Land Mines and Cluster Munitions in a Public Health Context

Jackie Hansen

Photo courtesy of Jackie Hansen.

Jackie Hansen described a scene straight out of a nightmare.

Nestled in the grass, a metallic ball looks like a shiny new plaything to a child. But it’s actually a remnant of war—a cluster munition, a close cousin of the landmine—just waiting to explode when the child tosses it to a friend.

“Kids might think, ‘This is fun!’ Until all of a sudden, the pin slips out, and it’s not.”

On February 8, Hansen, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor Program Manager for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munition Coalition, was the featured speaker at “Land Mines & Cluster Munitions in a Public Health Context.” The lecture was sponsored by the Buffett Center, Program of African Studies and Office of International Program Development.

Landmines are weapons buried in the ground, designed to explode under the pressure of a person passing over it. “It’s indiscriminate,” Hansen said. “It can’t tell the difference between a child and a soldier.”

Cluster munitions are launched and are designed to explode on impact, but many do not detonate and thus become de facto landmines. Over the past decade, there have been 80,000 casualties in 119 states.

“Their impacts last long after wars have ended. There’s this terror these weapons cause in their communities,” Hansen said. “There are millions of people who farm their land and don’t know whether they’ll become the next casualty. This feeling that you don’t know what’s in the ground, that’s a pretty powerful thing.”

Hansen has served in her current position since 2005, but she’s been in the business of fighting landmines for even longer—13 years. During that time, Hansen has visited some of the most heavily mined countries in the world, including Colombia and Laos.

In Laos, Hansen recalled a T-shirt featuring an image of an amputee Hello Kitty, saying “Bye Bye Bombies.”

Landmines are so prevalent in Laos that Hansen said, “You fly over and look down, and you just see these craters.”

And in Colombia, despite the presence of well-equipped hospitals in Bogotá, landmine survivors have trouble accessing proper health care.

“I know people who were carried on hammocks through the jungle for two to three days,” Hansen said. “Even if there are systems in place in a country, those may be very, very difficult for marginalized people to access them.”

Landmine survivors sustain long-term health problems and need lifelong care, far past prosthetic limbs.

With 500,000 survivors around the world, landmines and cluster munitions continue to pose a significant global health problem, even after the Mine Ban Treaty of 1997 and the Cluster Munitions Convention of 2010.

Hansen said these agreements illustrate how public health imperatives can drive the treaty process, and how survivor-driven advocacy can drive change.

“Treaties are tools. They’re not just pieces of paper,” Hansen said. “We use them to hold governments accountable and make sure there’s victim assistance.”

Victims are defined as survivors as well as their families and their communities. Victim assistance can include physical rehabilitation, psychosocial care and help in getting education and employment.

Hansen told inspiring stories of survivors advocating for the ban of landmines around the world. In many ways, the campaign has been successful—Central America was the first region of the world to be declared mine-free. But they still face challenges.

“Yeah, the mines are clear, but now it’s a challenge getting funding to help all the survivors,” Hansen explained.

Other challenges include the 35 countries who have not joined the Mine Ban Treaty, including China, Egypt, Finland, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.

“It is really, really silly that the U.S. has not banned this weapon,” Hansen said. “The U.S. is the biggest donor by far in clearing landmines.”

Although there are many frustrations in her field of work, Hansen says one of the most satisfying aspects is stockpile destruction, when cleared mines are detonated in an enclosed area.

“It’s the fun of pressing a button and there’s a very big boom. Very fun,” Hansen said. “It’s the pleasure of knowing millions of mines are never going to be able to be used on a person.”

Hansen’s career will soon be moving on to broader human rights issues, but she remains passionate about clearing landmines.

“It has been really cool to work on, because stuff has happened. We have seen change,” Hansen said. “We’re getting there. It’s going to happen in our lifetime.

“Change is possible in this crazy world we live in.”

 

 

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