Women lead every day of the year

Women play a crucial role in global humanitarian disarmament initiatives. Mines Action Canada (MAC) knows that involving women and girls is key to achieving a more peaceful and sustainable future free of indiscriminate weapons.

In the 20 years since the signing of the Ottawa Treaty, we have seen that it is imperative that all perspectives are incorporated into mine action. We have learned that the elimination of landmines and effective victim assistance programming are impossible goals without the inclusion of women and girls.

Women, men, girls and boys all experience conflict differently and the impact of landmines is engendered. Female survivors experience many different challenges than male survivors do and women and men face differing risks from landmines, cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war. For these reasons, those working to eliminate these weapons must acknowledge these gender differences and provide services which are accessible for both sexes. MAC, and the humanitarian disarmament campaigns we participate in, are focused on gender equality and mainstreaming gender initiatives into our work at all levels.  

We benefit from strong women leading the majority of disarmament campaigns internationally. For example, all of the directors of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) have been female. The first director of the ICBL was Jody Williams who shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize with the campaign. Since then, the ICBL has had multiple female directors, including the current director of the ICBL-CMC, Megan Burke. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the International Network on Explosive Weapons, and Control Arms are also women led.

At the national level we see further female leadership. Margaret Arach Orech is an excellent example of women leading in disarmament. A landmine survivor from Uganda, Margaret is an ambassador for the ICBL, a globally recognized expert on survivor inclusion and assistance and is the founder of the Uganda Landmine Survivor Association. There are women like Margaret participating and leading in every aspect of mine action, specifically mine risk education, clearance, and victim assistance. We see women conducting risk education, clearing landmines, providing assistance to victims, monitoring the treaty and doing advocacy around the world.  Since women’s empowerment and participation is an objective of the Canadian government, it is crucial that Global Affairs Canada recognizes and supports women leaders, like Margaret, in all aspects of mine action and disarmament.

It has been 20 years since the Ottawa Treaty was signed, and without the hard work of women around the world every single day of those 20 years the mine action and disarmament communities would be nowhere near as successful as we have been.

Young Women at the Youth Leaders Forum in 2011

MAC believes that the next generation of women leaders will be the ones to finish the job on landmines and on all disarmament campaigns. Therefore, our key focus for 2017 is increasing young women’s involvement in disarmament, peace and security. MAC hopes to host young women from mine-affected countries at a Young Women’s Leaders Forum during the Meeting of States Parties to the Ottawa Treaty in December 2017. Since it is the 20th anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty, it is a great time to bring the next generation of women leaders into the disarmament world. To help make this plan a reality, please consider donating to MAC.

Chelsea Wright is an Graduate Student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University and a Research Associate at Mines Action Canada. 



Canadian funding for Syria announced

The conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria) has resulted in extensive landmine, cluster munition and other explosive remnant of war (ERW) contamination. Mines and ERW caused 864 casualties in Syria in 2015 while cluster munition strikes caused another 231 casualties. The contamination will continue to kill and maim people for decades.

At a time when global landmine contamination is dropping, MAC has been very concerned about increasing Syrian contamination.

Today we have some good news though, the Government of Canada announced a $4.5 million CDN contribution to Mayday Rescue to support the Syrian Civil Defence aka the White Helmets. In addition to the post-bombing search and rescue they are famous for, the White Helmets carry out risk education and explosive ordinance disposal/clearance operations in some of the most contaminated areas.

We hope that this support, following the September announcement of $12.5 Canadian over five years to mine clearance in Colombia, is the start of Canada's return to being a top-five donor to mine action.  It is time that Canada reasserts its leadership on the Ottawa Treaty and on global efforts to eliminate the suffering caused by landmines, cluster munitions and other ERW. 



