Geneva Victim Assistance Experts Meeting, 11 November 2020
The Committee on Victim Assistance of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, composed of Italy (Chair) Chile, Sweden and Thailand, convened a virtual Victim Assistance Experts Meeting on 11 November 2020, in the lead up to the Eighteenth Meeting of States Parties (18MSP) of the Convention.
The VA Experts Meeting was held in accordance with mandate of the Committee to provide “advice to the States Parties in the fulfilment of their commitments under Oslo Action Plan (OAP)” and to “facilitate discussion on ways and means of enhancing victim assistance and to ensure the wellbeing of mine victim.” The VA Experts Meetings provide opportunity for the exchange of experiences and best practices in realising the rights and needs of mine survivors and other persons with disabilities. As of November 2020, 30 States Parties to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention have reported having significant numbers of landmine survivors, with “the greatest responsibility to act, but also the greatest needs and expectations for assistance” .
The objective of the 2020 VA Experts Meeting was to raise awareness and to enhance understandings on safety and protection of mine victims in situations of risk and emergencies in accordance with Action #40 of the OAP, which requires States Parties with a significant number of victims under their jurisdiction or control to “ensure that relevant national humanitarian response and preparedness plans provide for the safety and protection of mine survivors in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters, in line with relevant international humanitarian and human rights law and international guidelines.” The VA Experts Meeting followed up on an expert panel discussion organized by the Committee during the intersessional meetings of the Convention in June 2020 on this matter.
A total of 79 participants from 21 States Parties to the Convention attended the VA Experts Meeting with vast majority representing States Parties with victim assistance responsibilities and representatives of nine civil society organizations, representative organizations of mine survivors, the ICRC and UN agencies. Simultaneous interpretation was provided in English, French and Spanish and international sign. The Meeting was held on Interprefy platform.
The Chair of the Committee on Victim Assistance, Tancredi Francese, Deputy Permanent Representative of Italy to the Conference on Disarmament, welcomed participants and explained the objectives of the VA Experts Meeting. In his introductory remarks the Chair briefly mentioned relevance and advantages of other broader frameworks and new policy developments to the safety and protection of mine victims in situations of risks and emergencies, such as the United Nations Security Council resolution (2475) on “disproportionate impact of armed conflict and related humanitarian crises on persons with disabilities”. The Chair also mentioned that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has served as a reminder of the need to do more to ensure the safety and protection of mine survivors and all persons with disabilities in situations of risk and emergencies. The Chair highlighted that unless appropriate measures are considered in a timely manner, mine survivors, like other persons with disabilities, will continue to be disproportionately affected by humanitarian emergencies and disasters.
The Implementation Support Unit (ISU) Implementation Support Officer, Firoz Alizada, presented an overview of victim assistance under the Convention and the victim assistance actions of the OAP including the interdependence between Action #40 and the rest of the OAP. Firoz spoke about the importance of aligning victim assistance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and described the use of the integrated approach in the framework of victim assistance and the OAP and its advantages to the sustainability of victim assistance.
Ensuring the Safety and Protection of Mine Survivors in Situation of Risk and Humanitarian Emergencies:
Case studies The Committee on Victim Assistance had commissioned a consultant, Wanda Muñoz, to look at best practices in areas related to the implementation of Action #40 of OAP. The consultant compiled three case studies on efforts put forward by Afghanistan, Colombia and Uganda in integrating the safety and protection needs of mine victims in situations of risk and emergencies into broader frameworks. The case studies, along with supplementary material including information on perspectives of representatives of mine survivors and information on most relevant available guidance, tools and other resources were presented at the VA Experts Meeting. Based on the case studies, examples of some of the actions that national VA experts could take to contribute to the safety and protection of persons with disabilities, including mine survivors, and to fulfil their commitment under Action #40 of the OAP were presented. The case studies along with other background information was made available to participants of the VA Experts Meeting prior to the meeting.
Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action
Camilla Roberti, Disarmament and Protection of Civilians Advocacy Officer at Humanity & Inclusion (HI), presented an overview of the Charter adopted by 2016 World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) and highlighted the five key principles – non-discrimination, participation, inclusive policies, inclusive response and services and cooperation and coordination – promoted by the Charter which are in line with the principles and understandings practiced in victim assistance. The Charter is open for endorsement by States, UN agencies, organizations involved in humanitarian contexts and organizations of persons with disabilities. As of November 2020, 250 stakeholders had endorsed the Charter, including 31 States, the EU, 14 UN agencies, eight international organizations including ICRC and IFRC, 22 national and international networks, 46 organizations representing persons with disabilities (OPDs) and 118 NGOs.
