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The Nobel Peace Prize 1997
International Campaign to Ban Landmines , Jody Williams

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Nobel Lecture

Nobel Lecture, Oslo, December 10, 1997, by Rae McGrath on behalf of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines

 

Your Majesties, Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Almost exactly fifteen years ago somewhere close to the Thai-Cambodian border, Tun Channareth was lying helpless in a minefield, both legs shattered by an anti-personnel mine. As his terrified friend looked on he took an axe and attempted, in his own words, "... to cut off the dead weight of my legs". Horrified by the sight his companion snatched away the axe and dragged him from the minefield. Mercifully unconscious through loss of blood for most of the hours that followed he awoke to find his legs amputated. Today he lives with his wife and six children in Cambodia, he designs wheelchairs and works with disabled children, encouraging them to live full and active lives. Tun Channareth is one of tens of thousands of campaigners from more than sixty countries who work in a worldwide partnership; the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (the ICBL). Reth was chosen to accept this prestigious award because he exemplifies the experience, commitment and activism which form the roots of this campaign, a coalition of more than 1100 nongovernmental organisations. We were, and still are, driven, not by the wish to ban a weapon of war, but to bring to a halt the unacceptable impact of the anti-personnel mines on people.

It is the indiscriminate nature of the anti-personnel landmine, the fact that it is triggered by its victim, that it remains active indefinitely after conflicts cease, which make it different from any other weapon. However, it was also its impact over such a wide area of human activity which singled it out – and made the birth of the ICBL inevitable. How could organisations committed to work with communities affected by landmines fail to recognise the fact which governments and the manufacturers had chosen to ignore - that the situation was already out of control and extending further beyond our capacity to respond with every new conflict? And armed with the facts about this weapon, how could civil society fail to respond?

Clearing landmines while others were being planted, manufactured and traded was no solution. Amputating limbs and providing prostheses for one survivor while another bled to death unaided was no solution. Why provide improved seeds for farmers whose fields were mined, or vaccinate animals which graze in minefields? We saw a world where peace had few advantages over war. The circle of manufacture, supply and use had to be broken. The answer was a ban – and so the campaign was born.

We called for a global ban on use, production, transfer and stockpiling and demanded adequate resources for demining and victim assistance. That call remains unchanged – a demand by civil society that governments throughout the world could not ignore.

In Ottawa last week more than 120 nations signed a treaty banning anti-personnel mines – a treaty which overcame the slow progress which had become the hallmark of international legislation. We applaud those governments who initiated and drove this process which began as a direct result of civil activism expressed through the work of the ICBL. The campaign, because of its diversity of experience and direct links to the minefields of the world, has been able to support the Ottawa process from the beginning; providing the humanitarian and technical data which underpins the urgent need to ban antipersonnel mines. We have praised the comprehensive nature of the treaty. But at the same time a key role of the campaign has been to identify and challenge areas of concern in the treaty since these could cost lives and deny land. For example; the treaty excludes "... mines designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity or contact of a vehicle as opposed to a person, that are equipped with anti-handling devices ..." from definition as an anti-personnel mine.

Anti-handling devices are designed to kill or maim deminers. The Ottawa treaty rightly calls for signatories to assist and fund humanitarian mine clearance initiatives. It is, therefore, contradictory and against the spirit in which this treaty was conceived to include a specific exemption for a device which is designed to make that task more dangerous. Delegates at the Oslo conference which finalised the text of the treaty established for the diplomatic record that landmines equipped with devices which would explode as a result of an innocent or unintentional act were considered anti-personnel mines and therefore banned, the campaign will hold them accountable if this diplomatic understanding is not honoured. Allow me to put this in perspective.

Less than three weeks ago, on November 21st at ten-thirty in the morning, David Licumbi, an experienced humanitarian deminer, was working on the Lucusse Road in Moxico Province, Eastern Angola. David died when an anti-tank mine exploded less than a metre from him. He did nothing wrong, he broke no rules – a magnetic-influence anti-handling device fitted to the mine responded to the presence of David's mine detector. The implications of this incident go far beyond the tragic death of a deminer, work on this key road has ceased and this will threaten the resettlement of displaced Angolans and damage community confidence in the peace process. How can we ask these brave men and women to continue their work when their very detection devices may become the instrument of their deaths?

And so we view the Ottawa Treaty as a first and valuable step, a milestone in a battle to rid this world of anti-personnel mines. While these weapons remain in the world's armouries there is no nation immune from their effects – they can be delivered by aeroplane or missile and once they are deployed there is no magic technology to remove them – it would take no more than a few days to turn this country, Norway, into one of the world's worst-mined nations. It would take years to make it safe again and during those years Norwegians would become so familiar with the sight of limbless, blind and scarred compatriots that they would no longer turn their heads to look. Norwegians would become deminers of their own land and learn too late, as the people of Bosnia today are learning, that there is no immunity from the impact of this weapon.