Alarm at mine victim rise

Landmine report finds global casualties at 10-year high while clearance funding hits 10-year low; but progress toward a mine-free world continues

(Ottawa, ON, 22 November 2016): New use of antipersonnel mines by states is extremely rare due to the ongoing success of a ban treaty encompassing more than 80% of all countries. However, according to Landmine Monitor 2016, armed conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen created harsher conditions for the victims and contributed to a sharp spike in the number of people killed and injured in 2015 by mines, including improvised devices that are triggered in the same way, and other explosive remnants of war (ERW). This latest annual report of the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) was released today.

“The decade-high number of new casualties caused by landmines and unexploded ordnance, and the continued suffering of civilians, more than a third of whom were children, proves again that these indiscriminate weapons should never be used by anyone,” said Loren Persi, casualties and victim assistance editor of Landmine Monitor. “Assistance is essential for those people and communities victimized by landmines in countries that were already struggling to meet their needs,” Persi added.

For calendar year 2015, the Monitor recorded 6,461 mine/ERW casualties, marking a 75% increase from the number of casualties recorded for 2014 and the highest recorded total since 2006 (6,573). The sharp increase is mainly attributed to more casualties recorded in armed conflicts in Libya, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen. The increase also reflects greater availability of casualty data, particularly from unique systematic surveys of persons injured in Libya and Syria last year. The vast majority of recorded landmine/ERW casualties were civilians (78%) where their status was known—a finding similar to the high civilian casualty rate in previous years. Despite the overall increase, declining casualty rates were recorded in more states and areas (34) than were increases (31).

“At a time when casualties are increasing, it is worrying to find decreasing international and national support to clear mine-contaminated land and assist landmine victims,” said Jeff Abramson, program manager of the Monitor initiative and final editor of Landmine Monitor 2016.

Thirty-five donors contributed $340.1 million in international support for mine action to 41 states and three other areas—the first time since 2005 that international support fell below $400 million. Canadian funding increased C$2,985, 063 or 35%. Canada’s total funding of C$11,447,904 moves it back into the top ten donors to mine action, but is far short of the C$49.2 million in 2007.

Fourteen affected states reported providing $131.2 million in national support for their own mine action programs. Combined, donors and affected states contributed approximately US$471.3 million for mine action in 2015, a decrease of $139 million (23%) from 2014. 2015 was the lowest level since 2005.

In 2016, donors hosted three international pledging conferences, during which they committed resources to support mine action activities, especially in Colombia and Iraq, as well as the treaty’s implementation support unit in Geneva. Separately, new pledges were also announced for clearance efforts in Lao PDR. “Mine action” comprises the clearance of mined area, destruction of stockpiles of landmines, assistance to victims of landmine explosions, mine risk education, and advocacy.

“It is encouraging to see special pledges made this year to address funding issues, but it is too early to determine whether they will turn around the trend in declining support,” Abramson added.

Landmine use occurs in a limited number of countries, clearance continues

New use of antipersonnel mines by states remains a relatively rare phenomenon, with Myanmar, North Korea, and Syria—all states not party to the Mine Ban Treaty—again having the only government forces actively planting the weapons during the past year (October 2015 to October 2016). Over that time, non-state armed groups used antipersonnel mines, including victim-activated improvised mines, in at least 10 countries: Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, Pakistan, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen, as well as Nigeria—the only country joining last year’s list.

The Mine Ban Treaty, which became international law in 1999 and today has 162 States Parties, bans the use of mines that detonate due to human contact, also known as “victim-activated,” and thereby encompasses improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that act as antipersonnel mines, also called improvised mines.

“The continued use of antipersonnel mines by non-state armed groups in today’s conflicts, particularly victim-activated improvised mines, flies in the face of the widespread international rejection of this weapon,” said Mark Hiznay, associate director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch and ban policy editor of Landmine Monitor.

In 2015, countries continued to make previously mined areas safe for use, reporting at least about 171 km2 of land cleared of landmines among the 60 countries (36 of which are treaty members) and four other sovereignty-disputed areas that are known to have mine contamination. As in recent years, the largest clearance of mined areas in 2015 was achieved in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Croatia, which together accounted for more than 70% of recorded clearance.

While 26 States Parties have completed their clearance obligations since the Mine Ban Treaty came into force in 1999, only four of the remaining States Parties appear to be on track to meet their treaty-mandated clearance deadlines (Algeria, Chile, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ecuador).

Ukraine is in violation of the Mine Ban Treaty due to missing its 1 June 2016 deadline for mine clearance without having requested a deadline extension.

In 2014, treaty members set a shared goal of completing landmine clearance by 2025. “This report’s findings should spur all states to commit the national and international resources necessary to achieve their collective ambition of creating a mine-free world by 2025,” said Abramson.

Additional key findings from the report include:

  • The Monitor recorded but could not independently verify allegations of new mine use in States Parties Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Philippines, and Tunisia, or in states not party Iran and Saudi Arabia.
  • The number of countries confirmed with mine contamination rose in 2015. The increase is due to new use of antipersonnel mines, including improvised mines, in Nigeria, and to the acquisition of new data on pre-existing contamination in Palau and Mozambique.
  • The amount of land recorded as cleared of contamination (171 km2) in 2015 decreased from an estimated 201 km2 in 2014. It is not possible to attribute the 2015 decrease in clearance to a single cause, but the severe reduction in funding available for mine action probably played a major role.
  • States Parties Niger and Palau are awaiting approval of landmine clearance extension requests at the Fifteenth Meeting of States Parties, in November 2016.
  • In 2015, children accounted for 38% of all civilian casualties where the age was known. Women and girls made up 14% of all casualties where the sex was known, a slight increase compared to recent years.
  • Most States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty with significant numbers of mine victims suffered from a lack of adequate resources to fulfill the victim assistance commitments of the 2014–2019 Maputo Action Plan. Approximately two-thirds of these States Parties had active coordination mechanisms or relevant national plans in place to advance efforts to assist mine victims and uphold their rights.
  • Collectively, States Parties have destroyed more than 51 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines, including more than 2.1 million destroyed in 2015.
  • Belarus, Greece, and Ukraine remain in violation of the treaty after having failed to complete the destruction of their stockpiles by their four-year deadline.
  • A de facto global ban on the state-to-state transfer of antipersonnel mines has been in effect since the mid-1990s, but the use of factory-produced antipersonnel mines in States Parties Yemen and Ukraine, where declared stockpiles had been destroyed, indicates that some illicit transfers have occurred either internally among actors or from sources external to the country.
  • Down from a total of more than 50 producing states before the Mine Ban Treaty’s existence, currently only 11 countries are identified as potential producers, but just four are most likely to be actively producing, namely India, Myanmar, Pakistan, and South Korea.


About the Monitor:

Landmine Monitor 2016 is released by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines in advance of the Mine Ban Treaty’s Fifteenth Meeting of States Parties, taking place in Santiago, Chile, from 28 November–1 December. More detailed country-specific information is available in online country profiles, while the overviews in the report provide global analysis and findings. The report focuses on calendar year 2015, with information included up to November 2016 in some cases.

Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor is the research arm of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines - Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC). The ICBL was awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its work to eradicate landmines. The Monitor is coordinated by a Monitoring and Research Committee comprised of ICBL-CMC expert staff, research team leaders, and representatives of four non-governmental organizations: DanChurchAid, Handicap International, Human Rights Watch, and Mines Action Canada.


For more information or to schedule an interview, contact:

  • Erin Hunt, Program Coordinator, Mines Action Canada, Ottawa, Mobile +1-613-302-3088, Office +1-613-241-3777 or email: erin@minesactioncanada.org.   
  • Megan Burke, ICBL-CMC Director, Boston, Mobile +1-413-316-0198 or email media@icblcmc.org

Canada made history 20 years ago today

Twenty years ago today Canada’s then foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy issued a surprise challenge at an international conference in Ottawa. Minister Axworthy’s challenge led to an intense and unique diplomatic process that resulted in a ground-breaking treaty banning landmines.

The challenge was issued during the closing session of a three day conference on mine action held at the old downtown railway station in Ottawa that had been converted into a government conference centre. The conference was forward looking and didn’t focus on past failures to effectively address the global landmines crisis. It attracted representatives from 75 countries, international organizations and civil society. Few in attendance expected a consensus on a new treaty to emerge let alone Axworthy’s call for a treaty to ban landmines.

However, many accepted the surprise and unusual challenge and a very vigorous effort began to bring governments together to negotiate a new ban treaty. Canada and a small group of like-mined countries (such as Austria, Belgium, Mexico, Norway, South Africa) led the diplomatic efforts with the International Committee of the Red Cross and United Nations agencies adding their expertise while civil society under the leadership of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) brought the voices of affected communities and landmine survivors into the negotiations. It was an accelerated and inclusive effort that worked. That effort became known as the Ottawa Process and has been widely studied as a new form of international relations. 

On December 3, 1997 more than 120 states came to Ottawa to sign the resulting treaty that combined humanitarian and disarmament components into a comprehensive ban on landmines. The treaty signing happened a little less than 14 months after Lloyd Axworthy issued his challenge. Commonly known as the Ottawa Convention or Mine Ban Treaty it has been very successful to date. It is humbling to think of the results of that surprise announcement in a converted train station in our national capital 20 years ago today: countless lives and limbs have been saved, survivors around the world have access to services to live their lives in dignity and thousands of square kilometres of land has been cleared of mines.

Mines Action Canada was at that conference 20 years ago and we are still here working to ensure the Ottawa Treaty achieves its ultimate goal of a landmine free world.  We hope you will join us in commemorating this significant event and the remarkable achievements that have resulted from it.

Over the next 20 days on our website and Facebook page, through social media on our Twitter and Instagram accounts and via emails, we’ll periodically share our thoughts on why this was such an important moment in time. We hope you will find it interesting and informative, maybe even inspirational

We were there 20 years ago, we’re here now and we want to finish the job. To do that we’ll need your help.

During this 20 day period we’re hoping at least 20 new donors will join us. Will one of them be you?

If you have supported us in the past perhaps you’d like to make a one-time contribution of $20.00 or more to mark this 20th anniversary.

The promise of a mine-free world began with a surprise on October 5, 1996. After 20 years of hard work we have never been closer to a world without landmines. Let’s make it a reality.


Why I do this work

Last week was the annual Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. I knew this meeting was going to be different because it was the first held in Geneva, the first to be only three days long and the first meeting after Textron announced it was ending production of cluster munitions, but I had no idea I would leave with such strong reminders of why I do this work. I would like to share with you three stories from last week.

First, I got to see the long-term impact of our youth programming. Senegalese landmine survivor Mamady Gassama and I first met in 2007 when we were both youth campaigners participating in MAC's Youth Leadership, Education and Action Program (Youth LEAP). Over the years, we've both grown into our roles and last week, Mamady delivered an eloquent and compelling call for support to victims of cluster munitions on behalf of the Cluster Munition Coalition. Seeing my friend move from youth campaigner to campaign leader showed me how important it is to support youth campaigners. 

Second, while we were meeting in Geneva, US President Obama was visiting Laos for the first time. After years of advocacy by our colleagues at Legacies of War, President Obama acknowledged the humanitarian harm caused by the use of cluster munitions there during the Vietnam war, increased funding to clear land and visited COPE Laos. Another big win for campaigners which made news around the world. For us, we had the extra excitement of seeing another graduate of MAC's Youth LEAP take centre stage. Soksai Sengvongkham gave President Obama a tour of the COPE Centre. You can see Soksai with the President in all the media photos of that visit. We focus on youth programming because when young people get a little boost, they can achieve great things.

Third, I had the opportunity to sit down with Raed Al-Saleh, the founder of the Syrian Civil Defense (aka The White Helmets) after he addressed diplomats, to talk about how they help casualties of cluster munition strikes in Syria. As we talked about what the White Helmets and other civilians face on a daily basis in Syria, diplomats were in another room debating whether or not they should include language condemning all cluster munition use in a declaration. Later that afternoon two While Helmet volunteers were killed by a cluster munition strike in Syria. After that horrific news, campaigners redoubled their efforts to ensure that the declaration remained strong and after much debate, states adopted a declaration that said “We remain gravely concerned and strongly condemn the continued use of cluster munitions, most notably in Syria and Yemen in the past year.”

