It was more than a decade after a landmine took both his legs in 1982 that Tun Channareth finally regained his will to live, finding purpose in helping his family and his fellow victims.
On Friday, almost 30 years after he joined the long list of Cambodians maimed or killed by explosive remnants of war, Channareth celebrated a small victory as parliament ratified the UN’s Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
“We are very surprised, and we are proud and happy about this,” he said yesterday.
Channareth, who was one of five members of the management committee of a coalition of NGOs that was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1997 for its campaign to ban land mines and cluster munitions, said the ratified convention would help support victims who had struggled like him to overcome what had happened to them.
The father of six, who works with Jesuit Refugee Services and the Cambodian Campaign to Ban Land Mines, will now continue the fight for the Cambodian and foreign governments to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Sister Denise Coghlan, director of Jesuit Refugee Services, said ratification of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, signed in 2007, had been a long time coming but was an important step, and not just for mine victims.
“There are about 45,000 living landmine and unexploded ordnance survivors [in Cambodia]. They wouldn’t even be half the number of people with disabilities,” she said.
Because there is practically no information on what disabilities those tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of others actually suffer from, Coghlan and her colleagues are surveying villages across the country to collect specific data and find out where support is lacking most.
“The big one, the one that’s a major concern for most people, is how they can earn money to live,” she said.
Of the disabled people surveyed so far, only 11 per cent felt their lives were bad or very bad.
“It’s all resolvable, it’s not just an impossible problem which it sometimes looks like,” she said.
The convention’s ratification follows the passing of Cambodia’s Law on the Protection and the Promotion of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009, and is largely symbolic.
Officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs declined to comment on what government measures the ratification might prompt.