The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Mica Bevington, 202 290 9264

4 April - International Day of Mine Awareness

Handicap International renews its pressure on Syria; experts available


The United Nations declared 4 April, "International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action" in 2006. This year, Handicap International places particular attention on Syria, the world's only country to use anti-personnel landmines since the start of 2012. Intensive bombing campaigns during the current conflict have left a trail of unexploded devices, including cluster munitions, which pose serious and lasting threats to civilians. Handicap International condemns the use of these barbaric weapons and calls for immediate measures to protect civilians.

The international community must condemn this use, says Elizabeth MacNairn, Executive Director of Handicap International's U.S. office. "It's totally unacceptable, and the community must push, in no uncertain terms, to help operators in the field protect civilians."

The lives of the people living in these areas, and those returning home after fighting ends, are in permanent danger. Handicap International runs risk education programs to alert civilians about these risks and to prevent accidents. Around 9,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan have already benefited from such lessons.

According to Handicap International's weapons advocacy manager, Marion Libertucci: "Due to the intensity of the violence and widespread contamination by mines and unexploded devices, there is a desperate need for weapons clearance and risk education. Our experience of mines clearance and prevention in 47 countries tells us that the threat will remain long after the conflict has ended. We don't know the whole picture yet because we haven't been able to visit all of the affected areas. We could find that things are even worse than we first feared. We need to take action now to limit the risk to civilians and save lives."

Handicap International is the world's most comprehensive mine action charity, offering victim assistance, mine/weapons clearance, risk education, and stockpile management, while advocating for the ban of such indiscriminate weapons.

Representatives will be at the United Nations today to educate visitors about the dangers posed by weapons left behind from conflict. The team is offering demining demonstrations to the public throughout the day in the Visitors' Gallery, where Handicap International's mine action work is featured in a beautiful, interactive photo exhibit called "For a Mine-Free World."

Every year, at least 4,300 people fall victim to mines or unexploded devices worldwide - or one victim every two hours. More than 70% are civilians, of whom 42% are children. The would counts hundreds of thousands of mine accident survivors, most of whom will need assistance for life. However, funding to support victims fell more than 30% in the last year, to a record low. Over the last 15 years, some 4,000 of mined land was cleared and 135 million mines were destroyed. Some of the millions of mines that still contaminate more than 60 countries were laid more than 50 years ago.

Experts available today include:
Elizabeth MacNairn, Executive Director of Handicap International U.S.
Zach Hudson, Coordinator for the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines
Sylvie Bouko, Technical Advisor onConventional Weapons Risk Reduction. She wields extensive knowledge of arms-rich countries, and has first-hand accounts of the damage that explosive remnants of war inflict on civilians.
Frederic Maio, recently Manager of Handicap International's Libya Program, desk officer, Mine Action Department, and today's "deminer"

Handicap International is an independent and impartial international aid organization working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. We work alongside people with disabilities and vulnerable populations, taking action and bearing witness in order to respond to their essential needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights. Since its creation in 1982, Handicap International has established development programs in more than 60 countries and it has worked in various emergency situations. Eight national associations comprise the Handicap International network: Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Switzerland. Together, the national associations mobilize resources, jointly manage projects and promote the organization's principles and actions around the world. Handicap International is one of the six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL