There are many Americans that have clicked on landmines but, in dozens of former conflict zones across the globe, civilians go about their everyday lives in fear of losing a limb or loved one.
When Jacqueline Hansen started working for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, as many as 20,000 people were killed each year by landmines lying dormant in dozens of countries. Now, the number killed per year has decreased fivefold. Hansen, who has led the monitoring and data collection arm of the ICBL since 2005, spoke as a guest of the Program of African Studies about the public health risks of landmines and other leftover munitions Friday.
“It doesn’t matter how they work, but [it's] the devastation that they cause,” Hansen said. Survivors of landmine detonations require a variety of support measures, including health care, prosthetics, psychosocial support and education. Children who lose limbs, for example, may require over a dozen prosthetics over the course of childhood to accommodate their growing bodies.
To gather international support for landmines, ICBL lobbied for the United Nations to adopt a landmine treaty. When Russia and the U.S. vetoed the initiative, ICBL needed another strategy.
“Going outside of traditional diplomatic processes worked,” Hansen said. The ICBL found a champion in the Canadian government, which held a convention in 1997 that led to the creation of the Mine Ban Treaty. It had three major aims: ban production and stockpiling of landmines, remove and destroy landmines and provide aid to survivors.
The treaty has gained 161 signatories, with the U.S. noticeably absent. Hansen said the treaty created a stigma where it was “no longer acceptable to use the weapons.” The U.S. has not used landmines since the first Gulf War, according to Hansen. Moreover, since all other NATO members have signed the treaty, the U.S. cannot use them in a coalition operation without exposing its allies to legal liability stemming from the treaty.
Since the treaty, 1700 square kilometers of mine fields have been swept clean, including all of Central America. Millions of landmines have been taken out of commission and only four countries currently produce or could potentially produce landmines.
However, there are still major challenges for the organization. Recent conflicts in Libya and Syria have resulted in the release of additional munitions that could pose harm to civilians. Additionally, health care systems in developing countries lack the capacity to provide full support to landmine survivors, many of whom live in remote rural areas.
Now, the ICBL is pushing a paradigm shift to “empower survivors to take ownership in planning execution of services,” Hansen said. Survivors have always been active in the organization, playing a vital role in explaining conditions in landmine-infested areas and persuading officials to support the cause.
Hansen was brought to Northwestern by Noelle Sullivan, global health lecturer in the anthropology department, who reconnected with Hansen over social media. “Facebook can be tremendously professionally useful,” Sullivan said.
The ICBL was a co-laureate for the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize with American Jody Williams "for their work to ban and remove antipersonnel landmines worldwide."