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Nobel Prizes and Laureates

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

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Award Ceremony Speech

Presentation Speech by Professor Francis Sejersted, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1997, Oslo, December 10, 1997.

Translation of the Norwegian text.

Your Majesties, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

There are those among us who are unswerving in their faith that things can be done Io make our world a better, safer, and more humane place, and who also, even when the tasks appear overwhelming, have the courage to tackle them. Such people deserve our admiration, and our gratitude. We are delighted and honoured to welcome some of them to the Oslo City Hall today. Our warm welcome to you, the representatives of the ICBL, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and to you, Jody Williams, the campaign's strongest single driving force. You have not only dared to tackle your task, but also proved that, the impossible is possible. You have helped to rouse public opinion all over the world against the use of an arms technology that strikes quite randomly at the most innocent and most defenceless. And you have opened up the possibility that this wave of opinion can be channelled into political action.

We all know that the largest part of the task still lies ahead. Many nations, among them the largest, have been reluctant, at least so far, to commit themselves to not using this weapon. There is still the almost hopelessly huge and resource-consuming task of destroying the landmines-over one hundred million of them-that have been deployed. And the effort to build up opportunities for dignified lives for the many millions of innocent mine victims has only just begun. But through your self-sacrificing work, you have won support and created an organization that lead us to believe that it will be possible to reach the goal: a world completely free from anti-personnel mines. The course has been set, and the inspiration given. That is no small achievement, but a first step of very great and perhaps decisive importance. That step is what we honour you for today.

The mobilisation and focussing of broad popular involvement which we have witnessed bears promise that goes beyond the present issue. It appears to have established a pattern for how to realise political aims at the global level. The ICBL is an umbrella organization for over one thousand nongovernmental organizations, large and small, which have taken up the cause. The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to honour them all, and to draw attention to the impact which such broad coordination can achieve.

A second characteristic feature of this process that ought to be noted is how, in the next instance, the political level was mobilised. A week ago, in Ottawa, 121 countries signed the total ban on anti-personnel mines. Through Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, the Government of Canada took the deci- sive initiative in that mobilisation when, in October 1996, it invited all countries to the Ottawa meeting. "Such a treaty," Axworthy said in connection with the invitation, "can be a powerful force that establishes the moral norm - that the production, use, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines is to be banned forever." The strategy adopted, in other words, was not to water the treaty down with a lot of exceptions aimed at inducing the hesitant to join in, but to convey a clear message. Though this may have frightened some countries off, it has of course, because of the overwhelming support for the process, placed the larger nations under considerable political pressure.

The problem of landmines has been on the international agenda for a long time. It was discussed in 1980, in connection with the Landmine Protocol to the Conventional Weapons Convention. It was when negotiations on the revision of that Protocol were being held in 1995-96 that frustration at the lack of progress made itself felt.

In November 1991, the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation in Washington D.C. and Medico International in Frankfurt agreed to launch a campaign aimed at banning anti-personnel mines. When the first International Conference on Landmines was held in London in May 1993, representatives of 40 voluntary organizations attended. The following year, in Geneva, 75 organizations were represented. Today, over one thousand organizations are members of the ICBL. It was by hooking into this popular involvement that the Ottawa process came to mark a new political beginning, lifting the cause out of the backwater it had drifted into.

It is interesting to watch this initiative apparently feeding back into the United Nations and the whole system of international negotiations, and giving them new life. Effective political action is dependent on cooperation at several levels. At the national level, that is old news, first given memorable expression over 150 years ago by de Tocqueville in his famous analysis of democracy in America. Representative political bodies can not carry on politics in a vacuum. They need in some way or other to be rooted in public opinion. And public opinion must be formed and directed by the active involvement of individual members of society in society's manifold organizations or associations. These are the fundamental institutional elements of what we have learned to know as - a civil society.

The problem at the international level is that no global civil society has existed. Perhaps it is not so surprising that the UN has not always been able to be as effective as we might have wished. But in the extensive cooperation we have been registering between the multitude of nongovernmental organizations, the many national governments, and the international political system, first and foremost the UN, we may be seeing the outline of what may turn into a global civil society. We have glimpsed similar features in other connections, but hardly as clearly as in this particular case. In the bold hope this gives us for further development in the same direction, we see promising signs of a more peaceful world.

