History of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines

Landmines are perhaps the cruelest weapon commonly held in today's arsenals. They cost as little as $3 to lay, but removing them from the ground can cost as much as $1000 per mine. They are left in the ground long after wars are over. They do not differentiate between an enemy soldier and a child who thinks it is a toy. Every year 26,000 people are killed or maimed by landmines; 1 person every 22 minutes. In Cambodia, a country trying to move past a difficult period of civil war, much of the arable land is planted with hazardous landmines. 1 in 250 people in that country are landmine amputees. For years, human rights groups have offered victims assistance and raised fund for demining.
Inception of the ICBL:

In 1991, a group of 6 human rights advocacy groups formed a coalition called the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), dedicated to ending the destruction caused by anti-personnel landmines on civilian populations. Each of the 6 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which were the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF), Physicians for Human Rights in Boston, Human Rights Watch in New York, Medico International in Germany, Handicap International in France and the Mines Advisory Group in Britain had already done work around landmines issues, but the formation of this coalition set in motion one of the most effective human rights campaigns in history. The 6 organizations make up the steering committee of the ICBL. The campaign initially lobbied for:

  1. An international ban on the use of, production, stockpiling, and sale, transfer or export of anti-personal mines
  2. Increased resources for demining and landmine awareness programs
  3. Increased resources for victim assistance and rehabilitation programs
Jody Williams, a former anti-Vietnam War activist who had been working to change US policy in Central America was hired by the VVAF to coordinate the ICBL. Only six years later, 124 countries signed an international treaty banning landmines. Also in 1997, the ICBL and Williams were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize because their work had "made a vision into a feasible reality" ("The Nobel Peace Prize for 1997;" October 10, 1997; www.nobel.sdsc.edu/announcement-97/peace97.html; Online. June 3, 1998) in a remarkably short period of time.
After its creation, the ICBL quickly gained momentum and the campaign snowballed. It now has over 1,000 member organizations in 73 countries. (Click here to see a list of member organizations.) They used the media to bring the devastation wrought by landmines into the public eye, and encouraged the public to pressure their governments into supporting a ban. They spurred a dialogue about a ban in the international diplomatic community. They raised money from both private and government sources for expensive demining operations in countries such as Angola, Mozambique, Bosnia, and Cambodia. They promoted mine awareness to prevent more civilian casualties.
Early Successes of the ICBL:

In 1992 the European Parliament passed a 5 year moratorium on the trade of anti-personal landmines (APLs). In the same year the US passed a bill sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Representative Lane Evans calling for a 1 year moratorium on the export of APLs which was later extended. In 1993 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution against trade of APLs, established a fund for mine clearance and at the urging of the French delegation, and held a review of the 1980 treaty that had previously regulated landmine use. According to Jody Williams "it was a useless treaty" with "loop holes so big you could drive truck through them." This review held in Geneva for over two years, made little progress in advancing the goals of the ICBL. Meanwhile the UN had passed a resolution calling for "an eventual end to landmines," but Williams had become so frustrated with the Geneva Review that she attempted an unprecedented maneuver in arms control. She conducted her own conference to discuss an international ban without the sponsorship of a large international organization or major diplomatic power. She held a series of luncheons in Geneva in early 1996 with delegates from countries that had shown support for a ban. The final meeting had delegate from 17 countries at which the Canadian delegation proposed plans to come to Ottawa for a treaty negotiation.

Ottawa Process Leading to a Treaty Banning Landmines:

In September 1996, at a planning conference in Ottawa where talks were floundering, Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, rejuvenated the ban efforts by boldly challenging the delegates to return to Ottawa the following year to sign a treaty banning landmines. The Ottawa Declaration issued at that conference outlined provisions for the treaty. In the next year, there were conferences in Brussels in June, Vienna, and finally in Oslo to negotiate the treaty text and build support. At this conference in September the final text of the treaty called "Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction" was negotiated and adopted in early September 1997. The treaty requires that countries:

  1. Ban the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of anti-personnel landmines;
  2. Destroy existing stockpiles within four years of signing of the convention coming into force
  3. Clear minefields within ten years unless they can justify an extension
  4. Co-operate with a compliance regime
In October the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly to Jody Williams and the ICBL for making so much progress on landmines in such a short period of time. Jody Williams accepted the prize and donated her prize money to the ICBL to pay for her own salary. Tun Channareth, a Cambodian landmine victim, accepted the prize on behalf of the ICBL. The prize committee admitted that the prize was awarded largely for political reasons. They hoped to encourage countries to sign the treaty by adding the clout of the world's most prestigious humanitarian award to it. After the prize announcement, Russian President Boris Yeltsin was convinced by a French delegation to sign the treaty, but he later reneged on this pledge.
Delegates from 125 governments gathered in Ottawa on December 2-4, 1997 for a treaty signing conference. The conference with presided over by Canadian PM Jean Chretien (shown above signing the treaty) and Jody Williams (in the red suit.) At the conference she congratulated the attending governments for their courage to challenge conventional military thinking and the NGOs present for becoming a "super-power." (Williams, Jody; "A Global Ban on Landmines- treaty signing conference and mine action forum" Speech presented at the Ottawa Conference; October 3, 1997.) (Click here to see which countries have signed the treaty.)
Continuing Goals of the ICBL:

There is still much to be done on the ICBL, even with the extraordinary success of the treaty. It does not become law until 40 countries have ratified it. As of June 1, 1998 13 countries have ratified already and the treaty should become law sometime this summer. Most of the world's major military powers have still refused to sign the treaty. There are still 100,000 mines that need t o be removed from the ground and much work is also left to be done helping a rehabilitating victims.

A Brief Overview of US Landmine Policy:

The US claims that it needs an exception for the demilitarized zone in Korea. The US does have a moratorium on the export of mines which was pushed through Congress by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the US government's greatest advocate for a ban on landmines. Clinton has stated that the US will sign the treaty by 2006 if they find a suitable military alternative to landmines in Korea. This is claim, while promising because it shows a US commitment to phase landmines out of our arsenal, has some very large loopholes. Clinton will no longer be president by then and a "suitable alternative" is a very vague term, especially since no one knows what that alternative might be. Although the US has not supported a ban, they have used a large amount of resources towards demining and mine awareness. Clinton pledged $80 Million to mine clearance for this year. Other countries that have yet to support a ban on landmines include Russia, China, Cuba, and most of the Middle East and Central Asia.

Importance of the Media in the ICBL:

The success of the ICBL is due in large part to the media. From the start they urged reported to get landmine stories and get them into the public eye. Landmine victims make ideal public interest stories. The victims are plentiful, living and their injuries shock the public and compel them into paying attention. This allowed landmines to get public support in a way that is not possible for other arms control campaigns. Because of the relatively few number of victims of nuclear weapons, picture such as the on below of a Somalian boy who lost his right could not be used to sway the public to support their cause. The ICBL also gained a great deal of attention when Princess Diana decided to make it one of her causes. The media frenzy which follow Diana everywhere, made a huge difference in bringing the plight of landmine victims to the attention of the industrialized world.

Landmine Awareness Campaign:

Many of the member organizations of the ICBL have worked to increase awareness of landmines for people living in dangerous areas. Shown below are a sign in Angola warning people of landmines in the area and a poster designed by UNICEF geared towards children in Bosnia.

Significance of the Ottawa Process:

Despite the importance of the ICBL's work in banning landmines, its greatest legacy will not be for then ends which it achieved (and still continues to achieve,) but rather for the means which it reached them. The Ottawa Process, as the path the formation of landmine treaty took has been known, represents a new world order in diplomacy and arms control. Since the end of World War II, every arms control and other humanitarian issue would have to go through the UN and have the support of either the US or the USSR. The ICBL is the first major humanitarian success to go outside this conventional route. A coalition of NGOs and small and medium sized governments bypassed the UN, had the support of neither the United States nor Russia, and brought about one of the most significant arms control treaties in history. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said "for the first time a global partnership of governments, institutes, and non-governmental groups has come together with speed and spirit to draft a treaty."

This is very encouraging to advocates for social change because it accelerates reform and make things possible now that would not have been dreamed of during the Cold War. Now that countries are no longer forced hold their allegiances to a superpower for protection, they can go against the US and Russia. Smaller countries now have their diplomatic voice. The Ottawa Process has also shown how much influence non-governmental organizations can have. In cases where dependant countries are afraid to attack US views, the NGOs can take on that responsibility. The campaign to ban land mines was driven as much by NGOs as by national governments. The Ottawa Process has shown that ordinary citizens now are capable of changing the world without the support of powerful nations.
The legacy of the ICBL is already apparent, just years after its initial successes in several new humanitarian campaigns. The US is resisting efforts to establish an International War Crimes Tribunal and many smaller nations and NGOs are attempting to implement the court without conceding to US objections that would cripple the effectiveness of the court.
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