Land mines: Explosive remnants of war

Story highlights

Land mines remain a threat in areas that were once war zones

Photographers documented the issue across five countries

Victims have received little real support, one photographer says

CNN  — 

She stands tall, two makeshift wooden crutches propping up her one-legged body in the same fields that took so much from her. She stares into the sun with a stern face, hardened by years of loss.

Over the past 28 years, Requina Jimu lost her leg, a year later: her husband, and over the years to come: 11 of her 13 children. All innocent victims of land mines laid by Rhodesian forces in Mozambique in the 1970s.

They’re located worldwide, in backyards, in fields, incognito. Dubbed the “perfect little soldiers” by Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot, land mines are silent, usually obscured and always destructive.

Explosive devices have been used in combat for centuries to maim or completely obliterate an enemy. But long after the battles are done, when the peace treaty is signed, these destructive detonators don’t retreat with the troops.

They stay – haunting the lands, harming innocent civilians who happen upon them. Programmed only to respond to pressure, these weapons continue to fracture bones, limbs and lives across various war-torn regions on a daily basis.

Photos: Heroes and survivors in the war on land mines

“Land mines are so often a forgotten theme which continue to affect millions,” photographer Brent Stirton said. Stirton was commission by the International Committee of the Red Cross in partnership with Getty Images to document the human effects of landmines in Mozambique, one of the most heavily land mine-ridden countries in the world.

His camera captured victims’ various missing body parts, antique prosthetics and the brave men who mine the fields removing the explosives that were placed there over four decades ago and continue to affect some 50% of arable land in the region.

Mozambique set a goal to be land mine-free by the end of 2014. But while the deminers are working feverishly to clear the fields, Stirton said the victims have received little real support.

“Nearly 40 years after the conflict, and impoverished communities still don’t have access to valuable farming land,” he said. “Land mines can certainly be an economic issue.”

Mozambique is hosting an international conference to implement the Mine Ban Treaty from June 23 to 27, which aims to end the use, production, stockpiling and transferring of antipersonnel mines. Countries with strong militaries, namely the United States, China and Russia, have yet to sign on.

In the lead up to the conference, ICRC and Getty sent additional photographers to four other countries still plagued by explosives: Laos, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq and Nicaragua. Their work highlights the ongoing problem of land mines and supports efforts to eradicate these camouflaged foes through powerful images.

Veronique de Viguerie’s portraits of victims in Bosnia were framed very deliberately to showcase the humanity in the pictures, “only with a second look the injury should be noticed,” she said.

Like Stirton, Viguerie was also surprised to see that land mines are still a daily worry.

“It’s outrageous after so many years, children are still victims of this war which happened 20 years ago, and they are paying the highest price with their life,” she said.

Paula Bronstein, a photographer based in Southeast Asia, traveled to Laos, where she noted the lack of education regarding munitions.

One of her most poignant images displays three mothers holding framed portraits of their sons on the same dirt road where the blast killed them. They had found a cluster bomb and started playing with it like it was a toy, not knowing its destructive nature.

“I have a real sympathy for these people, because they’re really forgotten,” Bronstein said of the victims, “and it’s still happening, all the time.”

Marco di Lauro, who photographed the war in Iraq at its peak, said that returning in 2014 to shoot the land mine project was one of the most emotionally difficult jobs he’s done.

In a video interview with Reportage by Getty Images, he said on the nights he couldn’t sleep after the assignment, he saw the face of a double amputee boy he photographed, who not only lost both of his legs but also two of his brothers – all because of what he called “the worst weapons we have ever invented as human beings.”

Photographer Sebastian Liste went to Nicaragua, where he was thoroughly impressed by the mine victims as they continued to lead normal lives – working in the fields or coffee plantations, or mining for gold.

He noted in an interview with Reportage by Getty Images that the prosthetics were a very important part of their lives. One victim, Juan Ramón López, started his own gold mining business after losing both legs. He would run through the forest to the river and spent all day mining for gold to support his large family, Liste recalled. That was something he could not do without the prosthetics.

“It really makes you reflect about your own life,” Liste said. “You’re always complaining about these things or these things, but when you meet these people you’re like, ‘OK I have two hands, I have two legs, stop complaining.’ “

U.S. to phase out landmines that target people

CNN’s Brett Roegiers contributed to this report.