The HALO TrustRussian intervention may have ended the latest bouts of fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh on November 10, 2020, but landmines from the region’s post-Soviet independence war, coupled with the recent use of cluster munitions by Azeri forces, make the mountainous region one of the most perilous areas to inhabit in the post-Soviet world. Luckily, de-mining initiatives led by The HALO Trust, a British charity, are steadily working to make everyday life safer.

The Bloody History of Landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, has been a site of geopolitical contention since the Soviet collapse. When the region seceded from Azerbaijan by referendum in 1988, neighboring Azerbaijan and Armenia engaged in protracted fighting to wrest control of the border. The two former Soviet Republics each lay rival territorial claims to Nagorno-Karabakh. While a majority of its 130,000 inhabitants are ethnically Armenian, Soviet districting placed it within Azerbaijan’s borders for decades, which Azerbaijan has sought to maintain.

Because of prolonged fighting between 1988 and 1994 and intermittent skirmishing since, tens of thousands of landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh remain scattered throughout the region. Estimates from 2005 placed the count at upwards of 50,000. Unexploded ordinance (UXO) and abandoned munitions were also noted. Meanwhile, fighting from October and November of 2020 introduced unexploded rockets and cluster munitions to civilian areas including the capital, Stepanakert, which Azerbaijan repeatedly shelled with artillery.

An Explosive Threat

Together, the explosives riddling Nagorno-Karabakh pose a serious public health risk to its local population. Tens of thousands fled the latest fighting as refugees, but the danger is residual and longstanding. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls landmines “a health threat not to be ignored” and claims that the global burden of disease linked to them is historically underreported. WHO estimates that landmines cause 11 to 12 casualties daily worldwide.

In Nagorno-Karabakh, there are more landmine accidents per capita than anywhere else in the world. When victims of these accidents survive, they are often missing limbs and can take months, or even years, to recover. These dangers force communities to disband as families relocate to safer areas. They also cause food insecurity. Nagorno-Karabakh is mountainous and many of its flat, open areas are unworkable minefields that farmers must avoid.

Because children are less educated or tend to engage in riskier behavior than adults, they make up more than a quarter of all landmine victims in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The HALO Trust: Relief Efforts

To address this longstanding public health risk, a British charity, The HALO Trust, has carried out operations targeting landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh. With teams often made up of local volunteers, it has surveyed thousands of acres and organized the removal of nearly 500 minefields since 2000. HALO teams have also supported communities in the wake of border skirmishes between Azerbaijan and Armenia that have left explosives in streets, homes and backyards.

In the latest bouts of fighting, Azerbaijan fired cluster munitions on residential areas in four separate incidents, as reported by Human Rights Watch. Cluster munitions are banned in international humanitarian law because they cannot be directed at a legitimate target, harming civilians and combatants indiscriminately. HALO teams have been responding to local alarms in the wake of these attacks. “In the last five days alone,” HALO reports, “our team has used its expertise and equipment to safely destroy over 150 explosive items.” Teams also delivered relief supplies to sheltering families throughout the fighting, including hygiene kits, blankets and fuel.

In addition to providing relief from landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh, HALO volunteers educate local communities on how to remain safe around landmines and other explosives. Its members frequent schools because of landmines’ disproportionate impact on children.

Landmine Removal Success

Conflict, unexploded ordinance and 30-year-old landmines in Nagorno-Karabakh, continually threaten lives in the mountainous region. Thanks to the work of the HALO, however, de-mining projects have worked to mitigate the risk of explosives and serve local communities. The 4,000 landmines and 8,000 items of ordinance removed since 2000 are a testament to the success of de-mining efforts.

– Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr

Although the Croatian War has been over for more than twenty years, the aftermath is still present within the region. Lack of economic and political stability are current problems that Croatia faces. Professor Daliborka Uljarevic, a leader in the Centre for Citizens’ Education, says “political rhetoric and lack of profound economic recovery keep people stuck in recent past, with poor view on better future.” Here are the top 10 Croatian war facts that provide a better understanding of what happened during the war and how Croatia remains affected.

