Why Victim Assistance under the Mine Ban Treaty is about more than Landmines

In addition to the fact that the Mine Ban Treaty was negotiated outside of traditional arms treaty channels, one of its signal achievements is the recognition for the impact of landmines on its victims.  The Mine Ban Treaty is the first arms treaty to specifically provide for the victims of the weapon being banned.  In clause 6.3, the Treaty states, “Each State Party in a position to do so shall provide assistance for the care and rehabilitation, and social and economic reintegration, of mine victims and for mine awareness programs” (Mine Ban Treaty).  The Treaty did not specifically define who constitutes a “mine victim” at the time of its drafting.  In 2004, at the first review conference, the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty defined mine victims as “those who, either individually or collectively, have suffered physical, emotional and psychological injury, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights through acts or omissions related to mine utilization” (ICBL).  This expansive definition deliberated included not just those individuals injured or killed by mines, but also their families and all persons living in communities affected by landmines.  Thus, victim assistance has come to be seen as benefitting a larger population than just the survivors of landmine accidents.

Another definition that was expanded after the Treaty’s signing was the exact meaning of “assistance” for landmine victims.  The States Parties agreed that a comprehensive victim assistance program would have six components which are as follows:

  • Data collection and information management to understand the extent of the challenge faced;
  • Emergency and continuing medical care;
  • Physical rehabilitation, including physiotherapy, prosthetics and assistive devices;
  • Psychological support and social reintegration;
  • Economic reintegration;  and
  • The establishment, enforcement and implementation of relevant laws and public policies.

Further, the States Parties declared that 26 countries (VA26) have a significant number of landmine victims and therefore the greatest burden to provide for the needs of these victims.  The countries have been tasked with producing comprehensive plans for addressing the needs of landmine victims and the progress towards achieving those plans has been monitored annually at the Meetings of the States Parties.  These 26 countries (with African States in bold) are:  Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Cambodia, Chad, Colombia, Croatia,  Democratic Republic of the Congo, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Jordan, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Peru, Senegal, Serbia, Sudan (including what is now South Sudan), Tajikistan, Thailand, Uganda and Yemen (AP Mine Ban Convention).


 Non-Landmine Injuries as Examples of Victim Assistance

The six components of victim assistance listed above, if properly implemented and widely available will benefit many more people than those immediately injured by landmines.  Consider this, in 2004, Army Reserve helicopter pilot, Tammy Duckworth, was shot down in Iraq losing both of her legs in the crash. The rocket-propelled grenade that hit the helicopter also “almost completely destroyed her right arm, breaking it in three places and tearing tissue from the back side of it.”  Her rehabilitation and continuing surgical care took place at Walter Reed Naval Medical Center where she was fitted with prosthetics and re-learned to walk.  In 2009, Duckworth was appointed Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs, a position she resigned in 2011 to run for Congress from her home state of Illinois (Wikipedia).

Another example: in October 2009, United States soccer player Charlie Davies was injured in a car accident that took the life of another passenger.  His injuries, treatment and prognosis were described as follows:

“Davies, 23, underwent more than five hours of surgery at Washington Hospital Center after being airlifted there by helicopter. He was listed in ‘serious but stable’ condition Tuesday after treatment for a lacerated bladder, fractures to the tibia and femur bones in his right leg, facial fractures and a left elbow fracture.

Dan Kalbac, a U.S. Soccer team doctor, said ‘injuries of this nature usually require a recovery period of six to 12 months and extensive rehabilitation.’

… A statement released by U.S. Soccer said Davies ‘will be hospitalized for at least a week and additional surgeries will be required to stabilize his left elbow fracture and possibly the facial fractures’” (Los Angeles Times).

Less than 18 months later, Davies scored two goals in his first appearance for the Washington soccer club, DC United, as part of his comeback and recovery from the accident and his injuries (Washington Post).

While these are extreme examples, the elements victim assistance are there.  Emergency medical care (in Washington for Davies, in Iraq and Germany for Duckworth), physical rehabilitation (Duckworth’s prosthetics, Davies’s training and rehabilitation), psychological support (Davies was seeing a therapist throughout the 2011 season), economic opportunities after the injury, social re-integration, and enforcement of laws with the driver of the car spending time in prison for the death of the other passenger in the car at the time of the crash (Ashley J. Roberta, whose name was never brought up enough as the true victim of this accident). 

Duckworth’s injuries and recovery more closely mirror those of landmine victims, but the processes and services required for Duckworth’s care are the same that allowed Davies to return to the soccer field.  If the services and care required for landmine victims were available in mine-affected countries, their benefits would be available to a much larger population, specifically to victims of car accidents, like Davies.


Car Accident Victims: A Population in Need of Comprehensive Victim Assistance

Car accidents are the tenth-leading cause of death globally.  Among persons aged 15-29, car accidents are the leading cause of death and an estimated 20 to 50 million non-fatal injuries are caused every year by car accidents.  According to some estimates, 13% of those non-fatal injuries lead to permanent disabilities.  In 2007, in the ten African states that are members of the VA26, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that almost 97,000 people were killed in traffic accidents in 2007, over 29,000 in Ethiopia alone.  In these countries, roughly 35 people out of every 100,000 were killed in car accidents compared to a global rate of 18.8 out of every 100,000 (WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety 2009). 

In comparison, in those ten African countries, less than 600 persons were reported killed or injured by landmines, a rate of 0.44 persons per 100,000 (The Monitor), or one person for every 80 people killed in a traffic accident, not even counting injuries from traffic accidents.  I say this not to minimize the impact of landmines but to emphasize the impact of traffic accidents and demonstrate the possible population in need of the care and services mandated for landmine victims.

The response to the public health crisis that is car accidents has been prevention.  Below is a photo I took in India encouraging safe driving.  Other measures include safety features in cars and vehicles like seatbelts and helmets and reduced speed limits.

The public health approach is an excellent preventive measure, but we are focusing on what actually happens after an accident.  Note the use of a prosthetic foot as a caution, an interesting link to landmine injuries and an important element in post-accident care. 

If, every year, there are millions of persons injured in car accidents, the demand for rehabilitation services and emergency care is enormous.  By providing the Mine Ban Treaty-mandated victim assistance services, all countries, but especially those most mine-affected, will be able to provide the necessary car and treatment for not just landmine survivors, but also the victims of traffic accidents. 


Michael P. Moore, April 26, 2012