The Mine Ban at 10 Years

By Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan

The international ban on anti-personnel landmines has been a great success, though similar efforts have to be made in banning cluster bombs (thousands of them remain in southern Lebanon after Israel's July 2006 offensive).

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Ten years in the life of a movement is a good time to reflect on successes achieved, obstacles and opportunities. Next year will mark a decade since the launch of the first disarmament treaty to be concluded outside the United Nations system -- the treaty aimed at halting the humanitarian scourge caused by anti-personnel landmines.

International attention was galvanized by the support of well known personalities, in particular the late Princess Diana and the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Peace to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

The Campaign was launched by an unexpected grouping of war veterans, humanitarian aid agencies and human rights organizations. Their goal was ridiculed from the outset.

"'Landmines?'-- why those? Aren't nuclear bombs more dangerous?" None the less, within five years of its founding, the ICBL had built a global coalition of peoples organizations and NGOs, had an international treaty and a Nobel prize in its pocket. Where does it stand now in relation to its goal -- the total elimination of a weapons system from the face of the planet?

The mine ban treaty is unlike most other treaties due to the close collaboration between non-governmental organizations which provided the moral outrage and focus, and certain gov- ernments and leaders who believed it could be achievable. It was Canada's then-Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy who issued a challenge to governments to convene in Ottawa on a bitterly cold but clear December day in 1997.

Mine victims from Cambodia and other landmine devastated countries were on hand to encourage the governmental delegates, and to shame them by manifesting the human face of their policies, a face usually absent from decision-making chambers. In all, 122 governments signed, and in record time the Ottawa Treaty achieved its first victory; the fastest entry into force of any treaty in human history so far.

The ICBL has been largely responsible for shaping this outcome. Focused and creative, it is made up of national campaigns in 90 countries, most of which are constituted by a cluster of local civil society organizations. In Canada, the mine ban movement is represented by Mines Action Canada, a nationwide coalition of more than 40 Canadian nongovernmental organizations. Mines Action Canada is a cooperative effort by Canadian civil society to assure that Canada remains a world leader, not only on landmines but all victim-activated weapons, such as cluster bombs, which have landmine-like effects -- most recently seen in Lebanon.

Success Story of Our Time

In a rapidly militarizing world which has seen the peace dividend demolished by car bombs and smart bombs, the mine ban stands out as one of the real success stories and anchors for hope.

Unlike the talk shops most international treaties host, in the short time the Ottawa Treaty has been in existence, it has achieved measurable success.

Within these few elegantly engineered restrictions -- no use, no stocks, mine clearance and victim assistance -- the weapon and its effects are being eradicated from the face of the earth.

However, while success has been achieved, we must finish the job which was started in Ottawa in 1997. Governments must be pushed to fully bring the ban to conclusion. Those governments which remain outside the treaty must be encouraged, shamed, or coerced into compliance, as they stand in the way of what could be one of the most precious gifts we can give the next generation: a world safe to walk in.

There must be hope that human beings can desist from our destructive ways, since in at least one case, we will have done it!

Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan has been an activist with the Mine Ban movement since 1995, and is currently employed as a researcher and analyst by the movement. He has visited or worked in a dozen mine affected countries.

Mines Action Canada is calling for the Canadian government to make known its willingness to continue to lead the global effort to eradicate anti-personnel landmines and has a goal of $1 for every Canadian to be committed as Canada's contribution to global landmine action. <www.minesactioncanada.org >

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2007

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2007, page 8. Some rights reserved.

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