sponsored a series of rehabilitation trainings conducted by trainers within the system of local health clinics. A total of 240 individuals representing six clinics in Bo Trach and Dong Hoi participated in the trainings. These trainings reflect community-based rehabilitation methodology and have resulted in better rehabilitation services for landmine survivors and the community.

A key component is training mine victims to recover from their accidents and become socially and economically reintegrated back into society. The goal is not just for reintegration, but also for such individuals to be citizens empowered to help others battle to recover from the trauma inflicted by landmines. To make this program successful, it is critical to recruit qualified individuals, provide culturally sensitive training materials, and supervise and guide survivors through follow-up visits and on-going evaluation.

For an example of LSN's on the ground work in Africa, LSN's network office in Addis Abba, Ethiopia is staffed and managed by Ethiopian persons with disabilities. They work with local disability organizations and landmine organizations to implement a range of advocacy and victim assistance programs. They have also organized annual advocacy workshops and orientation sessions to train advocates to work together to advocate Ethiopia to join the MBT. LSN Ethiopia has alsoinitiated a telephone campaign to lobby the government to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and it has organized a media event to raise awareness of the issues facing persons with disabilities. The staff is now currently conducting advocacy activities to encourage the government to ban the use of cluster munitions and support assistance programs to victims of those weapons.

Other examples of LSN's work in Africa also includes coordinating the largest gathering of landmine survivors ever at an international conference in Nairobi, Kenya in 2004 to heighten their visibility.. The survivors delivered personal testimonies to an audience of government and international persons about the negative effects of landmine use and called for greater victim assistance and rights. Also, in March 2008, LSN hosted a survivor advocacy and leadership training in Livingstone, Zambia on the eve of an All-Africa regional conference on cluster munitions.

Another challenge for LSN and local communities affected by landmines is to broaden out the definition of victim assistance. At the treaty's signing in 1997, most donors, including governments and UN agencies, perceived victim assistance as simply medical care and possibly the provision of assistance devices. LSN recognized that mine victims include both individuals and groups who have suffered physical, emotional, and psychological injury, as well as economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights through acts or omissions to mine utilization.

To overcome this definitional obstacle that inaccurately reflects the needs of survivors and the communities in which they live, LSN provided programmatic guidelines to the international community and governments to address the care and rehabilitation of those victims who have suffered physical injury from landmines. The guidelines of care and assistance included the following:

- Emergency and Continuing Medical Care: Healthcare and community workers in mine-affected areas should be trained in emergency first aid to respond effectively to landmine and other traumatic injuries.
- Physical Rehabilitation, Prosthesis, and Assistive Devices: Donor funding and partner implementation for rehabilitative services should focus on producing devices that are safe, durable, and can be maintained and repaired locally.
- Psychological and Social Support: Community-base peer support groups offer cost-effective psychological, social and other health benefits, and a means to educate local populations about the needs of persons with disabilities and the resources available to help.
- Vocational Training and Economic Integration: Assistance programs must work to improve the economic status of the disabled population in mine-affected communities through education, economic development of community infrastructure, and creation of employment opportunities.
- Recreation/Fitness/Sports: Participation in recreational activities with their peers is an important step towards the social reintegration of landmine survivors.
- Peer Support and Health Education: Survivors who have progressed in their rehabilitation and reintegration into society are well suited to provide peer support.
- Disability Rights and Advocacy: National legislation should promote effective treatment, care and protection for all disabled citizens, including landmine survivors.

The overall purpose of these programs is to increase the quantity and improve the quality, appropriateness, and effectiveness of all programs that impact the victims of landmines around the world. It provides guidance to help diverse actors, including governments, NGOs, and local community leaders to develop and fund the most effective mine victim assistance programs. These programs aim to eliminate the threat of landmines and help landmine victims heal, recover, and resume their roles as productive and contributing members of their societies.

Conclusion: Opportunities and Challenges
Insofar as international NGOs and African local communities are concerned, landmine victim assistance clearly demonstrates the extent to which international politics can draw global attention to local issues. But it also suggests that one of the great political challenges facing the world today may be to find ways to effectively deliver on-the-ground programs and services while preserving the accountability of local organizations and the legitimacy of states.

In LSN's experience, the most effective victim assistance programs are implemented on an on-going basis through the establishment of survivor-inclusive activities. Through these actions, landmine victims are empowered to articulate their needs and concerns through NGOs and the rest of the world. In turn, NGOs and the global community are better able to understand and respond to these needs by arranging for direct assistance and support to survivors and locally affected communities.

The substantive issues that define the capabilities and productivity of so many lives in Africa ' including but certainly not limited to landmine victims ' too often are lost in the sweeping discourse of macro-level policy. But overlooking options that have proven to be quite capable in helping many individuals, like NGOs' micro-level efforts, would be far worse than mere failure; such consequences are the stuff of life and death.

Von: 09.06.2008, http://www.harvardir.org, Kenneth R. Rutherford

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