Our history

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Jean Baptiste and Marie Richardier with 2 disabled children, Mom and Sorpin, in the Khao I Dang refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodia border, 1980s
Jean Baptiste and Marie Richardier with two children, Mom and Sorpin, in the Khao I Dang refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodia border, 1980s
Jean Baptiste and Marie Richardier with two children, Mom and Sorpin, in the Khao I Dang refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodia border, 1980s

Thailand, 1982. 160,000 Cambodians flee the Khmer Rouge regime to take refuge in the Khao I Dang camps. Hidden amongst the crowds, more than 6,000 amputees struggle to survive, many of them victims of anti-personnel landmines. No one is concerned with their fate.

Outraged by the situation, two young doctors decide to produce artificial limbs using the only materials available – bamboo and a few strips of leather. Handicap International is created, and with it the start of an ongoing fight against the injustice faced by the world’s most vulnerable people.

Handicap International’s first rehabilitation centres are set up in refugee camps in Thailand, Cambodia, Burma and Laos. Refugees themselves are taught to produce simple, adjustable prosthetic limbs. Made from local resources such as leather, bamboo, wood, iron bars, and used tyres, the devices are easy to repair.

We develop simplified physical rehabilitation programmes to teach people to walk again. We train local technicians to support new amputees and provide follow-up care for people who have been fitted with prosthetic limbs. We also cooperate closely with medical teams in the camps to improve the surgical outcome of amputations.

Slowly but surely, the landmine victims we support start to regain their dignity and independence.

Despite the postive impact of our actions, we soon realise that an artificial limb alone is not enough. Millions of landmines still lie hidden in the ground, claiming new victims every day.

In 1992, Handicap International sets up the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) with five other organisations.  It’s the beginning of a long political fight to protect civilians whose lives are threatened every day by these indiscriminate weapons.

The campaign gains the support of millions of citizens around the world, along landmine-affected communities, NGOs and some governments.

And then, the unimaginable happens – a global ban on landmines is agreed.

The Mine Ban Treaty is signed in Ottawa, Canada in 1997. This legally binding international agreement bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of antipersonnel mines and places obligations on countries to clear affected areas, assist victims and destroy stockpiles.

The founding members of the ICBL are jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the same year.

Our progress inspires us to go even further.

Over time, our organisation expands into a global network supporting disabled and vulnerable people in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. We work tirelessly to help meet their basic needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights.

But even today, so much more remains to be done.

Around the world, indiscriminate weapons are still claiming lives and limbs. And people with disabilities are still being excluded and forgotten. Find out more about the situation today.

Published 27/01/16