Historisk arkiv

Introductory remarks at “Reaching the most vulnerable"

Historisk arkiv

Publisert under: Regjeringen Stoltenberg II

Utgiver: Utenriksdepartementet

Conference on Disability in Conflicts and Emergencies, Oslo, 30.mai 2011

In order to prevent new disabilities, we need to protect civilians in armed conflicts. We see that it is primarily civilians, not soldiers, who are killed and injured in many of today’s armed conflicts. Modern conflicts are often fought in urban areas, sa utenriksminister Støre bl.a. ved åpningen av konferansen.

Check against delivery

Ladies and gentlemen,

Both conflict and natural disasters create disabilities. It could happen to anyone of us. We see pictures – as we have seen now in the short film – and meet young people and children who have lost limbs to landmines, gunshots or other weapons. We have followed TV cameras filming people being rescued from under the rubble of an earthquake. We must see these images as an inspiration.

But quite often we ask ourselves: What happens to these people after the cameras are turned off? Will they ever be able to walk again? Get rehabilitation assistance if needed? Find meaningful employment or finish school? These are the compelling questions.

Emergencies and conflicts make people who are already disabled much more vulnerable, at the same time as they cause new disabilities.  


This is – as I understand it – the first large-scale international conference on this topic, and it is long overdue.

It is the result of cooperation between the Atlas Alliance and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and I would like to thank the Atlas Alliance for being such a good partner, and for their initiative and their hard work in making this conference happen. 

Humanitarian action is about protecting human beings, preventing human suffering, and securing the human rights of those affected by crises.

These are the principles that run through the different topics of this conference, which will cover relevant issues on how to include persons with disabilities in emergency response.

In my statement I will also focus on the issue of inclusion, partly by using the example of the victims’ perspective on humanitarian disarmament. This perspective can inspires us.

The major steps forward that were taken through the Mine Ban and Cluster Munitions conventions, as well as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, have created an international norm, making victim assistance a human rights issue. We should be led by these examples – by these conventions.

States are obliged to consult with and involve victims and survivors in their work on implementing these conventions. It seems obvious – but I know it doesn’t happen everywhere or automatically.

Including people with disabilities is a way of ensuring that victim assistance addresses the needs of victims. But it is also based on a core human right – the right to participate in decision-making processes affecting one’s own life.


The International Committee of the Red Cross – pioneers also here – runs an orthopaedic centre in Kabul. Its leader for 20 years, Alberto Cairo, is here with us at this conference, and will speak tomorrow.

I would like to mention this centre in particular as it is an example of effective inclusion of people with disabilities. It both provides prosthetic limbs and designs wheelchairs and crutches for persons with disabilities, and - not least - all of the people working there have disabilities themselves.

The philosophy of the centre is that having been through the trauma of an accident, a disaster, a war, and having learnt how to live with an artificial limb, makes it easier to help patients in a similar situation. Of course, it also has the added value of providing employment opportunities for people who would otherwise find it extremely difficult to find a job.

What this centre shows us is that when persons with disabilities are involved in all aspects of work with patients, rehabilitation services are better adapted to their problems and needs. The same principle applies to reconstruction work after a disaster or to the planning of humanitarian interventions. We should learn from these examples – and apply our experience to similar situations.


Now, turning to the rather new concept in international politics – introduced a few years ago by the Red Cross – of humanitarian disarmament:

Over the last decade the international community has seen almost revolutionary developments with regards to our understanding of victim assistance.

The Mine Ban Convention strengthened international law by establishing a new legal norm for this field.

Then came the Convention on Cluster Munitions that gave victim assistance an even more prominent place, with stronger obligations and a broader definition of the concept of “victim”.

Together with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, these two humanitarian weapon conventions have moved the issue of victim assistance forward. These three conventions are mutually reinforcing, and other processes should take inspiration from them.

Also, the inclusion and active participation of victims and survivors in the negotiations leading up to these conventions have been key factors for their success. Few people understand the consequences of cluster munitions better than the people maimed by them and their families.

Many of these people – such as the Ban Advocates – and the perspectives that they brought to the discussions laid bare the unacceptability of cluster munitions: the disaster they represent for ordinary people. The humanitarian evidence from the field, including the personal testimonies of cluster munitions survivors, pointed to very different conclusions than those often heard from producers and users of these weapons – as well as from certain diplomats. I remember well the signing event in Oslo, a very lively event, with the many testimonies.

There is another reason why I have brought up the issue of these two weapon treaties here.

The whole motivation behind them is humanitarian: preventing human suffering through banning types of weapons with unacceptable humanitarian consequences. The main focus is on victims: preventing new victims and assisting existing victims and survivors.

The two weapon treaties, together with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, promote the full inclusion of victims of these weapons and other persons with disabilities in society.

Moreover, the principles and components of victim assistance, as outlined in the action plans of the landmine and cluster munitions conventions, correspond to the human rights provisions in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Together they provide real inspiration.


Now, when you start upon your important work here at this conference, I would like to draw your attention to a few thoughts that I think should be included in our further discussion on disabilities in emergencies and conflict – our way forward. The objective must be to protect and secure the needs and rights of those affected by humanitarian disasters, and to prevent new disabilities.

First, including people with disabilities in planning work and meeting their needs in emergency and conflict situations cannot be left to organisations for people with disabilities alone.

By mainstreaming the victims’ perspective, humanitarian organisations will be able to include people with disabilities in their policies and programming. It is being done, but it should be done more.

Second, in order to prevent new disabilities, we need to protect civilians in armed conflicts today.

We see that it is primarily civilians, not soldiers, who are killed and injured in many of today’s armed conflicts – and that conflicts today tend to be within countries rather than between countries. Modern conflicts are often fought in urban areas, and increasingly civilians are caught in the midst of hostilities. Explosive weapons are used in densely populated areas, and cause severe harm to individuals and communities in addition to destroying vital infrastructure. The Red Cross will tell you more about this later today, as they will also show how the implementation of the Geneva Conventions is failing.

Third, victim assistance standards should be included in other weapons control instruments along the same lines as in the Mine Ban Convention and the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

In that vein, the negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty in the UN must also address assistance to victims.

Fourth, victim assistance is not only about care and medical rehabilitation, but also about social, economic and political inclusion.

We need strong organisations for people with disabilities. We already have a few and we should support them. And people with disabilities must be empowered to advocate for their own legal rights.

And fifth, we need to lift up new voices to the centre of the stage – with focus on the role of civil society – at the negotiation tables. We need these voices to bring new inputs and shape consents.

Norway has supported Survivor Corps’ work to provide victim assistance through peer support programmes and the training of survivors to advocate changes to laws and polices around the world. These peer support programmes help victims recover from their injuries, improve their quality of life, and demand their rights. The programmes will be continued and expanded. 

Dear friends,

I am confident that the discussions here in Oslo over the next two days will take us major steps forward in our efforts to fully include persons with disabilities in efforts to address conflict and emergency situations.

I am sure this will be an opportunity for stimulating and fruitful deliberations.

Thank you.