Top 10 Croatian War Facts:

  1. The war started in response to an oppressive government. Nazi rule took over in 1941 and communism dominated Croatia for nearly 50 years. People started to revolt against the government in the movement known as the Croatian Spring of 1971 and Croatian nationalism began to foster.
  2. Croatia was a part of Yugoslavia when it was ruled by communism. Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina were all also under Yugoslavia rule.
  3. Croatia declared independence in 1991 against Yugoslavia rule and the war lasted from 1991-1995.
  4. The U.N. separated Croatia into four areas to disconnect the battling groups of Serbs and Croats. When Croatia later got involved in the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict, Bosniak Muslims were also separated.
  5. The U.N. Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) emergency relief in the Balkans was the largest of UNHCR’s operations. Costing more than one billion U.S. dollars, the U.N. provided close to a million tons of humanitarian supplies and food within 1991-1995 that ultimately saved many people from death.
  6. Despite the vast humanitarian assistance, more than 120,000 people died during the conflict. Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats made up the majority of the people who died. Two million individuals out of the four million population sought refuge in the neighboring country of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
  7. The Battle of Vukovar was one of the bloodiest battles on Croatian soil and lasted 87 days. Of the Croats and non-Serbs, 7,000 were sent to concentration camps and approximately 22,000 fled the area for their lives.
  8. The war led to mass economic destruction. A quarter of the economy was destroyed, as there were $36 billion of war damages and 180,000 destroyed homes.
  9. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) helps victims of the war have a voice and justice for their suffering. The ICTY still works on resolving war crimes and establishing punishments for those who are guilty. There are still people unaccounted for.
  10. The U.S. led Dayton Peace Accords established peace in the area, bringing an end to the war. The country is now separated into two areas, one where the Bosnian Serbs are dominant and another where the Bosnian Muslims and Croats are dominant. Tensions still run high amongst these groups.

These 10 Croatian war facts do not demonstrate the full monstrosity that ensued during 1991-1995. Victims are still suffering to this day and many families still have not found their missing loved ones.

– Mary McCarthy

Photo: Flickr

Genocide is the deliberate killing of a large group of people, usually based on their ethnicity. Although most well-known genocides are in the past, they still occur today. Less-developed countries with high poverty rates are particularly prone to genocidal attacks launched by corrupt governments or terrorist groups. According to George Mason University professor Gregory H. Stanton, the stages of genocide are nonlinear, predictable and preventable. There are ten stages of genocide, and each stage can be stopped if preventive measures are taken.

