The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an impartial, neutral and independent humanitarian organisation, whose mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war, and to promote and strengthen the law protecting them -- referred to as "international humanitarian law". The ICRC is operational in 80 countries throughout the world, where it works in close cooperation with national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies.
ICRC mine action consists of curative and preventive action. Its preventive activities include mine action programmes aimed at reducing and eliminating the risks of mines to civilians as well as advocacy promoting adherence to and implementation of relevant treaties and international legal norms. Curative activities provide assistance to victims through the provision of medical care and physical rehabilitation. At the field level, ICRC mine action does not distinguish between landmines and other forms of explosive remnants of war (ERW), since both have similar effects on civilians.
In 2003, the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent extended its Strategy on Landmines for another five years and broadened it to cover ERW. Many National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are actively engaged in activities benefiting mine/ERW victims. National Societies also play an important role in efforts to promote ratification and implementation of the Ottawa Convention banning antipersonnel mines and other relevant treaties.
2. Perventive Action
a. Mine Action Preventive programs
The ICRC’s preventive programmes seek to reduce the impact of mines and other explosive remnants on those living in contaminated areas. This is achieved through the design and implementation of programmes that comprise four distinct but interrelated elements.
Information and data gathering: Through grass roots networks, the Red Cross and Crescent Movement has a key role to play in victim and incident data gathering. Data analysis shapes programme priorities and strategies by defining victim profiles, the locations and circumstances of accidents, and the types of behaviour that caused the accidents. At another level, the Movement sometimes acts as the principle data gatherer in a country, thereby supporting the wider mine action community. For example, the Movement currently provides 95% of all victim data in Afghanistan. In line with other mine action organizations, the ICRC and National Societies are adopting the IMSMA programme (Information Management System for Mine Action) to ensure data compatibility.
Risk Reduction: The challenge is to reduce the risks through the provision of interim alternatives such as safe play areas, water or fuel sources, to modify the behaviour of those who do not have a choice. The ICRC works closely with national authorities, UN mine action centres and mine action NGOs, using its community based mine action approach to ensure that effective and timely clearance takes place.
Mine Risk Education: Activities include awareness and community liaison. Awareness activities unless taking place during an emergency, are community based and customised to each community's situation. The decision on how best to implement awareness depends on cultural and social influences, the nature of the threat, and is always targeted at the most vulnerable groups. It is rare that direct presentation techniques are used and materials such as posters are used only to reinforce messages. Community liaison provides the link between communities and mine action programmes and provides the basis for risk reduction planning and implementation.
Advocacy at field level: The ICRC works to influence the behaviour of those using mines or weapons resulting in ERW contamination.
In 2003, the ICRC conducted mine action preventive programmes directly or through the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies in 25 countries.
b. Promoting international legal norms
Throughout 2003, the ICRC continued to play a lead role in promoting the ratification and full implementation of the Ottawa Convention. It reminded States Parties (including mine-affected and donor States) of the importance of sustaining and even increasing their commitments to mine action. The ICRC continued to urge mine-affected States Parties to develop national programmes and to clearly define their resource requirements for victim assistance and mine clearance (the first group of mine-affected States Parties will have to complete clearance by 2009). The ICRC also urged all States Parties to pay greater attention to the needs of mine victims, to promote the faithful implementation of the Convention's key provisions, and to encourage the adoption of implementing national legislation.
The ICRC actively participated in the Fifth Meeting of the States Parties to the Ottawa Convention, held in Bangkok in September 2003, and the biannual intersessional meetings of the Standing Committees. It also organised or lent its expertise to national and regional meetings to promote the Ottawa Convention in Kiev (Ukraine), Brazzaville (for both the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo), Pretoria (South Africa, for legal advisers to the governments of the South African Development Community), Lima (Peru, concerning mine action in the Americas), and Minsk (Belarus).
The ICRC also encouraged adherence to Amended Protocol II of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). Even with the widespread adherence to the Ottawa Convention, Amended Protocol II remains an important instrument. It regulates anti-vehicle mines, booby traps, and other similar devices not covered by the Ottawa Convention, but which, like antipersonnel mines, can have indiscriminate and devastating effects. The ICRC actively participated in formal and informal meetings of CCW States Parties to examine the operation of Amended Protocol II and to discuss measures to reduce the risk of civilian death and injury caused by anti-vehicle mines.
In November 2003, heeding the ICRC's call for new rules to address the problem of unexploded and abandoned ordnance, CCW States Parties adopted the Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War. The ICRC hailed the new protocol as an important step towards addressing the global ERW problem and reducing the human casualties and socio-economic impact of these weapons.
In 2003, the ICRC continued to provide legal advice to States on ratification procedures and the drafting, adoption and amendment of national legislation to implement international humanitarian law treaties, including the Ottawa Convention and the CCW. The ICRC's Information Kit on the development of national legislation to implement the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-personnel Mines, and its model legislation for common-law States served as useful tools for States Parties. Many of the 36 States party to the Ottawa Convention that adopted implementing legislation by the end of 2003 benefited from ICRC legal assistance, as have more than half of the 27 States Parties that were in the process of developing legislation.