To sign the Treaty is not enough, forty countries must ratify this treaty before its entry into force and no nation which seeks to reverse the damage done to our world by this weapon can justify any delay in ratification.

The International Campaign will do everything in its power in the coming months to achieve a legally binding ban by December 1998. To this end we, as Nobel Peace Prize Laureates – issue a challenge directly to the Heads of State of each signatory country – make sure that your country is among the first forty nations who ratify the Ottawa Treaty.

What of those nations which have failed to sign the Treaty or those which have not even attended the preparatory conferences? It would be easy to focus totally on China, the United States and Russia, nations whose stubborn refusal to put humanitarian concern above ill-judged military policy is inconsistent with their status as UN Security Council members and major regional powers. But what of those countries like South and North Korea, India, Pakistan, Israel and Syria whose, often valid, concern for their border defences blinds them to the damaging nature of the anti-personnel mine? What of Egypt, a country which is itself blighted by landmines emplaced decades ago, which argues it needs anti-personnel mines to deter smugglers from crossing its borders? We have heard much about the South Korean minefields. South Korea and the US government argue that the Demilitarised Zone minefields are of such importance they wish to make them exempt from any landmine ban. The ICBL does not accept the defensive utility of and necessity for the retention of those minefields.

Freedom is so often the justification for war. But where is the sense in fighting for the freedom of a people employing a weapon which will deny those same people, in peacetime, freedom to live without fear, freedom to farm their land, freedom merely to walk in safety from place to place – deny them the freedom to let their children play without being torn apart by a landmine? That is no freedom.

All those States who have failed to sign this treaty have failed humanity – size, power and economy are irrelevant – they are intransigent and uncaring in the face of compelling humanitarian, economic and environmental evidence that anti-personnel mines should be banned.

We are determined that the Ottawa Treaty will become a global legal instrument applicable to all states and will leave no avenues of action uneplored to achieve that aim. Together we have achieved so much but our progress must be measured against an obscene reality – that there are warehouses overflowing with anti-personnel mines throughout the world. These weapons must be destroyed – their mere presence is a threat since, while they remain in store, any country which goes to war will be tempted to deploy them. The destruction of stockpiles removes that possibility.

The Campaign will focus particular attention on those nations which have not signed the Ottawa Treaty, especially those which manufacture, export or use anti-personnel mines. It is our contention that the treaty establishes a norm which is equally applicable to nonsignatories, that the use of anti-personnel mines by any force, from any nation including guerilla armies, is no longer acceptable.

And here we would offer another challenge to signatory states; illustrate your commitment by destroying stockpiles of anti-personnel mines and enact domestic legislation outlawing the design, manufacture, trading and use of this weapon immediately – do not wait for the treaty to enter into force, do it now.

Arms manufacturers have driven and encouraged the trade in landmines and profited from the misery of millions – we intend to hold governments to their treaty obligations which require them to stop all production of anti-personnel mines and their components. Who can forget the competition to ship millions of mines to Iran and Iraq, mainly from Italy, and the role of countries like Singapore in providing a "legal" conduit for those mines to reach their destination? Happily the Italian government has enacted legislation which has driven the worst offenders out of the business of landmine manufacture, a process initiated and supported by the ICBL — but our business with those companies is not concluded until we are assured that they have not merely transferred their production overseas. The supply of components implies no lesser culpability than primary manufacture. We should remember the lesson learned by the people of Sweden, who believed their country to have had no involvement in the export of landmines during the Iran-Iraq conflict. They were wrong – because the explosive which filled millions of Italian mines came from Sweden. And so we can be sure that today as a result of that trade cooperation, many years after hostilities between those two countries ended, a Kurdish farmer or a mother searching for firewood or a child playing in the snow will be killed or maimed by a mine like this (holds up VS-69).

This is not an attempt to vilify selected nations – it is a plea for civil society to demand transparency from the arms industry, the military and from their governments. It is no moral excuse to wring your hands and cry "but I never knew" – if you never asked to know.

We have this target in view – that no soldier will carry an anti-personnel mine into battle. That no government or company anywhere in this world will make anti-personnel mines nor any weapon, by any name or in any shape, that is, in effect, an anti-personnel mine.

We will investigate all possibilities to achieve that target. Member organisations of the ICBL will continue examining the potential for mounting legal actions which may result in the payment of damages to mine victims, their families and mine-affected communities. Neither will we neglect the environmental impact of landmines. If a company can be held legally liable for an oil-spill we must ask why similar sanctions should not apply to arms manufacturers who have supplied landmines.