Ten Stages of Genocide

  1. Classification: Human beings tend to distinguish people into “us and them” at many levels. People can be categorized by their ethnicity, nationality, race or religion. Societies with mixed categories, such as Burundi and Rwanda, are at greater risk of genocide. This early stage can be prevented by establishing institutions that integrate identities and promote tolerance.
  1. Symbolization: Names and symbols are assigned to classified people. They are defined by specific terms, color or dress. Without dehumanization, symbolization does not necessarily result in genocide. Political institutions can ban group marking and hate symbols, but these bans must be supported by popular culture enforcement. Denying symbolization can also be powerful.
  1. Discrimination: A dominant group of people denies the rights of other groups. The powerless group may be deprived of citizenship, civil rights or voting rights. Combatting discrimination requires full political empowerment and citizenship rights for all groups of people. Discrimination on any basis can be outlawed, and individuals can retain the right to appeal if their rights are violated.
  1. Dehumanization: A group of people denies the humanity of another group. One group is regarded as less than human—or even alien—to the society. To prevent dehumanization, hate speech and hate crimes can be outlawed, leaders who incite genocide can have their movement restricted.
  1. Organization: Genocide requires organization and is typically orchestrated by the state. States often use militias, but organization may be informal or decentralized. This stage can be averted by outlawing membership in genocidal militias, banning genocidal leaders from international travel and imposing arms embargos on countries involved in genocide.
  1. Polarization: Extremists may further divide groups by forbidding intermarriage and social interaction. Hate groups may also broadcast polarizing propaganda. This can be curbed by protecting moderate leaders, assisting human rights groups and seizing extremist assets.
  1. Preparation: Plans are made for genocidal killing where leaders propose the a solution to the problem of the targeted group. Leaders disguise genocide as self-defense and may refer to it as “counter-terrorism,” “ethnic cleansing” or “purification.” This stage can be halted by imposing arms embargos and commissions to enforce them; this includes prosecution of incitement and conspiracy to commit genocide, both of which are crimes under Article Three of the Genocide Convention.
  1. Persecution: Targeted groups are identified and separated from the population. Victims may be segregated into ghettos or deported to concentration camps. They are deliberately deprived of resources such as food and water, and their human rights are systematically abused. Genocidal massacres commence. A Genocide Emergency may be declared at this stage, whereby armed international intervention and humanitarian assistance should be provided.
  1. Extermination: Mass extermination begins and quickly becomes “genocide.” At this advanced stage, only rapid and intense intervention can prevent genocide. Refugee escape corridors and safe areas can be established.
  1. Denial: Denial lasts throughout and follows genocide as perpetrators attempt to destroy any evidence that indicates a genocide occurred. Denial can be combatted through legal punishment of perpetrators and education in schools and the media.

Genocide Watch has three levels of Genocide Alerts: Genocide Watch is declared when early warning signs indicate potential persecution, Genocide Warning is called when massacres occur and genocide is imminent, and Genocide Emergency is declared when genocide is underway.

There are currently eight Genocide Emergencies declared to be occurring around the world. Understanding the stages of genocide can prevent further genocidal massacres.

– Carolyn Gibson

Photo: Flickr

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked last on UNDP’s 2015 Human Development Index — nearly 20 percent of Nigerien population cannot meet their food needs due to insufficient production. Less than 12 percent of the land in Niger is actually fertile, and there is an expected 33 percent decrease in agricultural activity in the next 50 years.

According to World Bank, the best way to help the situation is to grow drought resistant crops and come up with new ways to store water.

However, these efforts may be challenged by the conflicts spilling in from three of Niger’s neighboring countries. The conflict in northern Nigeria has relocated many chronically malnourished people into the Lake Chad area. Fighting has crossed over the border, worsening local food insecurity and endangering host communities, refugees and humanitarian workers.

Access to clean water is nearly nonexistent. Lack of food and water has caused malnutrition, disease, flooding and displacement — all of which contribute significantly to poverty in Niger. Many families are unable to provide the basic needs of food and clean water for their children. Save the Children is working to alleviate suffering among child refugees, returnees, internally displaced children and locals through health and nutrition programs, among others.

The World Food Programme has been working with Niger since 1968 to alleviate hunger and malnutrition.

The organisation has aligned its goals with the United Nations’ 2030 agenda, most notably with sustainable development goals 2 and 17: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture,” and “Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.”

Oxfam has also assisted in reducing poverty in Niger for 25 years. They raise money to implement an education system and pastoral communities by means of lobbying and demanding accountability from the states.

Oxfam is using the media to promote a strong social society through political participation and reducing gender-based violence, women leadership and promoting sexual equality. They are installing a water system to provide clean drinking water for essential activities.

With a continued effort to reduce poverty in Niger, these organizations and other coordinated global forces will hopefully be able to make a lasting difference in the lives of these vulnerable people.

– Nicole Hentzell

Photo: Flickr

Education in Conflict ZonesOne of humanity’s most fundamental rights, the right to an education, is also often one of the first to suffer during times of disaster or war. Conflict can result in children becoming orphaned, being pressured into joining the armed forces, marrying young and becoming victims of sexual or violent abuse. UNICEF reported in April that 25 million children aged six to 15 are missing out on an education in conflict zones across 22 countries.

