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Deadly Afghanistan Attack Shows Dangers to Humanitarian Workers

Bring to Justice Those Responsible for Killing 10 Deminers

Clearance operator from the Halo Trust clearing a steep, rocky hillside in Afghanistan. © 2004 Brian Liu/Toolbox DC

The United Nations, governments, and humanitarian groups working to eradicate landmines and explosive remnants of war are condemning the reprehensible killing of 10 Halo Trust deminers and wounding of 16 others in Afghanistan on Tuesday. As a co-founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Human Rights Watch joins them and expresses condolences to the victims and their families.

The victims died while sleeping, when attackers opened fire on their camp in Baghlan province, north of Kabul. The Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility. International humanitarian law prohibits attacks on humanitarian workers. The Afghan government should work to bring the perpetrators of this apparent war crime to justice.

The HALO Trust operates in two dozen countries around the world, clearing land contaminated by landmines and unexploded ordnance. It started in Afghanistan at the end of the 1980s, mobilizing when refugees and displaced people were about to be repatriated to former conflict areas still riddled with mines and explosive remnants of war.

Anyone who has witnessed a mine clearance program knows the daily risk that deminers face in identifying, marking, surveying, and clearing areas contaminated by landmines and explosive remnants of war such as unexploded submunitions from cluster bomb strikes. Less obvious are the challenges that humanitarian workers face from protracted fighting, targeted killings, and dwindling aid budgets in countries where conflict is ongoing.

Over the past 30 years, mine clearance has saved countless lives by rendering dangerous land safe for people to live and work on. These programs have employed thousands of people, creating sustainable livelihoods.

The eradication of landmines and other explosive weapons is a work in progress. It is a goal that is steadily advancing under the framework provided by international treaties prohibiting antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions.

The attack on the Afghanistan deminers this week is a stark reminder of the dangers humanitarian workers around the world confront as they work to save lives and livelihoods.

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