Issue No. 19, October 1997
The Campaign to Ban Landmines:
In Oslo on 17 September, nearly 100 States agreed the text of a
treaty providing for a total ban on all anti-personnel landmines.
The treaty is due to be opened for signature in Ottawa on 3
December - the culmination of the 'Ottawa Process', aimed at a
fast-track accord and launched by Canada in October 1996. China and
the US are among major mine-possessing States not intending to sign
the treaty - the position of Russia is less clear. See last issue
for a report on the Oslo Conference by Jo-Anne Velin. The following
review surveys post-Oslo developments.
Nobel Peace Prize for ICBL and Jody Williams
It was announced in Oslo on 10 October that the 1997 Nobel Peace
Prize would be awarded jointly to the International Campaign to Ban
Landmines (ICBL) and the campaign's coordinator, Jody Williams. The
ICBL, a loose coalition of anti-mines groups, was formed in 1992.
According to the statement of the Nobel Committee: "The ICBL and
Jody Williams started a process which in the space of a few years
changed a ban on anti-personnel mines from a vision to a feasible
reality." The Committee added that it wished "to express the hope
that the Ottawa process will win even wider support. ... As a model
for similar processes in the future, it could prove of decisive
importance to the international effort for disarmament and
The ICBL and Ms. Williams were showered with plaudits from many
States and activists. A small selection of reaction, all made on 10
Statement by Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy
"I am delighted at the Nobel Committee's choice and offer my
sincerest congratulations to Ms. Williams and all members of the
ICBL, including its Canadian member, Mines Action Canada. The ICBL,
whose nomination I endorsed last February, has mobilized and
empowered millions of citizens worldwide with unprecedented speed
Statement by Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi
"The Government of Japan highly appreciates the fervent efforts
made by the ICBL and Jody Williams. ... I sincerely hope that the
awarding of the prize will help further promote international
efforts to overcome the problems [in the way of a ban]..."
Statement by Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo
"This is a fitting tribute... They have, through hard work,
persistence and determination, led the banning of an entire
category of inhumane weapons and in so doing made the world safer,
more humane and more caring."
Statement by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
"I am delighted by the news... This is a fitting tribute to the
part played by Non-Governmental Organizations in the world-wide
struggle against the humanitarian tragedy caused by anti-personnel
landmines. The British Government has played an active part in this
struggle, both in negotiating an international agreement...and in
helping to alleviate the sufferings of the victims. In this, as in
so many other areas, we have benefited from the commitment,
experience and skills of NGOs."
Statement by Secretary-General Kofi Annan
"This well-deserved honour is a victory for every child and mother
and for all those vulnerable people who have been killed or maimed
by these silent weapons. It also shows that when civil society and
non-governmental organizations come together and work with
Governments, a lot can happen in a relatively short time."
Statement by Security Council President, Hennadiy Udovenko
"The awarding of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize to a coalition of more
than 1,000 non-governmental organizations...in more than 60
countries is a recognition of the important role civil societies
and NGOs play in helping the international community cope with
vital issues of peace and security."
Remarks by White House spokesperson Mike McCurry
"The President is absolutely rock-solid confident that he's got the
right approach that protects our interests and works in the
interest of eliminating the scourge of landmines... [However,] we
warmly welcome the Nobel Prize going to...an organization that's
been so active in the crusade against them."
Statement by Defense Secretary William Cohen
"They [the ICBL] have worked hard to raise public awareness of the
humanitarian disaster resulting from long-lived mines that kill and
maim harmless civilians..."
US Holds Firm Against Signing
The US is opposed to signing the Oslo Convention, principally on
the grounds that mines are still needed on the Korean Peninsular,
and that the Convention would outlaw anti-tank mines - see last
issue for a detailed statement by President Clinton.
The US stance has naturally been both lauded and condemned
domestically. On 18 September, the Chair of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, Jesse Helms (Republican - North Carolina)
issued a statement calling the President's opposition "a courageous
act." The statement went on: "He has made the right decision, even
though it may be misunderstood in some quarters." Helms suggested
it was "vital" that the US retain so-called 'smart' mines, which
are programmed to self-destruct and de-activate after a certain
period of time: "any treaty that bans 'smart' mines is, in my view,
a 'dumb' treaty."
The most prominent Congressional advocate of a total ban is
Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat - Vermont). On 17 September, Leahy
said he was "deeply disappointed" at the US position. He added
that, in his view, the US had been caught unawares at Oslo:
"Our officials said we would only give up our mines if all
nations did; knowing that, like the chemical weapons treaty, there
is no chance of that happening for decades. And when they finally
decided to participate in the Oslo negotiations, they went with
demands that had no chance of being accepted and with little
flexibility to negotiate..."
Representative Lane Evans (Democrat - Illinois) was even
harsher, stating on 17 September that he did "not believe that our
negotiators engaged in the discussions in good faith."