A small girl once explained patiently to me the moments following her crippling by a mine:

"We were playing a game by the railroad track on the hillside, we had to hop up the hill, we each took our turn. I was hopping and then there was a flash – a very bright light – and I thought there was a bang but my ears hurt and I could not tell. It was frightening and my friends ran away and I ran after them. But I fell over which made me more scared and I got up very quickly and then fell over ... and I slipped down the hill and I could hear my friends shouting and there was a strange smell and I started crying, I wanted my mother because I couldn't get up and run away or even sit up properly. Then I saw that something was wrong with my leg – it was twisted and very dirty and I saw it was bleeding – then I forget. When I woke up my face was wet, my mother was holding me very close and her tears were dropping on me. She said "Don't worry – you will be alright", I hurt a lot but I was happy then."

Anti-personnel mines do not only sever limbs, they can break the human spirit. We talk not of mine victims, but of survivors – but to survive such trauma requires support, encouragement and love. That responsibility must not be left to the survivors' family and friends, who are often struggling themselves against poverty and the damaging effects of conflict, but to a greater family – the human family. In most mine affected countries we, the international community, must offer more than the surgeon's knife and protheses as support to those who survive the blast of a landmine – in some countries even that basic level of care may not be available. This is not support – it is little more than first aid. In the same way as the Ottawa Treaty is only the first step towards a global ban, so protheses should be seen as the first stage in the support process for the victim of a mine blast. That is not the case today, and the reason for this lack of response is evident and shames us all – we simply do not care enough. This is a responsibility which the ICBL places high on its action agenda. We must have respect for the rights of those who fall victim to landmines, most importantly their right to control their own lives and their right to be heard.

Through our member organisations, especially those who deal directly with landmine survivors and their families, we will seek effective and innovative ways to ensure support for their treatment to match the scale of the problem. That support must incorporate social and economic integration. The ICBL expects governments to join us in this attempt to redress the wrong suffered by the victims of mine explosions.

There are tens of millions of landmines around our world – no-one knows how many and it simply does not matter. What matters is that we eradicate them. There is a popular myth that mine clearance costs too much – the ICBL does not accept that is true and, faced with the obscenity of the effects of the anti-personnel mines, it would be difficult to understand what scale of measurement could be used to make such a calculation. The problem is that most funding for mine clearance is allocated from aid and development budgets and, we would agree, those sources are inadequate to the task and are already struggling to meet their commitments in other sectors, often exacerbated by the peripheral impact of landmines especially in the fields of health, agriculture and resettlement. It follows, therefore, that other sources of funding must be identified. There should be no misunderstanding – the cost of global eradication of landmines will be billions of dollars, assuming that sustainable methodologies are employed and emphasis is placed on developing an indigenous capacity in each affected country.

We must afford it, we cannot talk of having concern for the global environment and yet leave future generations a blighted world with land made unusable by this deadly military garbage. We need to look for relevant funding sources which can meet the requirements of the task we face. It is worth making a comparison which illustrates the priorities which must be challenged before global mine eradication becomes an achievable objective.

The tens of millions of dollars spent annually on mine clearance pale in comparison to the hundreds of billions spent on the military. In 1995 alone the military expenditure by European Union nations was more than US$ 166 billion – in the same year world military expenditure was over US$ 695 billion. Based on these figures it would seem that the military, who are responsible for the laying of landmines, are polluters who can afford to pay the price of clearance.

But it is not merely a matter of making funds available, it is vital that they are expended on relevant, effective and integrated response. Mine action is a sector of development – that this approach works on a national level is well illustrated in Afghanistan.

To achieve these aims the campaign will continue to expand our activities and develop new national campaigns, particularly in countries which have not signed the treaty. We open our arms to new members who support our aims, particularly those from mined countries and from mine-producing states.

Your Majesties, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen we are greatly honoured by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize and are proud but humbled to share this award with previous Laureates such as Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Desmond Tutu, Bishop Belo and Jose Ramos Horta who have given so much in the service of peace. We would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to a fellow nominee and champion of civil action, Wei Jingsheng, and wish him well in the hope that he can one day return to his home in happier times.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines dedicates this award to all victims of landmines and their families, to those communities who struggle to exist surrounded by minefields and to humanitarian deminers. It is the wish of every reasonable human being to leave this world a better place for their having lived, it is a wish we rarely can hope to achieve. By eradicating landmines we can leave future generations a better and safer world in which to live – it is possible; we should grasp that opportunity.

Thank you.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines is represented at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony through its Steering Committee, comprising the following:

Afghan Campaign to Ban Landmines Sayed Aqa
Cambodian Campaign to Ban Landmines Sister Denise Coghlan
Handicap International Phillippe Chabasse
Human Rights Watch Steve Goose
Kenya Coalition of NGOs against Landmines Mereso Agina
Medico International Thomas Gebauer
Mines Advisory Group Lou McGrath
Physicians for Human Rights Susannah Sirkin
Rädda Barnen, Sweden Carl von Essen
South African Campaign to Ban Landmines Noel Stott
Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation Robert Muller

 

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1997, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1998

 

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1997
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