International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL)
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Ban History

The so-called Ottawa Process that led to the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty in 1997 was unorthodox, historic and unprecedented. The treaty is the product of an unusually cohesive and strategic partnership between non-governmental organizations, international organizations, United Nations agencies and governments.

ICBL Campaigners at the 1997 Brussels Conference, where the third draft of the Mine Ban Treaty was identified as the basis for further negotiations. Photo: John Rodsted

ICBL Campaigners at the 1997 Brussels Conference, where the third draft of the Mine Ban Treaty was identified as the basis for further negotiations. Photo: John Rodsted

The political initiative launched in October 1996 and culminating in the opening for signature of the Mine Ban Treaty in Ottawa, Canada, in December 1997 is known as the Ottawa Process.

The Convention on Conventional Weapons? Not a Viable Option

In the Nineties, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who witnessed the ravaging effects of landmines on a daily basis grew increasingly impatient with the only treaty controlling the use of antipersonnel landmines - the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). Back in 1993, the French campaign to ban landmines had urged then President Mitterand to call for a review conference to improve the CCW. Mitterand agreed and the date was set for 1995.

However, the 1995/6 Review Conference failed to make any significant changes to the CCW. This confirmed campaigners' belief that a total ban was the only solution to the global landmine crisis. At the same time, governments were facing growing public pressure to address the landmine problem effectively and speedily.

At the end of the CCW's Review Conference process, 40 governments said they supported a total ban and began working with NGOs towards this aim.

The Axworthy Challenge

October 1996 marked a turning point. In Ottawa, 50 governments and 24 observers met in conference to strategize a way to bring about a ban on landmines.

Jody Williams, ICBL Ambassador and co-laureate of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, thus described how the Ottawa Process gained momentum with the Axworthy Challenge:

"The primary objectives [of the conference]...were to develop a declaration that states would sign signaling their intention to ban antipersonnel mines and an "Agenda for Action" outlining concrete steps to reach such a ban. We were all prepared for the concluding comments by Lloyd Axworthy, the Foreign Minister of Canada... But the Foreign Minister did not end with congratulations. He ended with a challenge. The Canadian government challenged the world to return to Canada in a year to sign an international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines. Members of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines erupted in cheers... It was really breath-taking."

The Mine Ban Treaty Drafting Process

The treaty was drafted by Austria and developed outside of traditional diplomatic channels, in a series of meetings in Vienna, Bonn, Brussels and Oslo over the course of 1997.

A group of likeminded governments formed a "Core Group" that, in close cooperation with the NGOs of the ICBL and international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), helped to steer the Ottawa Process. Significantly, the "friends of the Ottawa Treaty" spanned the regions of the world and included representatives in both mine-affected and mine-producing countries.

Contributing its field expertise, the ICBL played a major role in the actual drafting of the treaty, from its earliest stages. We were given a formal seat at the table in all of the diplomatic meetings leading up to the negotiations, and then during the negotiations themselves. The critical importance of the presence and input of the ICBL and the ICRC was specifically recognized in the preamble of the treaty.

The Mine Ban Treaty was adopted in Oslo, Norway, in September 1997 and signed by 122 States in Ottawa, Canada, on 3 December 1997. It entered into force less than two years later, more quickly than any treaty of its kind in history.

For more information: What is the Ottawa Process?