This year marks a quarter century since the Ottawa Treaty went into effect, representing the global community’s best efforts to end the use of landmines. Since then, more than 30 countries have been declared landmine free. Yet today – in the space of just the past two years – their use has multiplied, with Ukraine now the most heavily mined country on the planet. By some estimates, a third of Ukraine’s territory is now contaminated with landmines.

When, finally, the Ukraine war is over, the shadow of landmines will linger long afterwards. We know from other post-conflict nations how societies suffer with a legacy of fear, injury, and socioeconomic hardship. Ottawa — for all its good intent — falls short in addressing the complex needs of victims and ensuring accountability for non-state actors. That is why, in a March 28 side event hosted by Kazakhstan’s mission to the U.N. and co-sponsored by Universal Rights Group – an NGO that delivers changes to human rights laws and regulations in partnership with UN institutions (which I’m assisting) during the 55th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, I proposed the establishment of a United Nations fund for victims of landmines. The idea is inspired by the U.N. Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, and would aim to fill the gaps in current mechanisms by providing direct support to those affected.

Representatives from Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Senegal, and Croatia shared their experiences with the presence of mines and with demining during the discussion, which was also attended by diplomats from more than a dozen countries, including from the United States, the U.K., Australia, France, Costa Rica, India, Canada, the European Union, Armenia, Pakistan, Austria, Turkey, Ireland, and Uzbekistan. The international community now must summon the will to take concrete action.

The Need for a Victim-Centric Approach

Landmines inflict devastating tolls on individuals and communities, causing not only immediate physical harm but also long-term psychological, social, and economic impacts. The rehabilitation and support of victims, therefore, are essential components of a holistic approach to the landmine problem. On the occasion of the annual Mine Awareness Day last week, for instance, the U.N. noted that Ukrainian documentary photographer Giles Duley, its Global Advocate for persons with disabilities in conflict and peacebuilding situations, would work with the U.N. mine action community to “focus attention on ensuring that no one, included persons with disabilities, is left behind.”

The proposed U.N. fund for victims of landmines would adopt a victim-centered strategy, focusing on direct assistance and empowerment, akin to the methodologies employed by the fund for torture victims. That fund offers a proven model for the proposed landmine victims fund. With its foundation in a General Assembly resolution, the torture victims fund has delivered direct assistance through medical, psychological, and legal support, emphasizing impartiality, universality, and a competitive grant-making process that ensures aid reaches those most in need. This year, the fund’s website reports awarding almost $8 million to civil society organizations to provide direct assistance to torture victims, in addition to offering capacity building and emergency grants to respond to human rights and humanitarian crises.

Proposed Features of the Landmine Victims Fund

The key features of such a U.N. fund for victims of landmines should include:

  1. Direct Assistance: Emulating the torture victims fund, the landmine victims fund would provide tailored support, including healthcare, psychological counseling, vocational training, and social reintegration services.
  1. Accountability and Transparency: The fund would promote accountability by ensuring perpetrators of landmine use are held responsible, with a governance structure characterized by transparent resource allocation and decision-making.
  1. Inclusive Governance: A wide range of stakeholders, including affected community representatives, NGOs, and experts in victim assistance, would participate in the fund’s governance, ensuring its activities are closely aligned with victim needs.
  1. Strategic Support: The fund would offer strategic, adaptive support to initiatives with clear, measurable outcomes, capable of addressing both immediate and long-term needs of victims.
  1. Capacity Building: By sharing best practices and expertise, the fund would enhance national and local capacities for victim support, ensuring sustainability and efficacy.

Making the Fund Operational

To make this proposed fund operational, the Landmine Convention would require amendments to establish a clear legal and institutional framework.  There are precedents for this, with the Voluntary Fund for Torture having been established by a U.N. General Assembly resolution. Given the Landmine Convention is deposited at the U.N. under the Secretary-General, it may be possible to use the General Assembly as a mechanism to create an additional body such as the fund that would operate alongside it. This process would entail defining the fund’s objectives, mechanisms for funding and governance, and operational guidelines. Garnering international cooperation and securing support from State parties, private sector donors, and international organizations will be critical to ensuring the fund’s viability and success.

The establishment of a U.N. fund for victims of landmines represents a necessary evolution in the international community’s approach to addressing the legacy of landmines. By focusing on the needs of victims, this initiative not only aims to provide direct support but also to underscore the importance of accountability in conflict resolution and post-conflict recovery.

There may be obstacles to passing amendments and establishing a fund, as in spite of international condemnation, landmines are still used in some conflict arenas. However, there is broad consensus, even from those who have recently used landmines, about the devastating impact on civilian populations.

Such a fund would offer not just assistance and rehabilitation to those directly affected but also contribute to the broader goals of peace, security, and human dignity. By ensuring that victims’ voices are heard and their needs are met, we can move closer to a future where the legacy of landmines is one of resilience and recovery, rather than despair and destruction.

IMAGE: Oleh, a Ukrainian soldier who lost a leg from a landmine while fighting in Ukraine, works out in the physical therapy department at Staten Island University Hospital on July 21, 2023 in New York City. He and another soldier, both of whom were preparing to return to the war against Russia, had been brought to New York through a program with the non-profit Kind Deeds. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)