Camilla also shared HI’s experience in taking part in emergency response activities in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine and suggested the following recommendations concerning planning, responses and recovery efforts:
Inclusion of child victims into humanitarian programme cycles
Murat Yucer on behalf of the Global Protection Cluster, Humanitarian Mine Action/UNMAS presented a guidelines developed in early 2020 to support the inclusion of explosive ordnance child victims in humanitarian programme cycles. Murat highlighted the relevance of the guidelines to the topic of safety and protection of persons with disabilities including mine survivors in situation of humanitarian emergencies. He highlighted some of the common challenges that humanitarian agencies face in integrating the needs of child victims into humanitarian programme cycle and emphasised the need to improve disaggregated data collection to identify needs, challenges and develop an appropriate response. Murat encouraged increased coordination and collaboration between mine action/victim assistance actors and other humanitarian actors.
Safety and protection in the context of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Elham Youssefian, Inclusive Humanitarian Action and Disaster Risk Reduction Adviser of the International Disability Alliance (IDA), spoke about the safety and protection of persons with disabilities in situations of risks and emergencies in human rights frameworks. Elham highlighted the significance of Article 11 of the CRPD which requires States Parties “…to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.” The CRPD is critical as the first human rights Convention that contains an explicit provision to ensuring access to humanitarian protection and safety in situations of emergencies on equal basis with others. Elham called for the effective and efficient implementation of Article 11 in conjunction with international humanitarian laws. She stressed upon the need to ensure that all victim assistance efforts are provided in a non-discriminatory manner and emphasized that no one should be discriminated against based on causes of their impairment or any other factors.
Elham highlighted the broader impact of landmines on family members of mine survivors and their need for immediate psychological assistance. She encouraged mine action centres and survivor networks to make sure to work together with organizations of persons with disabilities and other relevant government agencies in their respective countries viewing this “ triangular cooperation” as critical to ensuring an efficient and effective rights based approach.
Elham also thanked the Committee on Victim Assistance for providing sign language interpretation for the VA Experts meeting and noted that doing so sends a strong message on Committee’s commitment for accessibility.
The United Nations Inclusion Strategy (UNDIS)
Kirstin Lange, Programme Specialist (Disability Inclusive Humanitarian Action) at the Disability Section of United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), provided information and updates on progress in the implementation of UNDIS. The UNDIS was launched in 2019 and provides a framework for progressive realization of a more inclusive UN system and is aimed at creating an institutional framework for the implementation of the CRPD. While UNDIS is an internal document of the UN, it has external focus including in programming and applies in development and humanitarian settings.
The Strategy includes a system-wide policy, an accountability framework and other implementation modalities. The strategy has 4 pillars: Leadership strategic planning and management, inclusiveness, programming and organizational culture. UN entities are required to report on an annual basis on aligning their policies and programmes with UNDIS. The Strategy also provides a useful framework for governments. In addition to accountability framework which is reported at entity level there is also the Country team Score Card were country teams are reporting at a country level rather than at an entity level. Accountability here lies with the UN country teams. Indicator 11 on humanitarian programming, under the programming pillar, has particular relevance for us. It sets three main requirements of the UN System at a country level:
Based on lessons learned on employing UNDIS as a framework for integrating inclusion of persons with disabilities into UN structures, policies and programmes, the following suggestions were presented: the need to ensure broad ownership- disability inclusion is everyone’s responsibility; the importance of embedding disability inclusion in organizational policies and strategies; internal processes are as important as programming; and, the need for adequate resources.
Kirstin also highlighted the severe impacts of mine/explosive remnants of war on children and that children need adapted assistance both for physiological reasons (e.g. body still growing) and also if a child with disability suffers from exclusion it can have serious effects on future prospects of the child. Children have specific need and “are not small adults”. For example, a ten-year old child with a lower limb amputation, is likely to need 25 prostheses during his/her life. The provision of an age appropriate assistance is essential.
Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC ) Guidelines on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities
Ricardo Pla Cardero, Protection Officer, Disability Inclusion department of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), provided an update on the IASC Guidelines on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities and shared on UNHCR’s efforts.
