“A Ban against Land Mines? Never!”
Ein Bann der Landminen? Niemals!
In the late 1980s a former British sergeant had gone to Afghanistan for relief work in a country in ruins after years of Soviet occupation. He was determined to begin agricultural development programs, but met a terrible obstacle: Throughout the country, the land was filled with “seeds of death”. Hundreds of thousands of antipersonnel landmines littered the landscape, threatening to maim or kill anyone who tried to plow the land. The former military man ended up helping to launch one of the first mine clearance programs in the world.
|1) Other organizations had been working for years in dozens of countries to provide artificial limbs to mine victims. They increasingly felt that it was not enough to just provide relief for the victims. Then, human rights organizations published a riveting report, “The Coward’s War: Landmines in Cambodia”, which helped galvanize a nascent ban movement. Numbed by the devastating impact of landmines on individuals and entire societies, organizations began to raise the call to ban the weapon. ||1) ||2) Their humanitarian efforts had given these and other civil society organizations (CSOs) an early understanding of the extent and seriousness of the land mine problem. Their experience in the field compelled the organizations to come together in a concerted effort to achieve a global ban on antipersonnel landmines and gave their campaign its moral authority. The International Campaign To Ban Landmines, ICBL, was formally launched in New York in October 1992. Six organizations issued a “Joint Call to Ban Antipersonnel Landmines”. They also decided to hold the first CSO-sponsored international landmine conference in May 1993, formed a steering committee and designated Jody Williams as coordinator.||2) ||3) To these CSOs, and the more than 1 200 in some 75 countries all over the world that later joined the “Joint Call”, the issue was simple and the call was clear: 1) an international ban on the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of antipersonnel mines; and 2) increased resources for humanitarian mine clearance and for victim assistance. In order to achieve these goals, the International Campaign recognized that its individual member CSOs would have to work at the national, regional and international levels to build public awareness and create the political will necessary to bring about a landmine ban.||3) ||4) Educating the public as to the horrors of landmines and the need for a ban proved surprisingly simple. It does not take long, for soldier and civilian alike, to understand that landmines are, in fact, very different from other weapons. Once they have been sown and the soldier walks away from the weapon, the landmine cannot discriminate between a combatant and a civilian. When peace is declared the landmine does not recognize that peace. It continues maiming and killing people — mostly civilians — for decades, not least children. To clear the land takes years and years and millions of dollars. While landmines may cost as little as US$ 3 to make, it may cost $ 1 000 to remove them. It is this long-term impact, coupled with its indiscriminate nature that makes the landmine incompatible with the laws of war.||4) ||5) Today these “eternal sentries” reduce a life to ruins every twenty minutes somewhere in the world. If they survive the blast, most victims are forever dependent on others. In addition landmines deprive societies of land critical for food production and the very survival of their people. Landmines disrupt the distribution of goods and services as well, when roads, bridges and electrical systems are mined.||5) ||6) As the awareness of the problem grew, and along with it the membership of the landmine campaign, questions arose as to how to achieve a ban. The initial idea was to get nations to amend an existing treaty, the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) — A very weak treaty which attempted to control the use of AP mines, not to ban the weapon entirely. The pressure generated by the ICBL soon made governments to take up the issue seriously. An idea that was once an anathema — a ban — became a growing chorus as governments began to call for a ban and even take unilateral steps in that direction.||6) ||7) Nevertheless, the Review Conference of the CCW in May 1996 ended in dismal failure. This was certainly a setback and disappointment — although completely expected, but at the same time the process had given birth to two important factors that gave the project a major forward thrust. Firstly, out of a series of meetings between pro-ban governments and the ICBL, held during the final sessions of the review conference, grew the amazing partnership between truly pro-ban governments and the ICBL.||7) ||8) Secondly the Canadian government took a bold initiative and invited governments to return 5 months later to discuss a new strategy forward to a ban. Fifty governments showed up and drew up an Agenda for Action. At the concluding session, Canada’s Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy gave an unexpected spin to further development in his closing remarks. Instead of the normal congratulatory statement thanking delegates for their hard work, Mr. Axworthy rocked the diplomatic community by challenging governments to negotiate a simple and clear treaty and return to Ottawa — in the space of one year — to sign the document. He further ruffled diplomatic feathers by clearly stating that Canada planned to work in open partnership with the civil society campaign to achieve this goal.||8) ||9) Even clearly pro-ban states were horrified. Canada had stepped outside of diplomatic process and procedure and put them between a rock and a hard place. They had not imagined that they would leave Ottawa with a concrete, and extraordinarily ambitious, time frame in which to reach a ban. The International Campaign stood up and cheered while many diplomats literally hung their heads and wrung their hands.