International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
Landmines are indiscriminate and pernicious weapons; they kill and injure more people, women, children and agricultural workers after a cease-fire than during the actual fighting. Many mines contain just enough explosives to maim and horrendously mutilate. Caring for the victims of anti-personnel mines challenges every part of a public health care system at every stage of its development, and the problem is most acute in countries least able to bear the burden. Landmines render whole regions useless for human habitation and activity, they displace populations and create demographic pressures which destabilize neighboring regions. The surgical activities of the ICRC stem from the institution's general mandate to protect and assist the victims of armed conflict. The war wounded are only one category of the victims included in the ICRC's terms of reference.
The ICRC's main role in relation to the war wounded is not to treat them, for this responsibility is the governments involved in the conflict and hence their army medical services. The task of the ICRC is first and foremost to ensure that all involved are familiar with the provisions of the Geneva Conventions and apply them, meaning they care for members of the enemy armed forces as well as their own and afford medical establishments and personnel the protection to which all are entitled.
Nevertheless, local medical services are often completely overwhelmed in conflict situations and the ICRC is then compelled to step in to help the war wounded. When supplying hospitals with medical equipment and medicines is not enough, the ICRC must set up its own surgical facilities to offer the wounded the care that the authorities cannot provide.
Some countries simply lack the surgical infrastructure necessary to care for war wounded; in others, access to existing hospitals is denied to certain victims for political reasons, or is simply not available because of geographical factors and inadequate means of transportation. The ICRC first attempts to solve such problems by either providing medicines, dressing materials and surgical equipment to local structures or by negotiating with the authorities to obtain access to surgical care for all the wounded, in accordance with the principles of the Geneva Conventions. When these measures are insufficient, the ICRC helps to set up first aid posts and transportation facilities where possible, send surgical teams to work within existing structures, or open new ICRC administered facilities for surgical care and rehabilitation. Special consideration is given to establishing safe blood transfusion services and prosthetic workshops for the manufacture of artificial limbs, which are both in high demand for landmine victims.
In the last 15 years, the ICRC has organized over a dozen of its own surgical units in conflict zones. Most of them have had to treat large numbers of landmine victims, attesting to the fact that the use of this low technology weapon is becoming more widespread, especially in internal conflicts.
In June 1999 the ICRC launched an appeal for 105 million Swiss francs (U.S. $69 million) to fund its activities for mine victims over the next five years.
The financial appeal covers all the ICRC' s activities relating to mine victims.
¨ To promote universal adherence to and full implementation of the Ottawa Treaty and amended Protocol II to the 1980 U.N. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.
¨ To reduce the risk of mine-related incidents through mine awareness programs currently being conducted by the ICRC in six countries.
¨ To provide mine victims with treatment and physical rehabilitation in 23-limb-fitting centers that the ICRC is running in 11 countries, and to continue its support for similar centers run by ministries of health, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and NGOs in many other countries
¨ To collect and analyze, where possible, data for use in the development of appropriate mine action programs.
In cooperation with a number of National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies, the ICRC currently runs mine awareness programs in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Similar programs are being drawn up in Angola, Georgia and Sudan. They aim to reduce the risk of mine-related death or injury by providing people in mine-affected areas with information on the precautions to be taken until the mines can be cleared.
Since February 1994, the ICRC and the entire International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement have been actively involved in the drive to impose a total ban on anti-personnel mines, running public awareness campaigns and encouraging diplomatic and military circles to support their efforts. These efforts will continue in order to achieve universal acceptance of the Ottawa Treaty, to coordinate and improve the care given to victims, and to extend preventive mine awareness programs.
The ICRC is currently running 25-limb-fitting and rehabilitation programs in 13 countries: Afghanistan, Angola, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Georgia, Iraq, Kenya, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tajikistan and Uganda. Twenty-four ICRC projects in 12 other countries have now been handed over to local or international NGO control, though many continue to receive financial and technical support from the ICRC. In a number of countries, the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, supported by their International Federation, care for mine-injured people through health, rehabilitation and social welfare programs.
In addition to these activities, the ICRC and national societies are conducting mine awareness programs in several countries in order to reduce the number of landmine incidents in mine-affected areas.
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)