However, by far the harshest criticism of the President came
from Jody Williams. Despite his statement of congratulation at her
Nobel laureate, quoted above, the President, Ms. Williams revealed
on 13 October, had not personally contacted her. If he were to, she
remarked, "I would say the same thing to him on the telephone that
I've said on TV." Namely:
"I have said repeatedly...that Mr. Clinton is neither statesman
nor commander-in-chief on this issue. He abdicated power. He let
[the] Pentagon formulate foreign policy. That is awful in the
world's largest democracy..."
On 22 September, 200 pro-ban campaigners held a demonstration
outside Congress criticising the Administration. They were
addressed by Senator Leahy, who observed: "The United States should
have joined our good neighbour, Canada... I wish I could be here to
say 'Isn't it wonderful that we did the right thing in Oslo'."
Apparent Shift in Russian Policy
On 10 October, speaking in Strasbourg after meeting with
President Chirac, President Yeltsin announced an apparent volte
face in Russian policy. Russia opposed the Ottawa Process as
obstructing the search for a consensus agreement at the Conference
on Disarmament (CD), and appeared to hold firm to that line at the
Oslo Conference, which it attended as an observer. Yeltsin told
"Even though major Western powers say 'no', I say we support and
will strive for the goal of resolving once and for all this problem
and sign the Convention..."
President Chirac was clearly delighted by Yeltsin's comments: "I
would like to say how much I rejoiced that President Yeltsin
decided to study the problem of anti-personnel mines and back an
evolution going towards the Convention that will be signed in
Russian officials were quick to point out that Yeltsin's remarks
did not imply Russian signature in December. According to a Kremlin
press release: "The President has confirmed our positive attitude
in principle towards the signing of the Convention - when necessary
conditions are created. There has been no talk in Strasbourg about
a concrete date of Russia joining this important international
Asking about Yeltsin's remarks, White House Press Secretary Mike
McCurry observed (10 October):
"President Yeltsin's statement today may prove useful if we see
how it is refined and developed in the conversations [at the CD] in
Geneva. The Russian Federation was not present in Ottawa during the
Ottawa Process and we will attempt to learn more about the position
that the President articulated today."
Position of Other States
Editor's note: the position of many of those States
opposed to or not currently inclined to sign the Oslo Conference
text are set out in the review of the UN General Assembly and
Committee General Debates in this and the last issue.
One such State is South Korea. On 10 October, an editorial in
the Choson Ilbo newspaper set out the essence of the
opposition: "The argument for banning the use of landmines is right
because they indiscriminately destroy human lives... Despite the
loftiness of the cause, however...it is not realistic [for South
Korea to join]."
Japan's position appears to have shifted into a much more
positive gear since Oslo. On 14 October, Japan's Foreign Minister,
Keizo Obuchi, said he hoped Japan would be able to sign the Oslo
Convention when it opened for signature: "I would be greatly
pleased by a settlement in that direction," he told reporters.
On 1 October, the US announced it would be contributing an
additional $1 million to assist UN demining programmes in
Afghanistan; bringing the total US contribution to demining in that
country up to $17.2 million. The announcement was made by the US
Ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson: "Demining is critical to the
delivery of other forms of humanitarian assistance...
Unfortunately, it will take years of dedicated and expensive effort
to clear the remaining mines..."
On 15 October, the Khmer Rouge described the right to possess
and lay mines as "an inalienable right of all Cambodians." In a
radio broadcast, the Khmer Rouge stated: "Cambodian people have the
right to use all kinds of weapons for self-defense, to protect
their country from being washed out by the Vietnamese
Reports: Congress members criticize US failure to sign
landmine ban, United States Information Service, 17 September;
Helms praises Clinton refusal to accept landmine treaty,
Congressional Report, 18 September; Backers of global ban on
landmines rally on Capitol steps, Congressional Report, 22
September; US donates $1 million for Afghan demining, United
States Information Service, 1 October; Yeltsin says Russia will
back landmines ban, Reuters, 10 October; Koreas want to keep
landmines, Associated Press, 10 October; Anti-landmine
activists win Nobel peace prize, Reuters, 10 October; White
House Press Briefing, 10 October; Text - Secretary Cohen
congratulates anti-landmine group, United States Information
Service, 10 October; Clinton 'rock solid' against landmines
pact, Reuters, 10 October; UK Foreign Office statement, 10
October; Assembly President gratified by awarding of Nobel peace
prize to International Campaign to Ban Landmines, UN Press
Release GA/SM/6, 10 October; Secretary-General congratulates
International Campaign to Ban Landmines, UN Press Release
DC/2592, 10 October; Statement by Foreign Minister Keizo
Obuchi, Japanese Foreign Ministry statement, 10 October;
Axworthy congratulates ICBL, Canadian Department of Foreign
Affairs and International Trade Press Release, NO. 162, 10 October;
Statement on the awarding of the 1997 Nobel peace prize,
South African Foreign Ministry statement, 10 October; Russia -
no date fixed to join landmines ban, Reuters, 12 October;
Nobel peace laureate says Clinton snubbed her, Reuters, 13
October; Khmer Rouge defend landmine use, Associated Press,
15 October; Japan leader wants landmine treaty, Associated
Press, 15 October.
© 1998 The Acronym Institute.
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