International Committee of the Red Cross
1996 Balzan Prize for Humanity, Peace and Brotherhood among Peoples
Among the weapons used for mass destruction, antipersonnel landmines are the most hateful. They strike civilians, especially the most defenseless group: children and the rural population. When they do not kill, they produce great, irreversible damage as loss of limbs and bodily mutilation of every variety. The massive use of antipersonnel landmines intensifies in all types of major conflicts, whether international or inter-ethnic, due to their low cost and the facility with which they can be planted, whether on streets, in rivers, or in fields. They remain “on hold” even up to ten years after the conflicts themselves have been resolved. This is why antipersonnel landmines can be defined as true “terrorist weapons”.
International organizations such as the United Nations have long proposed a total ban on the use of antipersonnel landmines. This has not been totally respected because only a few countries have observed this norm.
Humanitarian aid helps to soothe the devastating effects of antipersonnel landmines. In the areas heavily infested with mines, the population hit – and the majority are young people – requires orthopedic prothesis and re-educative programs in order to regain self-sufficiency. This is a most important condition for the future economic and social development of disinherited countries, themselves victims of incessant wars.
Today, Afghanistan is absolutely one of the most “mined” countries in the world. The existing mines are those planted by the Soviet troops during their invasion, as well as those laid by the various factions of the civil war. The horrible sight of brutally-mutilated children dragging themselves along the ground in Afghanistan is a common one. At the same time, it is specifically Afghanistan that suffers from a lack of international aid. For example, the budget for the rehabilitation cures would be more than two million Swiss francs annually. The yearly financial possibilities now available do not even amount to 186,000 Swiss francs.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is the only organization which has remained active in Afghanistan during all the wars fought there. Presently, they are furnishing the assistance of experts and autonomously running four hospitals on that territory. In the hospital of Wazir Akbar Khan in Kabul alone, they have reached the level of performing up to 60 amputations a day. The hospital offers an efficient orthopedic laboratory, run by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which furnishes prothesis to the victims. The laboratory is also able to successively offer work to the mutilated in the preparation of other prothesis.
In 1996, the International Committee of the Red Cross together with the Red Half Moon Association (being the equivalent of the Red Cross in Islamic countries), launched an international campaign to catch the public’s attention on the subject of antipersonnel landmines.
Thus, a prize given for on-the-spot assistance in favour of the victims of anti personnel landmines, in a land where humanitarian aid by large international organizations is an almost totally forgotten thing, and under the control of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has the value of solicitating public opinion for this issue, enunciating, through the funds destined for the rehabilitation of the victims an explicit moral and ethical condemnation against the use of antipersonnel landmines.