To be honest, the contrast between seeing our Youth LEAP graduates shine and hearing from Raed about the reality in Syria was hard to process. Despite all the success we’ve had in the past three weeks and how important I know our work is, I was feeling a little useless in the face of so much suffering and so little action by states until I remembered the small piece of blue paper I keep in my desk. That piece of paper says:

"The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins"

I don't have the skills to help Raed and his volunteers to dig survivors out of rubble and clear cluster submunitions or the authority to end the conflict there or in Yemen where cluster munitions are also being used, but I can speak out against the use of cluster munitions and all of us at MAC will continue to do so. It is crucial for us as civil society to press governments to take action and stop the use of cluster munitions even if it feels like we’re up against a brick wall.

As advocates, our job is to keep fighting even when things get hard because the someday when somebody wins is just around the corner. Maybe that somebody is me or maybe it will be one of the youth we’ve trained. Last week reminded me that I do this work because someday, somebody who believes as I do will win.




Double the policy review fun!

This summer, the Government of Canada carried out two policy reviews related to our work. Global Affairs Canada held an International Assistance Review and the Department of National Defence undertook a Defence Policy Review. 

You can read more about the International Assistance Review and the Defence Policy Review online. MAC participated in a number of consultations during the International Assistance Review as well as submitted papers containing our recommendations to both the International Assistance Review and the Defence Policy Review. From public consultations with MPs in Ottawa and Victoria to intense workshops and high level consultations, we enjoyed participating in the review processes and now we hope that the government takes the recommendations from civil society seriously as they shape Canada's role internationally.

In our International Assistance Review submission, we highlighted Canada's past as a leader on mine action and helping civilians rebuild after conflict. This past leadership was crucial to creation of the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines and the early successes that treaty had. We reminded the government that the job isn't finished yet though. Landmines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war are lethal barriers to development and Canada cannot achieve its international assistance goals without addressing these problems. Read our full submission here.

In our Defence Policy Review submission, we focused on the need for meaningful human control over the use of force. We also spoke about the need to have thorough and transparent reviews of new weapons systems before procurement. Read our full submission here.

After we finished both of those submissions (they were due on the same day, by the way), we decided we weren't done yet and drafted a brief submission to the 2017 Pre-Budget consultations. In this document, we advocated for more funding to the International Youth Internship Program. Here's our full submission

We will update you as soon as we hear about the results of the two policy reviews but in the meantime, please consider making a small donation to help us keep the pressure up. With your support we will continue to call for more Canadian leadership on humanitarian disarmament.



Minister Dion Visits COPE

Our colleague and Youth LEAP grad Soksai Sengvongkham has excellent things to say about Minister Stéphane Dion's visit to COPE Laos.

Great to see someone trained by our previous Global Affairs Canada funded youth program have the opportunity to show the Minister of Foreign Affairs what Canadian funding can do!


Women, Peace and Security

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development is currently undertaking a study on Women, Peace and Security to help in drafting a new Canadian Action Plan. According to the government, the purpose of this study is to examine "Canada’s role in supporting the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on women, peace and security (132518201888188919602106, 2122 and 2242). Together, these resolutions necessitate the protection of women’s rights and women’s meaningful involvement in all efforts to prevent, resolve and recover from armed conflict."

Mines Action Canada strongly supports this work and submitted written testimony to the Committee based on our experience in humanitarian disarmament.  You can read our submission here


Working Paper on Victim Assistance and Nuclear Weapons

This year the United Nations is holding an Open-Ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament. Mines Action Canada capitalized on our experience with the Ottawa Treaty and Convention on Cluster Munitions to submit a working paper to the OEWG on the need to include victim assistance in a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The working paper is available online here.


