Land Mine Activist Receives Nobel Peace Prize Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Jody Williams and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their efforts to remove antipersonnel land mines from around the world, destroy supplies of the land mines not yet deployed, and prevent additional production and distribution of that weapon. The recognition encouraged many reluctant world leaders to sign the 1997 Ottawa Treaty.

Summary of Event

Throughout the world, military forces have defended their borders by using antitank and antipersonnel land mines, most of which are planted in Asian, African, Central American, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European countries. After conflicts ended, troops abandoned land mines, which were concealed by dirt, foliage, or water. Designed to injure enemy combatants, antipersonnel land mines often kill or maim innocent civilians, many of them children or farmers who accidentally trigger them. Nobel Peace Prize;Jody Williams[Williams] Peace activism International Campaign to Ban Landmines Land mines [kw]Land Mine Activist Receives Nobel Peace Prize (Dec. 10, 1997) [kw]Activist Receives Nobel Peace Prize, Land Mine (Dec. 10, 1997) [kw]Nobel Peace Prize, Land Mine Activist Receives (Dec. 10, 1997) [kw]Peace Prize, Land Mine Activist Receives Nobel (Dec. 10, 1997) [kw]Prize, Land Mine Activist Receives Nobel Peace (Dec. 10, 1997) Nobel Peace Prize;Jody Williams[Williams] Peace activism International Campaign to Ban Landmines Land mines [g]Europe;Dec. 10, 1997: Land Mine Activist Receives Nobel Peace Prize[09820] [g]Norway;Dec. 10, 1997: Land Mine Activist Receives Nobel Peace Prize[09820] [c]Human rights;Dec. 10, 1997: Land Mine Activist Receives Nobel Peace Prize[09820] Williams, Jody Muller, Robert McGrath, Rae Channareth, Tun Sejersted, Francis Leahy, Patrick Axworthy, Lloyd McGovern, James P.

Early efforts to clear land mines included the work of Mines Advisory Group, Mines Advisory Group established by former British military officer Rae McGrath, and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF), founded by Robert Muller, who traveled to Cambodia in 1991 to assist civilian land mine survivors in need of artificial limbs. In November, 1991, Muller consulted his friend Thomas Gebauer, who represented Medico International, a Frankfurt, Germany, humanitarian organization, regarding aid for land mine survivors. They discussed seeking a worldwide land mine ban and decided to hire Jody Williams, who had experience with land mine relief work in El Salvador, to coordinate a campaign to secure global government support.

By October, 1992, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), established as a network of diverse nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), mostly humanitarian groups, formally initiated plans to secure a global treaty controlling land mine use. Meeting in New York City, the ICBL’s first steering committee included members of the VVAF, Medico International, Mines Advisory Group, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, and Handicap International. Some representatives believed that the ban would not be achieved for at least three decades.

Supporters of the worldwide ban included U.S. senator Patrick Leahy, who encouraged Congress to pass a 1992 bill banning the export of U.S. land mines for one year. The bill became law, signed by President George H. W. Bush, and was extended in 1993 for three additional years. In 1995, Belgium and Norway became two of the first countries to ban the use of land mines. After meetings to discuss amending the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons to include the regulation of land mines proved unsuccessful, Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy encouraged delegates to meet in Oslo, Norway, and Ottawa, Canada, in 1997 to draft and sign the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (1997) Ottawa Treaty (1997) (also known as the Ottawa Treaty, or Mine Ban Treaty). U.S. president Bill Clinton, stating that Pentagon officials insisted that land mines were essential for military needs, refused to sign the treaty.

The ICBL expanded to include approximately 1,100 NGOs in sixty countries by 1997. Williams distributed information to members and governmental authorities and traveled to meet with world leaders. The ICBL benefited from the endorsement of its work by Britain’s Princess Diana Diana, Princess of Wales during trips to Angola and Bosnia. At that time, approximately 100 million land mines existed in sixty-eight countries, and an estimated 26,000 people died annually or were severely injured from exploding land mines.

In December, 1996, the ICBL Steering Committee met in Brussels, Belgium, to determine that Williams should be named in any Nobel Peace Prize nominations of the ICBL, to receive the prize for its campaign. Massachusetts Democratic representative James P. McGovern, whom Williams had known in El Salvador, sent a letter to the Nobel Committee recommending the ICBL and Williams for the prize. Senator Leahy submitted a letter nominating the ICBL and Axworthy.

On October 10, 1997, the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo stated that it would present the Nobel Peace Prize and $1 million jointly to Williams and the ICBL. Francis Sejersted, chairman of the Nobel Committee, stated that the committee hoped that honoring the anti-land mine activists would encourage countries to sign the Ottawa Treaty. He praised the activists for transforming the idea for banning land mines into effective results within several years. By forming a coalition, Williams and the ICBL represented how people could seek political change independently of the United Nations and other powerful bodies. World leaders congratulated Williams, who criticized President Clinton for not contacting her and for refusing to sign the treaty.

