August 2009

Meet Our Featured Guest Columnist:
Jody Williams

coordinated the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and received a Nobel Peace Prize for her work.

Q: How did you get involved in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL)?

A: By the late 1980s, there was the beginning of awareness about a significant global landmine problem and small steps were being taken to try to deal with the problem. I was asked if I thought it would be possible to harness that emerging awareness to create a coalition of nongovernmental organizations that would work together in a coordinated political effort to get rid of landmines - this was in 1991. By then, I had been working for more than a decade on issues related to the wars in Central America, but with the end of the Cold War, people began to look at war and peace differently. So did I and I began to want to work on an issue that had the possibility of global reach and impact.

When we launched the ICBL with a handful of organizations, we had no idea what we might be able to ultimately accomplish. We knew we would be able to do something that would help mine victims around the world, but beyond that we were not sure where our work would lead us. But we started the Campaign because it was the right thing to do. It was a way to help victims of war and also begin to get people everywhere to think about the impact of weapons - their impact on people's security and health, on access to land and infrastructure, on the repatriation of refugees, on post-conflict reconstruction.

Q: Describe some of the successes you have seen in this work.

A: When we started the ICBL, virtually every fighting force in the world had been using landmines since World War I. Millions of mines claimed thousands of new mine victims every year in scores of contaminated countries. Some 55 countries produced landmines and hundreds of millions were stockpiled. Few believed that eliminating the weapon was possible.

After years of intense campaigning, and thanks to innovative partnerships between governments, international organizations, UN agencies and civil society members, the Mine Ban Treaty was adopted.

80% of the world's states have now joined the Mine Ban Treaty. Only two governments still use antipersonnel landmines and transfers of the weapon have virtually stopped. Mine action programs are operating in countries all over the world. And, most importantly, the number of new mine victims is decreasing, even though the global number of victims continues to increase.

Even states that have not officially joined the treaty yet are responding to international pressure on this issue and have stopped using landmines, including the USA.

What we have accomplished through the mine ban movement continues to give hope to people all over the world that there are alternative methods to address our common problems. And as we continue to make progress, we inspire more and more people to take action for positive change. The whole process behind the new convention banning cluster munitions, for example, was based on experience from the Mine Ban Treaty.

Q: What are some of the challenges?

A: I think the biggest challenge we faced in the nineties, when campaigning for a ban on landmines, was the attitude of all of the governments of the world at that time. Many thought it was a "nice" idea, but utopian - a dream that would never come true. But we believed what we were doing was right and no matter the outcome we would build the movement, build public awareness so that citizens everywhere would tell their governments to get rid of the weapon. And it worked!

In 2008 the challenges remain to get as many states as possible on board the treaty and to make sure they obey its various provisions, such as destroying their stockpiles of landmines; taking mines out of the ground; providing assistance for mine survivors, their families and communities. There is also a crucial need for funding and continued political commitment. All over the world, ICBL campaigners keep lobbying their governments to make the vision of a mine-free world come true.

Q: How can young people make a difference?

A: We have only accomplished what we have so far because so many individuals from all walks of life, of all ages, all over the world, have come together to resolve this horrible problem. I personally work with young people through the Peace Jam initiative. Adults often refer to them as the "leaders of tomorrow". From my experience with young people all over the world, many of them are not waiting for "tomorrow," they are already leaders today, and many of them have joined the efforts to ban landmines.

Young people can help raise awareness of landmines at school or on campus by making presentations, setting up information tables, writing an article for a student newspaper, organizing film shows, art exhibitions or theater events. They can join in letter-writing campaigns, help raise funds for demining, for victim assistance or for advocacy. The movement to ban landmines welcomes the help and work of everyone. More information can be found at