They are doctors, nurses and medics not soldiers or targets

Last week saw global outrage over the bombing of two hospitals in Aleppo, Syria. Coming soon after the bombing of a civil defense centre, the destruction of al-Quds hospital and Al Marjeh Primary Health Care Centre within days of each other made headlines around the world. Sadly, these horrific and illegal bombings were not isolated incidents.

Over the last few years, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, South Sudan and too many other countries, have seen attacks on health care facilities. Although health care facilities and medical personnel are protected under International Humanitarian Law (IHL), making such attacks war crimes, 2015 witnessed an alarming increase in these illegal tactics. To be clear, these are not mistakes or accidental collateral damage but targeted attacks on those providing life-saving medical care in the midst of conflict. As a result, there has also been a rise in the number of unmarked ambulances and covert field hospitals established in conflict zones.  These field hospitals have even become the main source of health care in opposition controlled Syria.

With hospitals, ambulances and medical facilities under attack or destroyed, thousands of civilians are being denied a fundamental human right guaranteed by the 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the right to health.  This unacceptable war tactic is exacerbating already dire humanitarian crises around the world. The ongoing situation not only undermines the credibility of the international community, but also highlights one of the most damaging long term impacts of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.  

The unseen impacts of attacks on health care facilities

Attacks against medical facilities impede access to health care and have disastrous impacts on long term health. Beyond the obvious death and injury caused by attacks on health care systems and the lack of emergency treatment for those injured in the conflict, targeting health care has wide-spread humanitarian impacts. The already overwhelmed health care systems of states in conflict are often unable to cope with the influx of patients caused by the destruction of medical facilities.  “Targeting the health system has compounded the crisis, caused many medical personnel to flee, and prevented countless civilians from getting treated’’ said Widney Brown, Physicians for Human Rights’s director of programs.  In addition to war-injured persons, thousands of people are dying of preventable causes because they unable to access proper health care across conflict zones.

Targeting medical facilities has also impeded vaccination campaigns. The outbreak of polio in Syria and Iraq which started in October 2013 was called “the most challenging outbreak in the history of polio eradication.” Before this outbreak, polio was last reported in Syria in 1999 and in Iraq in 2000.  Unusually large outbreaks of malaria and dengue fever were reported in Yemen by the WHO in 2015. Additionally, fighting forced the postponement of a polio and measles vaccination campaign endangering the lives of millions of children in Yemen. 

Case studies


Attacks on medical facilities and health care providers have been a feature of the conflict in Syria. A report from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) identified that between March 2011 and December 2015, 346 attacks were conducted on 246 Syrian medical facilities, killing 705 medical personnel. Syrian government and Russian forces were found responsible for 315 attacks according to the NGO.  Hospitals were specifically targeted on at least 211 occasions. 

The scale of attacks on medical care in Syria is overwhelming, we will just look at attacks on hospitals in Aleppo, both the city and governorate. The city of Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city, saw its health care facilities attacked 45 times in the three years prior to October 2015. As a consequence of these attacks, less than a third of its hospitals were functioning in late 2015, and the ratio of doctors to residents is eight times less than before the conflict started, denying access to much needed medical services. “The Syrian government is using attacks on Aleppo’s health care system as a weapon of war” said Dr. Michele Heisler, of PHR.

A late January 2016 Russian air attack destroyed the last major hospital, the Andan Charitable Hospital, in northern Aleppo. The hospital was providing advanced medical services, including surgery, to residents of the Aleppo countryside. Residents are now forced to travel 50 km to clinics along the Turkish border to receive health care. The hospital was directly targeted by Russian airstrikes. A doctor and a 10 year old patient were killed, and 24 others were injured as a result of the attack.

The result of these attacks is most evident in a media story from 1 May 2016:

Amr al-Halaby, 32, said his teenage daughter, whose leg was severed by a government barrel bomb, had only been able to receive limited treatment from a local vet in the family’s home. “Her painkillers have run out and there is nowhere for us to take her,” said Mr Halaby. “She has reached hell and we can only watch her sink deeper.”