Many affected families flee their homes in pursuit of an education for their children as well, braving violent odds to become refugees. A UNICEF survey found that one in three parents or guardians in Greece cited better education opportunities as the reason why they left their country for Europe.

“At no time is education more important than in times of war,” stated to Josephine Bourne, Chief of Education for UNICEF. “Without education, how will children reach their full potential and contribute to the future and stability of their families, communities and economies?” UNICEF works in affected countries to ensure that displaced children receive an education in conflict zones, training teachers, rehabilitating schools and delivering supplies. The organization and its partners work in 190 countries and territories today, with a focus on children in the most vulnerable settings.

The combination of a lack of social skills, lack of education and loss of hope and happiness stemming from growing up in a conflict area often create conditions for radicalized refugee children. They may find it difficult to resist joining their country’s armed forces. Many Syrian children, for example, would rather receive a $400 monthly salary to join the war rather than work long hours for $10 a day at a shoe factory.

Governments and their people prioritize necessities like food, shelter and water during times of war over education. But without a substantial education, children grow up without the essential knowledge needed to contribute to a peaceful, economically and politically stable society. A suspension of education in conflict zones is responsible for the loss of entire generations of productive members of society, forced to be soldiers instead of scientists and child-brides instead of teachers.

Katherine Gallagher

School. An aspect of our lives that is usually a source of unwanted stress; more often a place we begrudgingly go, crankily absorbed in our own tired eyes and mandatory Monday mornings.

But what we have come to expect as a place of permanence doesn’t exist for others around the world. Instead of bemoaning the undoubtedly hard work receiving an education entails, we should be cherishing it for what it is: an opportunity many do not receive.

This year, more than 37 million children and adolescents live in circumstances surrounding emergency and conflict which have forced them out of their schools. Children are finding themselves in the middle of warzones or natural disasters, which disrupts any hopes of receiving a sound education. According to the organization which advocates for primary school children, Dubai Cares, attacks on education are the highest they have been in the past 40 years and the greatest since the height of the second world war.

The ongoing education crisis was a topic of discussion at the Oslo Summit on Education for Development which convened in July of this year, where it was agreed upon that efforts in investment and attention towards children in these circumstances are inefficient. In fact, in 2014, only one percent of overall humanitarian aid and two percent of humanitarian appeals went towards educating children.

In a Huffington Post article written by Dubai Cares, Chief Executive Officer Tariq Al Gurg said “With the average length of displacement for refugees now approaching 20 years — and over 70 percent of those children out of school — we know that these emergencies are no longer brief blips in the life of a child. Thus, we need a new platform and funding model that enables an immediate and sustained response.”

Currently, Dubai Cares’ program reaches 14 million children across 39 developing countries and recognizes a tremendous public support system, with over eight million individuals endorsing the #UpForSchool campaign, a petition supporting the belief that every child should have access to an education. Dubai Cares will continue to endorse efforts which help the humanitarian aid at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly Week in September 2015.

However, there is good news for some of the most under-funded areas in the world currently experiencing emergencies and disasters. The United Nations has allocated $70 million in funds for aid to places like Sudan, Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Nikki Schaffer

Sources: Dubai Cares, A World at School, Huffington Post, Brookings
Photo: Flickr

Rope isolated on white background
In recent years, the issue of conflict diamonds has become a major human rights issue. A conflict diamond is a diamond mined in the war zones throughout Africa to fund the recurring civil wars there. Despite the attention given by the media and the increase in the awareness of this issue, conflict diamonds are still being produced and distributed at an alarming rate.

Since the 1990s, conflict diamonds have funded wars in areas such as Angola, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rebels in these areas typically gain control of necessary natural resources, such as oil, wood, diamonds and other minerals, to attain more weapons and influence over the surrounding communities. These military factions oppose the governments in place, and so they wage violence in their struggle for power. According to Amnesty International, wars in these areas have resulted in the loss of more than 3.7 million lives.

