Victim Assistance: what can we expect in 2021?

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This is the second blog post in a series looking at an array of issues in 2021 related to weapons use, the arms trade and security assistance, at times offering recommendations.
Assistance to victims of antipersonnel mines and cluster munitions has been constantly evolving since it first was included as an obligation in Article 6.3 of the Mine Ban Treaty.For instance, it is now agreed that:

  • Victim assistance (VA) is a holistic process and set of services that includes health, rehabilitation, psychosocial support, education and social and economic inclusion.
  • VA should not discriminate among survivors of different weapons, or between them and people with impairments from other causes; and it should be planned, implemented, monitored and evaluated with the full participation of survivors and other people with disabilities and their representative organizations.
  • VA should include and respond to the needs and rights of survivors, the families of those killed and injured, and affected communities; and it should incorporate gender, age and diversity considerations.
  • VA should be incorporated into larger frameworks related to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), among others, in order to be sustainable. For this strategy to be effective, it should incorporate referral services and monitoring mechanisms that ensure that survivors are effectively accessing their rights.

With this in mind, what developments can we expect on victim assistance in 2021?

  • We will see more and more research by survivors’ organizations. Research by the Afghan Landmine Survivor Organization (ALSO) and Fundación Red de Sobrevivientes de El Salvador on the impact of COVID, and an ongoing project by the Latin American Network of Mine Survivors on armed violence, are excellent examples and should continue to be supported by the international community.
  • The rights of people with disabilities, including survivors, in situations of emergency, will be addressed more specifically thanks to Action #40 of the Oslo Action Plan. State Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty should report on measures to ensure people with disabilities including survivors participate in, and benefit from, safety and protection programs in situations of conflict, humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters. In this regard, if State Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions want to facilitate synergies and ensure clarity that all survivors have the same rights, a similar Action should be included in the Lausanne Action Plan.
  • Digital accessibility will be further developed and normalized due to the ongoing movement and travel restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As more and more communications go online, and more diverse people connect via electronic platforms and services, everyone -including those involved in victim assistance- should think about how to make online communications accessible to people with different types of impairments through assistive technologies such as screen readers, magnifiers, captioning and transcriptions. The captioning and presence of a sign language interpreter in the VA meetings organized by the Implementation Support Unit of the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining is an excellent example (and the captioning is useful too for those of us – the majority in those meetings- for whom English is not our mother tongue!). More thought needs to go into how we can ensure that communication technologies can be made accessible to those that are more marginalized and who often live in rural and remote areas; and to those with multiple impairments, such as deafblind persons. This can be vital, for instance, to contact essential services in cases of domestic violence; to ask for help during natural disasters; to have access to peer to peer support; or to get information about how to access rights and services, more generally.
  • Age and gender approaches will become clearer in the practices and in the reports of State Parties; and gender-based violence against women and girls with disabilities may start getting onto the table. It is a major issue that should be addressed if we really want to work towards gender equality. Indeed, UNFPA has reported that girls and women with disabilities face up to ten more time more sexual violence than those without disabilities! And, as we all know, the situation has been exacerbated during the pandemic. Gender-based violence was already brought up by women survivors and activists with disabilities from Pakistan and Nicaragua at the Jordan “Fostering Partnerships: Global Conference on Assistance to Victims of Anti-Personnel Mines and Other Explosive Remnants of War, and Disability Rights” conference in 2019, for instance; and briefly discussed with Ms. Soledad Cisternas, UN Special Envoy for Disability and Accessibility, at a recent meeting on victim assistance.
  • Meaningful synergies between the Mine Ban Treaty, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the UNCRPD and other frameworks will continue to be strengthened. The “VA Community” now systematically includes organizations and institutions working on the rights of people with disabilities in all discussions. But it is fundamental to underline that such synergies should go hand in hand with referral services and monitoring mechanisms that can effectively make sure that survivors are truly accessing services through these other frameworks. This is particularly crucial when international financial support dedicated to VA continues a downward trend; and when there seems to be a lack of evidence that suppressing VA funds and targeted programs without such referral services and monitoring mechanisms actually works. Evidence-based research should be carried out to evaluate to what extent survivors are effectively accessing their rights through larger frameworks; and what mechanisms need to be in place for these synergies to work- based on field experience and on the actual experience of survivors themselves.

In 2021, those of us interested or working on victim assistance can also look forward to:

  • The First Meeting of State Parties of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which should address victim assistance;
  • The work of Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic on the victims and the consequences of the use of incendiary weapons; and
  • The international process related to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, which should include strong victim assistance considerations.

Undoubtedly, 2021 will also be a challenging year. But It should be one that continues the collective work to ensure we build a more inclusive, accessible world for all – including women, girls, men and boys who are survivors, families of those killed and injured, and the communities affected by all types of weapons.

Wanda Muñoz is a member of SEHLAC in Mexico and an inclusion, victim assistance, and humanitarian disarmament expert.

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