The already fragile health care system in Yemen is coming under severe strain since the conflict erupted in March 2015. The WHO has estimated that almost a quarter of Yemen’s medical facilities are no longer operational due to the violence. “The health system is on the brink of collapse” declared Dr Ahmed Shadoul, WHO Representative for Yemen.  The situation is so dire that the president of the ICRC, Peter Maurer, said that “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years", warning the international community of the growing humanitarian catastrophe as medical facilities continue to be targeted. Two ICRC staff were killed by gunmen in September 2015 and the organization’s office was raided by gunmen in a separate incident.

A UNICEF report stated that at least 63 health facilities have been attacked since the start of fighting in March 2015 and almost 600 facilities have ceased operations due to damage or lack of supplies, electricity and staff. The report goes on to estimate that “nearly 10,000 children under the age of five may have died in the past year from preventable diseases as a result of the decline in key health services such as immunization against vaccine preventable diseases and the treatment of diarrhoea and pneumonia.”


An attack on a medical facility in Afghanistan in October 2015, brought the issue of attacks on health care to the general public’s attention. The MSF hospital in Kunduz province, the only trauma centre in northern Afghanistan, was repeatedly attacked and eventually destroyed by U.S airstrikes, killing 42, including 14 staff and 24 patients and 4 caretakers.  Now, residents in the Kunduz province have to either go to expensive private clinics, or attempt the long and dangerous journey to Kabul or Pakistan to receive treatment. On 29 April 2016, the United States Department of Defence released their long, jargon filled and partially redacted report on the incident and said the incident was not a war crime.

The hospital in Kunduz has not yet reopened.



In December 2011, during the 31st International Conference of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the international community adopted a resolution mandating the ICRC to initiate consultations with subject matter experts to formulate practical recommendations for improving safe access to health care services.  The “Health Care in Danger” project was created to achieve this objective.  The ICRC published its first recommendations in 2013. 

In conjunction with those 2013 recommendations, the United Nation (UN) adopted four resolutions for the protection of health care services during armed conflict in December 2014.  This reinforced the principles in four Geneva Conventions and two additional Protocols already providing for the protection of health care facilities. These resolutions asserted to warring parties that attacks against medical facilities constitute a war crime. 

However, governments and rebel groups appear to be ignoring the warnings of the international community, as more and more hospitals and medical clinics become the targets of attacks.

Civil society has not been silent in the face of these unacceptable and illegal attacks. MSF launched a social media campaign to raise 

awareness on the fact that its hospitals have been bombed every week in 2015 and 2016 in Syria and have been targeted countless times worldwide. The #NotATarget campaign demands that medical facilities stop being treated as military targets in conflict zones.  The longer these attacks are tolerated by the international community, the more likely they will become a new norm in armed conflicts. The usually reserved ICRC is speaking out more on this issue, most recently in collaboration with MSF, and the ICRC President Peter Maurer has been uncharacteristically blunt.

In our humanitarian disarmament work, we advocate strongly for effective assistance to victims of landmines, cluster munitions, explosive remnants of war and explosive weapons used in populated areas. The targeting of health care facilities and medical personnel prevents victims from getting the emergency and long term care they need.  

The international community has a chance this month to reverse course and reaffirm international prohibitions on attacking medical facilities.  Tomorrow, 3 May 2016, the United Nations Security Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution designed to stop future attacks against hospitals, patients and civilians in war zones. Update: We're pleased to see that Canada will be co-sponsoring this resolution. Later this month, states will gather in Turkey for the World Humanitarian Summit where they will make core commitments in regards to humanitarian issues. One of the High-Level Leaders’ Roundtables is on “Upholding the norms that safeguard humanity” where states will have the opportunity to speak out on the targeting of civilian objects like medical facilities. In both these discussions, states have the responsibility to speak out against the targeting of medical facilities and personnel and to take action to protect those who risk everything to save lives in conflict. 

Jean-Philippe Lambert Ste Marie is an undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa and a Mines Action Canada research assistant and Erin Hunt is the Program Coordinator at Mines Action Canada.



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