Along with unjust violence, poverty also plays a central role in this issue. According to Brilliant Earth, diamond mining communities are impoverished because the one million diamond miners in Africa earn less than a dollar a day — a wage that is below the extreme poverty level. Since much of this work is unregulated — no labor standards or minimum wage laws are ever enforced — it contributes to the dangerous and unjust nature of this work.

Not only do miners acquire unfair wages, but they also work in dangerous conditions, sometimes without training or the proper tools necessary, and face health problems, such as HIV and malaria. Entire communities are exploited through these mining practices, and as a result, many of these communities lack the ability to develop economically while workers lack fundamental provisions, such as sanitary running water.

Despite the decrease in violence and the recent attention brought to this issue through media coverage and the 2006 film “Blood Diamond,” conflict diamonds are still in existence. These diamonds are sold in the diamond trade to fund rebel militia, and as a result, millions are suffering from both violence and poverty. To help combat this issue, the Kimberly Process was founded in December 2000 by the United Nations General Assembly.

Through the establishment of the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), participating countries now have the opportunity to ensure that all imported diamonds are ‘conflict-free’ and do not support the rebels in those parts of Africa. With 54 participants representing 80 countries, the Kimberly Process has been an important element in the struggle to address this human rights issue.

Even though the Kimberly Process works to halt the trade of conflict diamonds, it cannot stop the violence and poverty that result from these unethical mining practices. Those are two issues that can be addressed separately and efficiently. Unfortunately, poverty is such a huge and central element in many of the human rights issues we face today.

– Meghan Orner

Sources: Amnesty international, Brilliant Earth, Kimberly Process
Photo: Al Jazeera

The Center for Civilians in Conflict is a non-profit organization that advocates for civilians threatened by armed conflicts around the world. The organization was founded in 2003 by Marla Ruzicka, an American political activist and aid worker who was concerned about the wellbeing of civilians who were indirectly harmed by U.S. bombs in the War on Terror.

Originally titled the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), Ruzicka’s startup received funding from the U.S. government to conduct aid operations specifically targeting hurting civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ruzicka’s life tragically came to an end in April 2005 when she was killed by the blast from a suicide bomb in Baghdad. Since Ruzicka’s death, the Center for Civilians in Conflict (the new name of the organization as of 2012) has broadened its horizons to countries outside of Afghanistan and Iraq to further the legacy of an extraordinary humanitarian.

Today, the Center for Civilians in Conflict operates in Mali, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, and Somalia, in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan. The main areas of the Center’s work are these parts of the world that can be characterized as “conflict zones.”  Civilians who are threatened by a conflict are interviewed by CCC volunteers and the grievances of these civilians are documented and brought to the attention of the warring parties or military groups involved.

In January 2013 the Center assembled a roundtable of experts to analyze the outcome of U.S. military involvement in the Syrian civil war. The specialists utilized data collected from interviews from CCC field missions in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan in 2012. The interviewers obtained information from a large number of sources including “leaders of the political and armed opposition, Syrian army defectors, UN agencies, local and international NGO staff, government and military officials, lawmakers, diplomats, doctors and nurses, journalists, civil society activists, and religious leaders.”

The panel concluded that a five-point plan of action must be instituted by the US military if they chose to become involved in Syria. This is only one example of the thorough way in which the Center for Civilians in Conflict contributes to the protection of innocent civilians in conflict zones.

According to the organization’s website, the Center for Civilians in Conflict identifies themselves as “advocates and advisers creating policies and practices to make warring parties more responsible to civilians before, during, and after combat operations.”  This expectation of “responsibility” on the part of the perpetrators is one of the hallmarks of CCC, making it an effective and singular champion for noncombatant victims of war.

– Josh Forget

Source: Foreign Affairs, Civilians in Conflict