How did landmines come to be the problem that generated this kind of international concern? Weapons exist that in many ways are more terrible and pose a greater threat, nuclear weapons in particular. And is it not the case that by banning certain types of weapon, one indirectly legitimises the use of others, and thereby also legitimises war? What sort of peace policy is it just to ban certain types of weapon?

Certainly we have seen similar types of commitment, directed against nuclear weapons in particular, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee has on a number of occasions, most recently in 1995, called attention to active opposition to the build-up of nuclear arms. There is a vast difference between nuclear weapons and landmines. The former are the weapons of the rich, the latter of the poor. Yet they also have something in common. Both hit victims at a vast remove from the actual warfare. They strike mainly at civilian populations, and their effects continue for generations after the end of the armed conflict. They are weapons which cast the shadow of war also across peace. War's threat to life and limb is everywhere and never-ending. To set limits to war's repercussions for civilian populations and its impact on times of peace has always been an important aim of genuine work for peace.

At this very time, while nuclear war casts its shadow over us all - and perhaps for that very reason has remained an unrealised threat since 1945 -landmines are exploding every single day. Nearly all those killed or maimed are the poorest and most defenceless among us, and probably number some 26,000 each year. Yet the most alarming aspect of the situation may not be that total itself, but the constant threat to the much larger numbers who live in the danger zones, who do not know where they can send their children out to play, or who can only gather fuel or work in the fields at great risk to their own lives. Such people have been robbed of the opportunity to use the land to build their own societies.

The ICBL and Jody Williams' work is work for disarmament. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has frequently honoured disarmament efforts, or work for the "reduction of standing armies", to use Nobel's own words. Disarmament reduces tension and thereby the threat of war. The work of the ICBL and Jody Williams is, however, primarily aimed at what I have just mentioned: sheltering civilian populations from war. It is a humanitarian project. The Norwegian Nobel Committee's tradition of honouring humanitarian efforts goes right back to the first Peace Prize, awarded in 1901 to Henri Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross. Humanitarian work prevents war by seeking to eliminate the underlying causes of violence and war, the causes in the human mind. A humanitarian effort aims at "fraternity between nations", again to quote Nobel. It is a hand outstretched to the victims, both those who have been maimed and those in danger. It is a demonstration of care and compassion that transcends all national boundaries.

It is a paradox that what we find inside landmines is Nobel's brilliant invention, dynamite. Nobel was a profoundly moral man, and was deeply concerned about the potential of dynamite in weapons technology. At one time he developed a doctrine of deterrence. He wrote to his close friend, the peace activist Bertha von Suttner, that perhaps his factories were more effective in preventing war than her peace congresses. He can not have been completely convinced, however. When he decided to establish a peace prize, the idea probably came from Bertha von Suttner, and it was not a fear-ridden peace he wished to honour, but a peace of reconciliation and brotherhood. The inspiration from Bertha von Suttner is reflected in the special mention given in his will to the organization of peace congresses as a criterion for the award. Bertha von Suttner was to become the first woman Laureate when she was awarded the Peace Prize herself in 1905, after Nobel's death. There have not been many women among the Laureates, and no doubt there should have been more. But let us at least take credit for having made an early start. With her self-sacrificing, untiring and fruitful service to humanity and peace, Jody Williams is a worthy successor to Bertha von Suttner, who inspired the Peace Prize and brought Nobel to the realisation that peace must be rooted in the human mind.

An important step has been taken. The vast problem of landmines has effectively been placed on the international agenda. The worldwide opinion has been formed that something must be done about the problem. And the practical work of freeing the world from landmines has begun. It is in admiration, and in gratitude for their efforts to achieve that aim that we honour the ICBL and Jody Williams today with the Nobel Peace Prize for 1997. The vast and laborious task of putting an end to the production and sale of mines, destroying existing mines, and helping the victims has, however, only just begun. Let us therefore also express the hope that the process will win still greater support, so that the work can be intensified and a world without antipersonnel mines can become a reality in the foreseeable future.

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

 

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1997
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