Like UNDIS, the IASC Guidelines on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities aims to ensure inclusion of persons with disabilities into UN-wide humanitarian system and humanitarian actions. The guideline was developed with participation of more than 600 individuals. The consultation process included regional and thematic consultations including inputs provided by victim assistance experts. The process had begun in 2017 and the guidelines was launched in 2019. A Reference Group has been created to support the rollout of the guidelines, including capacity buildings and awareness raising across humanitarian programme cycle. The guidance includes a dedicate chapter on mine action, that includes the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The five pillars of mine action are explained including how they can be inclusive of the needs of persons with disabilities. The guidance suggests 15 actions to humanitarian actors working in mine action to identify and remove barriers faced by persons with disabilities, as well as their families and caregivers, when they try to access mine action programmes.
Ricardo pointed out that CRPD has led to change in UNHCR’s approach to disabilities and it was formally addressed by an executive committee conclusion on refugees with disabilities in 2010. The conclusion recognises the Convention and its concepts of disabilities and acknowledges that services, facilities and assistance and protection may not be accessible to persons with disabilities. It urges States and partners to protect persons with disabilities against all forms of discrimination. Another key policy that addresses the rights of persons with disabilities, is the UNHCR’s Age, Gender and Diversity Policy. This policy recognises the heterogeneity of all persons who are concerned to UNHCR. Diversity section of the policy includes persons with disabilities and aims to ensure that services and protection are provided to them on an equal basis with others.
Ricardo also shared data on forcibly displaced persons. In accordance with annual global trend report produced by UNHCR, over 79.5 million people were forcibly displaced in 2019. During the past decade, around 100 million people have been forcibly displaced. Ricardo stated that if 15% of disability prevalence was applied to this figure, 12 million persons with disabilities live in situation of forcibly displacements, and the estimate of 15% is even higher in developing countries. For example, 21% of Syrian refugees in Jordan are identified as persons with disabilities. Ricardo highlighted that the UNHCR is committed to make sure services are provided without any discrimination – be it situation of displacement or cause of impairment. He also reminded participations of efforts made by the UNHCR to mine action activities through national protection clusters in mine affected countries.
The three expert presenters from the IDA, UNICEF and UNHCR addressed participants’ questions on various aspects of inclusion, safety and protection of persons with disabilities including mine survivors, and other vulnerable groups in situations of risks and emergencies. They highlighted the following ideas, food for thought and possible solutions to address challenges faced by affected countries:
Update provided by States Parties with victim assistance responsibilities
The following States Parties with responsibility for significant numbers of mine victims provided updates on their activities to integrate the safety and protection needs of mine victims into their national relevant frameworks in particular into disaster management policies and programmes:
The updates provided by the States Parties included information on measures they have undertaken to address the needs of mine survivors and persons with disabilities during COVID-19 pandemic including by integrating targeted actions in preventative and awareness raising activities on public health.
2021 plans and priorities of the Committee on Victim Assistance
On behalf of Thailand, the incoming Chair of the Committee on Victim Assistance, Worawut Smuthkalin, Minister Counsellor of Thailand’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva provided information on Committee’s upcoming activities. He stated that the year 2021 will be an important year as we will be able to look at the first full year of progress on implementation of the OAP, including the nine victim assistance actions. He reiterated that the Committee in accordance with its mandate will continue to support the States Parties “in the fulfilment of their commitments related to victim assistance” under the OAP. Worawut informed the participants of upcoming victim assistance related events and key milestones and highlighted the followings aspects of victim assistance as some of important matters to consider in victim assistance:
The incoming Committee Chair concluded his remarks by thanking Tancredi for his leadership during this past year and for moderating the Victim Assistance Experts meeting. He thanked the ISU for its important support to the Committee. Worawut welcomed Algeria and Ecuador as new members to the Committee and assured the VA Experts that the Committee will continue building on momentum and progress made in 2020 to make sure the States Parties will receive the supports they need in fulfilling their victim assistance obligation in 2021.
Tancredi Francese closed the meeting by extending the Committee’s appreciation to all speakers, experts, the States Parties that provided updates on their efforts, the ISU, the interpreters and all participants for their contribution to an extensive and engaging discussion. He assured the VA Experts of Italy’s continued support to victim assistance and his personal commitment to support the work of the Committee.