For Williams, the story began 21 years ago, at a meeting with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and Medico International Executive Director, Thomas Gabauer, in Washington D.C. where she was approached to head up an NGO campaign to ban landmines. “We were able to call it an international campaign to ban landmines which sounded grandiose, because we had a US NGO and a German NGO,” recalls Williams laughing.
“The goal was of course a ban on landmines. I didn’t really think that it would happen in my lifetime, but I believed if we could do something that helped the victims, something that changed the perception of antipersonnel landmines, that would be great.”
Jody Williams and Tun Channareth at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, Oslo, 10 December, 1997.
In fact, the meeting concerned a clinic the two organizations were opening up in Cambodia to train amputees to make prosthetic devices for other amputees, a role that landmine survivor and advocate, Tun Channareth or Reth as he is known, would soon take on.
Reth began working with Jesuit Refugee Services in 1993 building wheelchairs for Cambodian landmine victims. “At that time many survivors were forced to crawl on the ground due to a lack of support services. I worked on the wheelchair project from 1993 until 1995 and joined the International Campaign to Ban Landmines in 1996,” he says.
The Cambodian campaign against landmines was already quite successful at that time Reth recalls, due in part to King Norodom Sihanouk who helped to raise awareness around antipersonnel landmines and survivors by signing national legislation banning the purchase, use and export of landmines. “So we began to share our experience internationally to explain how Cambodians were affected by landmines and what the needs of survivors were.” Often, he says, his physical presence as a landmine survivor has been a powerful tool to raise awareness and advocate for the needs of landmine survivors.
“We began the campaign because we understood the huge impact of landmines on communities around the world; people who had lost a leg, an arm, their sight or lost their lives. Thousands of people each year were being affected by antipersonnel landmines. We began the campaign to stop the human suffering caused by landmines,” says Reth.
Unique Partnership as Key
When Williams was asked to mobilize international political will to ban landmines, she didn’t think about the obstacles, but about what was needed to build the campaign, who to talk to in government, and if there was already an international treaty that dealt with landmines. One of the great strengths of the ICBL compared to other coalitions, Williams says, is that the campaigners involved in the ICBL feel like a family. “They don’t talk about the ICBL as if it were something outside of themselves, they are the ICBL, and together we strategize to move forward.”
“We made civil society, ordinary people understand that it is not magic to change the world, that it’s getting together with people who share the same vision working together, and when you work together you can change the world,” says Williams.
The unique and in some ways groundbreaking partnership the ICBL built between civil society, governments, and partners such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and UN agencies has been a key ingredient to the success of the campaign, to the accomplishments of the treaty over the past 15 years, and to its ongoing success today. In fact, the Nobel Foundation, in awarding the Peace Prize to Williams and the ICBL, credited this innovative model of partnership with the ability to make the vision of a world free of landmines, a reality
“When we started with the landmine campaign, we never thought about the Peace Prize,” Reth says.
Williams agrees, she hadn’t given much thought to winning the prize, in spite of knowing that she had been nominated. “There wasn’t time to think what this meant. We simply used this as a platform for continuing the message and that message was that everybody needs to join the treaty, particularly the US should follow up on Vermont Senator Leahy’s early leadership, the Clinton administration should take up that leadership and join the ban.”
Williams says she was not entirely comfortable with the individual attention in the wake of the Nobel announcement. “All of the other people in the campaign were as important to winning the Peace Prize, but it has been very useful for the campaign,” she acknowledges.
The announcement of the prize coming three weeks after the negotiation of the Mine Ban Treaty undoubtedly helped to increase the number of states that showed up in Ottawa, says Williams. Approximately 89 states negotiated the treaty, but three months later in Ottawa it was 122 states that signed the treaty.
“Some people think that the Nobel Peace Prize was the end of the story. But we still had a lot of work to push those other countries that did not join, and to convince the international community to provide adequate funding for victim assistance, to reach a better future,” says Reth.
The impact of the Mine Ban Treaty can be measured in many different ways, the most obvious being what the treaty has accomplished empirically, says Williams. Since the signing of the treaty in 1999, 46 million stockpiled landmines have been destroyed and today 161 nations are a part of this treaty, that no longer use, produce, trade or stockpile landmines. In terms of the effect on landmine victims, this figure has dropped from over 12,000 per year to just over 4,000. “That is still 4,000 too many, but it’s a huge decrease.”
What Remains to be Done?
This past week at the Twelfth Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty (12MSP), Jody Williams, Tun Channareth and ICBL delegates from nearly 40 countries celebrated 15 years of Mine Ban Treaty accomplishments advocating with governments to step up efforts at universalizing the mine ban and to ensure implementation of the treaty especially with regards to clearing affected land and assisting victims.
“Every government must think about the human beings affected by landmines, about the lives of landmine survivors,” said Channareth. “Fifteen years have passed, but this fight goes on because people are still being affected by landmines. To those countries who have not joined the treaty, I would say, think about all those who continue to lose their lives and limbs and help us to free the world of landmines through your support for the treaty.”