LEBANON: This Amputation Won't Be the Last


SARAFAND, Lebanon, Feb 29 (IPS) - Rasha Zayoun sits quietly in the bustling doctor's office, a small figure hunched in her chair, while her mother recounts the terrible accident.


(28.02.2008)

By Rebecca Murray

Now 17, Rasha had her left leg blown off a year ago by an unexploded cluster munition hidden inside a sack of thyme, accidentally brought home from the fields surrounding her rural hometown Maarake in south Lebanon.

Rasha has endured several surgeries but her knee has had difficulty healing, causing discomfort with her mechanical prosthetic leg. Her basic problem however, says her mother Alia, who suffered head injuries from the same blast, is psychological.

"She is not hanging out with her friends for two reasons -- she gets very tired early, and has to adjust her prosthetic; and she is afraid they will make fun of her. Instead she closes the door and stays inside. She only hangs out with her cousin who lives next door."

"Rasha is a very complicated case," agrees Maha Shuman Gebai, director of the Nabih Berri Rehabilitation Centre in Sarafand, near the coastal town of Sidon, where more than 200 of south Lebanon's cluster munitions victims have sought medical and psychological help. "She had a leg amputation but she has many other injuries that have really affected her skills."

Cluster bomb victims need a lot of rehabilitation, she explains. "They are the most complicated cases we see because they have multiple injuries. They have many problems -- usually they lose a hand, a leg, most lose hearing, some lose sight."

During the final days of Lebanon's 34-day conflict with Israel in the summer of 2006 -- and after the ceasefire embodied in United Nations resolution 1701 was agreed -- Israel dropped an estimated four million cluster munitions over south Lebanon. The hundreds of thousands of apparently dud sub-munitions that failed to explode, mostly manufactured by the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s, now terrorise a civilian population predominantly dependent upon agriculture for a living.

To date, 240 civilians have been wounded or killed from the deadly munitions, with an additional 47 casualties among mine clearance teams.

Human Rights Watch, in a detailed report published earlier this month, slammed the findings of the investigations by the Israeli military and Israel's government-appointed Winograd Commission into the summer conflict, which determined that Israel was not guilty of breaching international humanitarian law (IHL).

"The Israeli military's use of cluster munitions was both indiscriminate and disproportionate, in violation of IHL, and in some locations a possible war crime," HRW declared. "In dozens of towns and villages, Israel used cluster munitions containing sub-munitions with known high failure rates. These left behind homes, gardens, fields and public spaces littered with hundreds of thousands and possibly up to one million unexploded sub-munitions."

Charities, commercial companies, UN peacekeepers and the Lebanese Army all have teams on the ground racing to rid south Lebanon of the deadly munitions by the year-end deadline. The Mine Action Coordination Centre in south Lebanon (MACC-SL) has recorded 964 strike areas to date, with roughly 27 million square metres of land now cleared, and over 140,000 cluster munitions destroyed since the conflict's end.

Meanwhile continents away in Wellington, New Zealand, the fourth successive conference in the global push to ban cluster munitions wrapped up after securing a last-minute commitment for the final treaty talks in Dublin this May.

"We got 80 countries on board a declaration which commits them to negotiate on the basis of the draft treaty in Dublin," says Thomas Nash, co-ordinator for the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC), a network of civil society organisations helping to spearhead the 'Oslo Process', initiated by the Norwegian government last year and subsequently hosted in Lima and Vienna.

Although over 120 states are party to the negotiations, leading munitions manufacturers like the U.S., China, Russia and Israel have stayed away from the treaty talks entirely, while participants like producer-countries France, Germany, the UK, Canada and the Netherlands are fighting for exceptions to the ban. "It's a hard battle between countries who are citing new technologies," says Richard Moyes, the UK-based Landmine Action's policy director and CMC coalition member.

For instance, the ban covers cluster munitions with 'self-destruct' mechanisms, like the Israeli-made model M-85 that the UK cites as 'safe' with a one percent failure rate. But the M-85 is found by MACC-SL to have a 'dud' rate between five to ten percent on the ground near the Blue Line, the UN demarcated de facto border between Israel and Lebanon.

Other areas of contention are the length of transition periods before the destruction of stockpiles and prohibition of use, and banning joint operations with user countries like the U.S. "It's a strong text with a clear prohibition of cluster munitions," says Moyes. "Exceptions are not in the text and they need a two-thirds majority to get one, so they will have to fight very hard," he says. "Most of the developing world doesn't want exceptions."

The draft's critical provision for victim assistance has so far received strong support, which requires states' responsibility for casualties' medical and psychological rehabilitation. This is especially resonant for impoverished patients like Rasha who on top of physical and mental hardship fully depend on charities to pay the mounting expenses of prosthetics and complex, long-term rehabilitation.

So while states move their final battleground to Dublin, civilians at the rehabilitation centre in Sarafand fight to regain normal lives. "There are feelings of inadequacy for someone who has lost a limb -- they first go through a denial stage. They ask, why me? Why did this happen?" says Gebai. "However, disability will never stand as an obstacle for an ambitious person. Our slogan here is 'turning a disability into an ability'." (END/2008)

Von: www.ipsnews.net, 29.02.2008

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