The International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent meets every four years and brings together the States Parties to the 1949 Geneva Conventions (virtually all of the world's countries) and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, which consists of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the ICRC. The 28th Conference met in Geneva in December 2003, and adopted an Agenda for Humanitarian Action which includes final goals on antipersonnel mines and the CCW. Final Goal 2.1 calls for global mine-action efforts to be increased and the eventual elimination of all anti-personnel mines. Final Goal 2.2 calls for increased adherence to the CCW, its Protocols, and the amendment extending its scope of application to non-international armed conflicts.
3. Mine-Victim Assistance
A country-by-country review of the ICRC's mine victim assistance activities for 2003 is provided in its Special Report on Mine Action 2003.
ICRC medical and rehabilitation assistance is not aimed exclusively at mine/ERW victims. Instead it seeks to strengthen the overall health services that they and all other war wounded depend upon, in a sustainable way.
a. Caring for war wounded
Providing immediate care for the war wounded is one of the ICRC's main activities. Three kinds of medical care are provided:
Pre-hospital care: In order to help keep the injured, including mine victims, alive until they get to hospitals, in 2003 the ICRC provided first-aid training as well as ambulance and other transport services. It also assisted 305 primary health care facilities in areas where conflict compromised their function. This support helped maintain life-saving first-aid services in many areas where mine/ERW injuries were occurring.
Hospital care: In 2003, the ICRC provided direct assistance to 67 hospitals and surgical facilities that care for the wounded in 18 countries, including some affected by mine/ERW. In 2003, the overall number of war-wounded treated in ICRC-supported hospitals remained stable, but the rate of mine injuries that they treated dropped by about half, to 870 mine/ERW victims. For the period 1999-2003, some 10 percent of war-wounded receiving treatment in ICRC-supported hospitals were mine victims.
Training: Through seminars and on-the-job training, the ICRC shares its expertise in the treatment of war-wounded with surgeons, nurses, and other health professionals. In 2003, it offered seminars in Geneva on war-surgery and hospital management, which were attended by over 35 health-care professionals from around the world. The ICRC also organized seminars on different aspects of the treatment of war-wounded in six countries: Guinea, Indonesia, Israel, the Occupied Territories and the Autonomous Territories, Nepal, the Russian Federation (Moscow and northern Caucasus), and Sri Lanka. These seminars included training on the treatment of mine injuries.
b. Physical rehabilitation
In 2003, the ICRC ran or supported 68 physical rehabilitation projects in 25 countries around the world, for a total of 80 projects in 36 countries since 1979, including in all of the world's most heavily mined areas. The ICRC's support has enabled the centres to provide prostheses (devices to replace a missing limb), orthoses (devices to support a malfunctioning limb), other orthopedic appliances (such as wheelchairs and crutches) and physiotherapy to amputees and other people who have motor disabilities. In 2003, 60 percent of the amputees served by ICRC-supported centres were mine victims, representing a total of 9,000 mine victims fitted with prostheses and orthoses.
The ICRC started or resumed assistance to 13 projects in 2003; they were located in Chad, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Lebanon, the Russian Federation, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, and Zambia. The ICRC's support to centres in Rundu (Namibia), Keren and Asmara (Eritrea), Freetown (Sierra Leone), Tirana (Albania) and Jaffna (Sri Lanka) was phased out during the year.
While most projects required the full time presence of expatriate staff, a growing number have achieved greater technical autonomy and require less technical assistance. In 2003, the ICRC sponsored 24 students (from Angola, China, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Sudan, and Uganda) to attend formal training programmes recognized by the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics. It also offered seven short training programmes in physiotherapy for staff members of projects in Afghanistan, Angola, Myanmar, Sudan, and Tajikistan.
The ICRC has helped improve the mobility of thousands of disabled people. Through its choice of technology, development of care guidelines, and extensive training activities it has strengthened the technical autonomy of rehabilitation services in conflict areas around the world. Holding on to these gains, however, is still a challenge. More than three quarters of the centres supported by the ICRC over the past 25 years still require external support in order to maintain the production and quality of services needed by the mine/ERW victims and other disabled patients that they serve. It will take a firm financial commitment on the part of host countries, assisted by international donors, before health systems of the areas worst affected by mines and ERW are able to assume full responsibility for maintaining the services needed.
Working out of regional centres in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Managua (Nicaragua), and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), the ICRC's Special Fund for the Disabled (SFD) provides technical training as well as material and financial assistance to centres formerly supported by the ICRC, helping them stay open and continue producing the volume and quality of devices needed. It also assists centres in other developing countries to adopt the ICRC's prosthetic/orthotic technology.
In 2003, the SFD's budget grew, permitting it to put greater emphasis on quality control and management in the centres it assisted. Two new projects were initiated at prosthetic and orthotic schools in Marrakech (Morocco) and Lomé (Togo). The SFD also continued its training courses in the centres in Addis Ababa and Ho Chi Minh City, and sponsored the participation of prosthetic/orthotic technicians in training programmes.
In 2003, the SFD assisted 35 projects in 16 countries, and delivered over 6,500 prostheses to amputees. An estimated 2,000 mine victims received prostheses from the SFD. Most were from Vietnam and Nicaragua. Mine victims account for some 30 to 40 percent of all the amputees assisted by the SFD.
For more information see the ICRC Special Fund for the Disabled Annual Report 2003, available online at www.icrc.org.