NOBEL PRIZE WINNER
October 10, 1997
This year the Nobel Peace Prize has been presented to the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines. The founder and coordinator, Jody Williams of Vermont, discusses the award and the continued push to have the U.S. sign the universal ban on landmines.
PHIL PONCE: This year's peace prize went to the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines and to its coordinator, Jody Williams. The Norwegian Nobel committee used the occasion to call for support of an international treaty to ban land mines. Following this morning's announcement Russian President Yeltsin said his country would now support the ban. A month ago the United States declined to join more than 90 other countries in the new land mines treaty. The group winning today's award was formed six years ago. Jody Williams is a longtime international activist. I talked to her this afternoon from Vermont.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
August 7, 1997:
The debate over U.S. involvement in a land mine ban continues.
May 16, 1997:
President Clinton announces his plan to limit the use of land mines.
January 4, 1996:
Elizabeth Farnsworth reports on the use of land mines in Cambodia and elsewhere.
The Vietnam Veterans of America's International Campaign to Ban Landmines page
The Nobel Foundation
PHIL PONCE: Ms. Williams, first of all, congratulations. And what was your reaction when you heard you'd received the Nobel Peace Prize?
JODY WILLIAMS, Nobel Peace Prize Winner: Well, as you can imagine, we were quite surprised and stunned, and we were pleased that the committee recognized the work of the thousands of non-governmental organizations around the world that have worked in such close cooperation with governments that truly want to bring about a ban and eradicate this indiscriminate killer of civilians.
PHIL PONCE: And how did you find out exactly?
JODY WILLIAMS: Well, we were called at 4 AM, and we were asked at that time if we could be called again at 4:40, and at 4:40 Norwegian TV called to confirm that we had been nominated--that we had been awarded the prize this year.
The development of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
PHIL PONCE: And what prompted you to get involved in this work? Was there a particular experience you had?
JODY WILLIAMS: Well, I worked for many years before the landmines campaign in issues related to foreign policy of the United States vis-a-vis Central America. I worked in Washington to raise public awareness. I worked in the region, itself, and saw firsthand the impact of war, how it affected the poorest of the poor. And once peace broke out in Central America I was asked to coordinate a landmine campaign, and six years later, here we are with a treaty and the Nobel Peace Prize. It's quite an amazing course of events.
PHIL PONCE: I understand that the organization you now represent and work with first started out with only three people, is that right?
JODY WILLIAMS: Yes. Actually one Sunday afternoon in November of 1991, it was sort of a wild idea that maybe we should try to pull non-governmental organizations together and try to ban this weapon. And not much later--six years--in terms of how slowly governments usually respond to the demands of civilian society, we've achieved this ban. It's quite remarkable.
PHIL PONCE: How do these non-government organizations, these volunteer organizations get the attention of major governments like Canada and so forth?
JODY WILLIAMS: Well, I think that it is really the result of a change in the world with the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the end of the Cold War. With the end of the perception of the nuclear threat people were able to start looking at how war is actually carried out, what are the weapons that really have the impact on the ground. And fortunately, they have not been the weapons of mass destruction. They've been the weapons of mass destruction in slow motion. They've been the land mine, the AK-47, sub-munitions, and we were able to pull together a coalition of organizations working in the field that on a daily basis saw the impact of this weapon on the lives of millions. And by working together and finding governments that wanted to address the post Cold War World but changes in the world we were able to form a tremendous cooperative relationship, which I think is unique, that brought about this ban in record time.
What will the impact of the award be?
PHIL PONCE: And how do you think this award is going to have an impact on your continuing work to ban land mines?
JODY WILLIAMS: Well, it certainly adds moral authority to the call to ban the weapon. It certainly continues to stigmatize and isolate those countries that do not want to be on the side of humanity. It makes it much more difficult for countries like the United States, like China, like India, Pakistan, to stay outside of the tide of history.
PHIL PONCE: Do you plan to call the White House?
JODY WILLIAMS: I hope to be able to speak with the President at some point, but I'm certain that he has heard our message because we've been saying it over and over, not just today, with the receipt of this prize. We have been talking with the President, with the State Department, with the Pentagon for years. I think that they're very clear about the issues. It's just that this administration has not wanted to be part of the tide of history. It's wanted to stand outside the tide of history.
PHIL PONCE: Are you at all encouraged by the President's order to the Pentagon to come up with something else to replace landmines in the next nine years or so?
JODY WILLIAMS: No. Quite frankly, I think it's absurd that most of our NATO allies have determined that they can give up the landmine. France, UK, Germany have decided that they do not need this weapon, and they can destroy it now. Why does the one remaining superpower with the most advanced war weapons in the world still need to rely on the landmine? Why does it need to keep it until it gets an alternative? The world has determined this is an illegal weapon. Everybody else is ready to give it up but the United States. It wants to keep using an illegal weapon until it finds an alternative. I think that's shameful.
"Do you think the death of Princess Diana had anything to do with the Nobel committee's decision?"
PHIL PONCE: Getting back to the prize and the visibility, do you think the death of Princess Diana had anything to do with the Nobel committee's decision?
JODY WILLIAMS: I think that many people contributed in many different ways to this movement, which has resulted in this amazing treaty and a whole new way of conducting diplomacy. Princess Diana raised the visibility of the victims. She took her media celebrity to Angola. She brought the media with her and gave a face to the victims. She let the man in the street see what it is like for the poorest of the poor to live in the middle of a mine field. That is a significant contribution. But there are many others who've made contributions, such as Archbishop Tutu, who challenged Africa to come together and unite behind this ban movement and give an unambiguous ban treaty to the world. There's President Mandela, who refused to bow to the pressure of President Clinton, and there are the thousands of people who've made up this campaign. It's many people who have brought us here.
"It will re-energize all of the people working to ban land mines."
PHIL PONCE: What does it mean to you personally to receive this award?
JODY WILLIAMS: I consider all of the work I've done to be a privilege. Very few people are allowed the luxury to decide that they want to do something out of the mainstream. Most people tend to pretty much go to college and get a job and buy a house and pay the mortgage. For whatever reason I've had the luxury of deciding to do things a little bit differently. And I consider much of my life to be a privilege, and this is sort of the most amazing part, I guess.
PHIL PONCE: We may be having technical problems right now, but if you can hear me, how do you think this award is going to change your life?
JODY WILLIAMS: I don't think it's going to change my life. I think it will add new momentum. It will re-energize all of the people working to ban land mines. It will help us make this beautiful treaty, which right now is just beautiful words on paper, legally binding. It will help us make countries, ratify the treaty as soon as possible, so it enters into force, so they destroy their stockpiles, and the world really does change.
PHIL PONCE: Jody Williams, again, congratulations. I thank you, and I apologize for the technical problems.