IED casualties and victim assistance in Afghanistan

Loren Persi, Victim Assistance Coordinating Editor, the Monitor

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released its 2013 Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, on 8 February. This latest UNAMA publication makes clear the extent of the daily horror faced by ordinary people in Afghanistan. It also raises serious questions about how the bloodshed can be ended and what can be done to support the growing number of people who become victims.

Use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) was the leading cause of civilian deaths and injuries in Afghanistan in 2013. In addition to killing large numbers of people at once,  IEDs have increasingly become a principle cause of injuries and suffering among civilians. IED blasts result in amputations, internal injuries, burns, brain injury, as well as psychological trauma – in other words, serious permanent disabilities. IEDs wound far more people than they kill, and most who survive the explosion will need medical help and other assistance for many years to come.

IED casualties chart Included among the national total of IED victims for 2013 are over 500 people killed and wounded by victim-activated improvised devices that act as de-facto landmines since they are set off by the presence or contact of a person and are therefore also included in the reporting of the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor.

In order to assist IED victims, Afghanistan can make use of its well-established landmine action system which includes standards for victim assistance. These standards assert that victim assistance should “bring about lasting improvements in the daily lives of people accidently injured by a landmine, explosive remnant of war (ERW) or improvised explosive device (IED) and other persons with disabilities.”

In Afghanistan, victim assistance is intrinsically and practically interlinked with the country’s work to fully realize the promises of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This has valuable potential to increase support to IED survivors in the future.

Victim assistance is an obligation for Afghanistan as a State Party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions and Mine Ban Treaty. Moreover, it’s a practical imperative to resource systems, which are firmly established and can respond to the rights of new survivors as well as past victims of conflict.

Afghanistan has reported that it provides assistance to IED victims through the same system as victim assistance to mine and cluster munitions. The system and its services are far from complete – rehabilitation and medical care are not available to the extent needed and disability rights need to be appropriately protected in the law – but this system offers the country the best chances of continuing  much needed advancements (see 2013 Monitor country profile).

The collaborative efforts of victim assistance in Afghanistan are enhancing the development of services for all persons with disabilities, including survivors of weapons as was highlighted in the publication Frameworks for Victim Assistance, and revealed in detail as one of the Five Key Examples of the Role of Mine Action in Integrating Victim Assistance into Broader Frameworks in a publication by the Mine Ban Treaty Implementation Support Unit.

There can be differences between the types and prevalence of certain injures and disabilities caused by IEDs compared to other types of landmines and explosive weapons that should be kept in mind. These may result in the need for specific emergency medical care and use of particular rehabilitation methods.

Yet, the assistance needed by victims of different weapons overlaps in many areas, and, in several countries, landmine victim assistance has been able to evolve to address the similar needs of other groups of victims.  A long accepted principle of the emerging victim assistance norm has been that it be delivered based on rights and individual human needs, without prejudice in regards to the weapon involved or the cause of disability.

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