Nobel Peace Prize winners Jody Williams (left) and Tun Channareth pose with their awards at Oslo City Hall in December, 1997. Williams shared the honor with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, represented by Channareth, a Cambodian who had lost both legs to a land mine injury. The recognition encouraged many world leaders to sign the Ottawa Treaty.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Williams joined ICBL representatives, Axworthy, and U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan on December 3, 1997, for the Ottawa Treaty signing. Although forty signers needed for ratification were obtained, significant nonsigners included the United States, Russia, India, China, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq. Seven days later, Williams attended the Nobel Prize ceremony at Oslo City Hall. King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway greeted Williams and ICBL representatives McGrath and Tun Channareth, a Cambodian who had lost both his legs in a land mine injury.

Eleven ICBL Steering Committee members observed the ceremony, including Muller. In his speech, Sejersted compared nuclear devices to land mines, emphasizing that land mines restricted movement and posed constant threats to harm people. He noted the irony that dynamite, invented by Alfred Nobel, is the explosive component of land mines.

Williams presented her Nobel lecture, describing the historical use of land mines and various stages of humanitarian work and conventions addressing problems related to that weapon. Discussing her experiences, she stressed the importance of governments assisting civilians. Williams expressed gratitude for the Nobel Prize but said that the land mine treaty was the ultimate prize.

Delivering the ICBL’s Nobel lecture, McGrath described injuries his colleague Channareth had suffered and the dangers posed to land mine clearers. He asked that countries that had signed the Ottawa Convention ratify it and that they destroy stockpiles. Concluding, he declared that the ICBL’s Nobel Prize represented all land mine victims and relatives, mined communities, and clearers.

Accepting the Nobel Prize for the ICBL, Channareth did not speak in Oslo because the committee had been unable to arrange a Khmer translation. While he attended the Oslo ceremony, a representative at Phnom Penh read his speech, urging land mine bans and removal. Buddhist monks and land mine survivors lit candles and walked to that city’s Independence Monument to honor the ICBL.

Significance

When the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize winners achieved worldwide cooperation to ban antipersonnel land mines, it was the first time since the post-World War I global agreement to restrict poison gas that a controversial weapon was banned. Williams and the ICBL emphasized how activists and organizations could unite to convince political leaders to endorse international accords.

Using money she was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize, Williams ceased focusing on ICBL administration work in order to travel, pursuing international cooperation for antipersonnel land mine removal. Her primary goal was to convince leaders to commit legally to a land mine ban by accepting and ratifying the Ottawa Treaty. Williams’s Nobel Prize spurred Japanese foreign minister Keizo Obuchi to sign the treaty. Williams also served as senior editor of Landmine Monitor Report.

The ICBL and Williams demonstrated how communications technology proved valuable in connecting activists expeditiously. Their efforts had a socioeconomic impact on agricultural yields from cleared fields in addition to business profits, as routes to markets were made safer. Their work influenced some manufacturers, including Motorola and Thiokol Corporation, to stop contributing to the production of antipersonnel land mines. By 1998, nineteen of forty-seven U.S. companies involved in the manufacture of antipersonnel mines agreed to renounce any involvement in their production. Manufacturers in China, Russia, and North Korea continued to produce and distribute mines. By 2007, 155 countries had signed the Ottawa Treaty, with 153 ratifying it. Nobel Peace Prize;Jody Williams[Williams] Peace activism International Campaign to Ban Landmines Land mines

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cameron, Maxwell A., Robert J. Lawson, and Brian W. Tomlin, eds. To Walk Without Fear: The Global Movement to Ban Landmines. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Chapters written by Williams, Axworthy, and other notable anti-land mine activists. Photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">DeChaine, D. Robert. Global Humanitarianism: NGOs and the Crafting of Community. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2005. Sections featuring the ICBL and Doctors Without Borders evaluate international approaches for developing programs to assist civilians affected by war.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hopkins, Jeffrey, ed. The Art of Peace: Nobel Laureates Discuss Human Rights, Conflict and Reconciliation. Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion Publications, 2000. Chapters feature Williams and Muller, whose commentaries at a 1998 conference on humanitarian work are also included in other laureates’ sections.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Matthew, Richard A., Bryan McDonald, and Kenneth R. Rutherford, eds. Landmines and Human Security: International Politics and War’s Hidden Legacy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004. Collection on land mines features forewords by Queen Noor, Lloyd Axworthy, Heather Mills McCartney and Paul McCartney, and Senator Patrick Leahy. Includes a chapter by Williams that describes her efforts to achieve effective global coooperation for humanitarian goals and offers practical advice.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Roberts, Shawn, and Jody Williams. After the Guns Fall Silent: The Enduring Legacy of Landmines. Washington, D.C.: Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, 1995. Comprehensive guide to areas where land mines were concentrated during the ICBL’s initial work. Appendixes, figures, bibliography.

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