HARRISONBURG — A James Madison University professor addressed congressional leaders and staff on Capitol Hill on Thursday about the global landmine crisis, with a focus on the situation in Yemen.
Ken Rutherford, director of JMU’s Center for International Stabilization and Recovery and a professor in the political science department, was joined by Elana DeLozier of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Perry Baltimore of the Marshall Legacy Institute in partnership with Nobel Laureate Jerry White and the U.S. Embassy of the Republic of Yemen.
Approximately 2,000 people around the world are killed or injured by landmines every month, according to the United Nations.
The Yemeni army has removed 300,000 landmines in the last year alone, Rutherford said, and more than a million Yemenis are threatened by landmines.
“Personally, I’m horrified at the disregarded plight of survivors and victims in Yemen,” he said.
In 2014, Rutherford met landmine victims and visited rehabilitation programs in Yemen. The country’s civil war broke out a year later.
The U.S. State Department reported that the United States has invested $37.5 million in conventional weapons destruction efforts in Yemen, with $3.4 billion invested in the containment of explosive remnants of war in more than 100 countries since 1993.
“I’m calling for the global community to support landmine victims with socioeconomic re-entry programs,” he said. “There’s a lot of money going into the clearance of landmines, but I would encourage the U.S. government and the world to provide for prosthetics and vocational training.”
Rutherford knows firsthand the horrors of having limbs torn apart from a landmine.
On Dec. 16, 1993, Rutherford was sitting in the front seat of a Toyota Landcruiser in Somalia, in support of a humanitarian relief operation, when the right front tire of the vehicle hit a bomb.
“My right foot was blown off in Somalia, and the rest of my right leg was amputated [at a hospital] in Kenya,” he said. “My left leg was amputated in the U.S. several years later after 20 operations to save it.”
His career up until that point was spent as a humanitarian worker in Kenya, Mauritania, Senegal and Somalia, but his injuries required him to find a new profession. He went back to school to obtain a doctorate in political science from Georgetown University and became a college professor.
He became the director of JMU’s Center for International Stabilization and Recovery in 2010. CISR, founded in 1996, is the longest running conventional weapons destruction center at any university in the world, according to Rutherford.
Rutherford has become world-renowned for his advocacy for landmine victims and conventional weapons destruction. He testified before the U.S. Senate in 1994 and has presented to the United Nations several times in New York, Geneva and Vienna. In 1997, he accompanied Princess Diana on a trip in Bosnia, where they met with landmine survivors.
Sir Paul McCartney presented him with the United Nations Association of the USA’s humanitarian award in 2002. Rutherford has received numerous other awards, including the Leadership in International Rehabilitation Award by Northwestern University in 1998 and the Survivor’s Award by the Marshall Legacy Institute in 1999.
Rutherford has authored or co-authored five books, including “Disarming States: The International Movement to Ban Landmines,” “Humanitarianism Under Fire: The US and UN Intervention in Somalia,” and “Landmines and Human Security: International Politics and War’s Hidden Legacy.”
He co-founded the Landmine Survivors Network and was a Fulbright scholar at the University of Jordan.
Rutherford was given a second chance at life through the support he received. But for many landmine victims around the world, that isn’t always the case.
“I’m very blessed,” he said. “The survivors and victims in Yemen do not have those opportunities, and that’s going to be the crux of my talk.”
Although he said he’s thankful for the contributions the U.S. has made toward clearing landmines worldwide, he hopes his speech will encourage further action to support landmine victims as they rehabilitate back into society.
“Hopefully, I’m playing a small part in trying to make the world a better place,” he said.