||9) ||10) The new style of negotiating in the year that followed became known as the Ottawa Process. A draft elaborated by the Austrian government was further developed at government-sponsored conferences and smaller meetings. The ICBL’s views on treaty language were sought throughout the process. The ICBL was an active participant in each of the government conferences and held its own conferences aimed at insuring maximum support for the Ottawa Process and the treaty. ||10) ||11) The formal treaty negotiations opened in Oslo in September 1997. The ICBL greeted the diplomats with huge banners, exhorting them to negotiate a treaty with “no loopholes, no exceptions and no reservations.” In fact that was the intention of nearly all of the 89 countries represented. But a handful of nations, most notably the United States, were not of that mind. The U.S. administration, worried about public opinion, at the last moment decided to go to Oslo. Perhaps to their surprise, this decision was not met with universal enthusiasm. To the ICBL and many governments it was clear that the US was in Oslo to put its full weight into avoiding any change in existing U.S. policy. The U.S. presence in Oslo created much tension and concern as to the outcome of the negotiations.||11) ||12) The number of accredited journalists had jumped measurably with the decision of the U.S. to participate in the negotiations. The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, only two nights before greatly increased media attention to the process unfolding in Oslo.||12) ||13) The ICBL had put extensive time and resources into preparation for this critically important meeting. With the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), the Campaign had for months been preparing for the arrival of campaigners, for their input in the negotiations themselves, for a four-day NGO Forum and for ICBL action in the post treaty-signing period. This strategic thinking proved vital to the campaign’s ability to sustain and increase its momentum after the treaty was signed in Ottawa in December.||13) ||14) The three-week negotiations were brilliantly presided over by an eminent South African diplomat, Ambassador Jacobo Selebi. At diplomatic conferences lots of precious time is usually wasted on opening declarations where governments pontificate great intentions. But Mr. Selebi went immediately to the meat of the negotiations, forcing sticking points into the open within the first two days of the conference. And every time a sticking point was on the table, the ICBL pressed its view, both inside the negotiations themselves, and to the general public through the media.||14) ||15) The US from the very outset made a set of interlocking demands, saying they were, in essence, non-negotiable; a geographic exception for Korea, an exemption for certain US “smart” mines and a nine-year delay in the entry-into-force of the treaty. Such exceptions would undercut the treaty and render it largely meaningless. The campaign produced fact sheets and newsletters, held briefings and lobbied delegates endlessly to reject the US demands. For its part, the US cajoled and arm-twisted with great vigor. In the final days of the negotiations, when the conference was on the verge of completing a treaty strongly supported by the ICBL, the US, in a last attempt to weaken the treaty, requested a 24-hour delay.||15) ||16) This 24-hour delay was a period of tremendous tension. While the US President was calling leaders around the world in a last-ditch effort to find support for the U.S. positions, the ICBL was holding press conferences to denounce the delay, pressing delegates to hold firm, and engaging in street theater to dramatize the tense hours.||16) ||17) The world held firm against the “world’s sole remaining superpower.” In this instance, governments repeatedly said “no” to U.S. demands. Each “no” empowered others to say “no” and to hold firm. The U.S. finally withdrew its demands and the treaty survived intact. At the closing of the negotiations, The Campaign representatives in the negotiating room stood and clapped for the treaty and for the process that made it possible. Even the diplomats cheered. As delegates filed out of the conference, other campaigners were at the door and the cheers and hugs and chants did not end until the last delegate had left the room of the momentous negotiations.||17) ||18) These negotiations were historic, for a number of reasons. For the first time, smaller and middle-sized powers had come together, to work in close cooperation with civil society organizations to negotiate a treaty which would remove from the world’s arsenals for the first time a weapon already in widespread use. They had not yielded to intense US pressure to weaken the treaty. Perhaps for the first time, the treaty adopted was stronger than the draft on which the negotiations were based. The treaty had not been held hostage to rule by consensus, which would have inevitably resulted in a gutted treaty. The Oslo document, remarkably free of loopholes and exceptions, provides the framework for the total elimination of the weapon from the planet and for assistance to mine victims.||18) ||19) Two months later, in December 1997 in Ottawa, Canada, 121 governments signed the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT). Both there and in the following months the ICBL did its best to have countries sign and ratify. In September 1998, with THE 40th ratification, the Mine Ban Treaty was set to become law on 1 March 1999 — making the treaty international law more quickly than any other in history.||19) ||20) The last half of 1997 was, mildly put, an eventful and hectic period. To top it off, in October, between the Oslo and Ottawa meetings, the international focus on the treaty effort was increased further when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize to the ICBL and Jody Williams. The Committee stated that “the campaign started a process which in the space of a few years changed a ban on antipersonnel mines from a vision to a feasible reality”, and concluded that “as a model for similar processes in the future, the campaign could prove of decisive importance to the international effort for disarmament and peace.”||20) ||21) In the beginning, when the whole world said a ban was impossible, even the most optimistic among the activists could hardly have imagined that they would reach the goal within 5 years and that the citizens’ coalition would be widely recognized as the driving engine in the process. The historic process that created the Mine Ban has clearly demonstrated that civil society and governments do not have to see themselves as adversaries. Civil society in cooperation with small and middle powers can achieve formidable results at breathtaking speed. This alliance is the new international superpower!||21) |