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Home News Behind the scenes of Handicap International's fight against the bombardment of civilians

Behind the scenes of Handicap International's fight against the bombardment of civilians

On 11 November, the Paris Peace Forum is expected to strengthen the draft international agreement to denounce the bombing of civilians. This would be one of the fruits of advocacy led by Handicap International.

On November 11th, the world met in Paris for the centenary of the end of the First World War. Some 60 heads of state were invited by the French president to the capital. They can then participate in a Peace Forum.

Every word uttered on this occasion by Emmanuel Macron will be scrutinized by Anne Héry. Handicap International advocacy officer and team wait for French president to denounce "Bombing in populated areas". This would be another step towards the goal set by the NGO three years ago: to have the world's leaders sign a political declaration against this practice.

"Indiscriminate bombing injures or kills 90 Syrian, Yemeni, Iraqi or Ukrainian civilians every day", summarizes Anne Hery. To raise public awareness, Handicap International is running, in France and in Europe, an exhibition of 90 large portraits of civilian victims of explosive weapons.

An appeal by French parliamentarians against the bombing of civilians

One of the difficulties, explain in simple terms what are cluster bombs

"If we run a campaign, it's because we're concerned about the issue in our day-to-day business. On antipersonnel mines, cluster bombs or, today, urban bombings, we are legitimate in our speaking out, because we are engaged on the ground with the victims ", explains Jean-Marc Boivin, who has worked for twenty years at Handicap International, after an experience in integration and disability.

He experienced the NGO's previous advocacy fight that led to the 2007 signing of the Cluster Munitions Treaty in Ottawa. "We started from the realization that the vast majority of people affected by cluster munitions were collateral victims. Then we applied the same winning recipes that led to the 1997 anti-landmines treaty: citizen mobilization, organization of an international coalition of NGOs, support from the countries that carry the project, in this case Norway. "

One of the difficulties encountered by the NGO during this campaign was to explain in simple terms what were cluster bombs, a rain of several hundred small bombs coming out of a container dropped by an airplane . It was necessary to collect testimonies of survivors, to ask independent expertises to prove the dangerousness of the bombs which do not explode all during the dropping, to carry out tests to counter "The manufacturers of cluster bombs, who claimed that there was an expiry date on these weapons", remembers Jean-Marc Boivin.

"The broken mouths are still there"

This fight, won by the signing of the Oslo treaty in 2008, the international advocacy committee of the NGO decided a few years later to duplicate it for another cause. "We asked ourselves the question: what can we have a chance to change? ", says Anne Hery. Several subjects were on the table: the nuclear, the chemical weapons, the robots killers, the bombardments of civilians. "Chemical weapons require a very sophisticated investigative capacity; on the nuclear or the killer robots, the testimonies of victims do not exist. The impact of the war on civilians seemed to us an increasingly acute problem "she explains.

The choice was to target an international political declaration. A treatise on the subject was "Illusory to reach", for Anne Hery. It would duplicate international humanitarian law that already requires "Not to inflict disproportionate damage to civilians with regard to the expected military advantage". So first we had to find a slogan to communicate. It will be "Stop bombing civilians" (stop bombarding civilians).

After a bombing, in Mosul (Iraq), on March 14, 2018./AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP

After a bombing, in Mosul (Iraq), on March 14, 2018. / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP

For the centenary of the end of the First World War, the campaign found as a hook "Broken mouths are still there". Then, it was for Handicap International to identify the states and NGOs that will lead this fight with it. Twelve countries, led by Austria, traditionally active on disarmament issues, are now starting work on a non-binding draft political declaration.

Thirty NGOs, including Oxfam and Save the Children, are creating the Inew network to mobilize the public. A first petition brings together 400,000 signatures. The traditional shoe pyramids organized by Handicap International are another way to let people know.

War wounded

Candidate Emmanuel Macron's support

The advocacy work aims to bring together as many states as possible on a text that would denounce and regulate civilian bombing. "We have to find a balance between the strength of the words of the declaration and the number of countries that will sign it. Clearly, having a weak text sign is easier, but it does not help much. ", says Anne Hery.

This text will discuss the disproportionate danger of certain weapons, ask for the possibility of evacuating populated areas before bombing them, and plans for reliable accounting of civilian casualties.

In France, Baptiste Chapuis is in charge of coordinating the campaign. It is he who has recorded the support of the candidate Emmanuel Macron, during the last presidential campaign, to a draft international political declaration.

Then, he spent his summer 2017 creating a detailed file of new MPs, including members of the defense and foreign affairs committees.. "Since then, I have come face to face with about twenty deputies. The draft declaration was the subject of two written questions and one oral question to the Assembly. The important thing is that the deputies become the bearers of the message » He explains.

What motivates Baptiste Chapuis is that "Twenty years after the Ottawa treaty, there are twenty times fewer victims of antipersonnel mines. " This October, his victory was that 93 French deputies sign a platform against the bombing of civilians, written by the MP for En Marche Hubert Julien-Laferrière and published in The cross. "It's a new informal network of parliamentarians that is being created. We duplicated this initiative internationally by writing to 4,500 parliamentarians ", says Baptiste Chapuis.


Words that change the game

► The Ottawa Treaty bans anti-personnel mines

In 1997, 121 countries signed an anti-personnel mine ban treaty in Ottawa. They are today 156 states. Concluded by medium-sized powers led by Canada, this disarmament treaty aims at eliminating a whole class of weapons, like the conventions concluded for chemical and bacteriological weapons.

These countries have also decided to eliminate from 60 to 110 million concealed antipersonnel mines from rice fields in Asia to the jungles of Africa.

► Oslo Treaty bans cluster bombs

In 2008, around 100 countries signed a treaty banning cluster munitions in Oslo. These may contain several hundred mini-bombs, which disperse over a wide area but do not explode all, turning into antipersonnel mines.

Since 1965, 100,000 people, 98 per cent of them civilians, have been killed or maimed in the cluster munitions explosion. More than a quarter of them are children intrigued by their shapes and colors. The agreement prohibits the production, use, stockpiling and trade of these weapons, and obliges the signatories to come to the aid of the victims.

► Handicap International, an NGO in the field and advocacy

In 2017, 460,000 people worldwide benefited from Handicap International's health actions, 277,000 from a rehabilitation action. The NGO has 3,178 employees worldwide, including 2,522 national staff and 307 international field staff.

In France, Handicap International has 68 employees in Lyon and Paris and 280 regular volunteers. The resources of the NGO come to 45% of donations from the public, the rest being provided by institutional donors.

Pierre Tick


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