Issue 10 - Article 8

The Ottawa Convention and the Nobel Prize: two victories in the fight against anti-personnel mines

February 1, 1998
Luciano Loiacono, Handicap International

The use of anti-personnel mines did not become an ‘international problem’ until the early 1990s and it has been NGOs working in heavily mined countries that have raised the international awareness of this plague.

The mobilisation of civil society through the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL)

The ICBL is a civil society movement composed of NGOs. Founded in 1992 by six organisations, it now has over 1000 members led by a Steering Committee consisting of: Handicap International, Human Rights Watch, Medico Internacional, Mines Advisory Group, Physicians for Human Rights, Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, and Save the Children – Sweden, as well as the Cambodian Campaign, the Afghanistan Campaign, the South-African Campaign and the Kenyan Campaign for a ban on landmines. The ICBL provides information to the media, mobilised citizens and exerts pressure on national and international governmental authorities.

The objective of the ICBL is to see a total ban on anti-personnel mines as the new international norm. To achieve this objective, the ICBL proposes that States enter into a collective commitment, which at a national level is translated into laws and independent mechanisms of control. The ICBL also wants to see a greater commitment and improved technical and financial means to prevent mine accidents and increase de-mining.

The ICBL advocates the global acceptance and implementation of the Ottawa Convention on a ban against anti-personnel mines.

Over the past five years and in the face of growing public concern, States have been forced to clarify their position. Negotiations under UN auspices started in 1995 and 1996 to review the inadequate 1980 Convention on the use of anti-personnel mines. But no acceptable consensus could then be reached.

Following the failure of those negotiations, and given that the UN Conference on Disarmament was not an appropriate forum to ensure results, the ICBL has supported the so-called ‘Ottawa Process’.

The ‘Ottawa Process’ has been a Canadian initiative, inspired by the proposals of the ICBL which, in December 1997, resulted in the signature of a Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and On Their Destruction. With over 120 States having signed the Convention, the chances that this will become a global convention are great, and a total ban imposes itself now as the new international norm.

The existence of this committed core of States, will gradually attract other countries which want to conform with international humanitarian law. This will increase the reality of a total ban, and isolate those States whose military and industrial practices remain unacceptable.

Simultaneously with the signing of the ‘Ottawa Convention’, the Nobel Peace Prize 1997 has been granted to the 1000 organisations that make up the ICBL. This honour clearly reinforces the ICBL in its efforts to convince other States to sign up to the ‘Ottawa Convention’ by the year 2000, and to respect its stipulations. However, the ‘Ottawa Convention’ and the Nobel Prize do not represent a complete achievement. The objective of the ICBL is the total elimination of all anti-personnel mines, on the one hand by the implementation of a total ban on their production, sale and deployment, but also through tangible support to populations who have to live with this deadly pollution.

States and intergovernmental organisations need to agree to a substantial increase in the practical aid to populations that are threatened or victimised by mines

The first step to take is that of accelerated de-mining. Increased and accelerated de-mining in mine-afflicted countries should be part of the international cooperation policies and, given the scope of the problem, the high cost of de-mining and the limited financial resources, it is vital to increase local capacity to prevent mine-accidents and to remove mines. Priority has to be given to a complete de-mining of inhabited areas, in line with the needs and priorities of a local population and its livelihood.

Secondly, the local capacity to integrate the victims of anti-personnel mines needs more support. Increased medical and social assistance is to be made a component of the reconstruction of war-torn societies, and the rehabilitation of their social services. This support needs to be part of broader public health policies, so that it benefits not only mine-amputees but all people with disabilities, and in a more general sense the whole population of a mine-infested area.

The financial resources for de-mining and for medical and social assistance should not come from already existing development funds.

Continued campaign work to achieve the total ban on anti-personnel mines

All States have to be convinced to sign the ‘Ottawa Convention’ and to implement the required legal and practical measures to ensure a total ban. The ICBL has to remain alert particularly to the following points:

  • signatories need to adopt national legislation to outlaw the development, production, stockpiling, sale, import, export and use of anti-personnel mines and their component parts. These measures have to be extended to the so-called ‘sub-munitions’ or explosives programmed to self-destruct, whose effects and impact are similar to those of anti-personnel mines.
  • governments have to ensure that their national business corporations comply with the legislation, both at home and in their overseas branches. Commercial companies relocating their anti-personnel mine business to third world countries, or becoming shareholders in foreign companies that produce such mines cannot be tolerated.
  • Governments have to ensure that the total ban on anti-personnel mines is introduced in all forms of training and instruction of their military. Moreover, acceptance of the ban on anti-personnel mines is to be made a condition of continued bilateral military cooperation.


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