POV: There are so many issues in the world, why did you choose to work on landmines?
Jody Williams: 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 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.
POV: Why landmines? Don’t all weapons kill people?
Jody Williams: Landmines are different from other conventional weapons. When a war is over, the landmines stay in the ground and continue to kill — for decades. Guns go home with the soldiers, but landmines are designed to kill — mindlessly, out of control, for years. And obviously, if a war has been over for years, the people the landmines are killing are all innocent civilians. Even during wars, landmines cannot tell the difference between a soldier and a civilian. They are indiscriminate — and that is one of the reasons we believed they were already illegal weapons under international law.
For me personally, as soon as I thought about how landmines work, the issue was a “no-brainer.” It is so easy to understand why landmines are different from other conventional weapons — once you think about it. But even soldiers from the Vietnam War had said that when they were fighting in that war, the landmine was just one of any number of weapons to use in the fighting. It wasn’t until they began to think about the aftermath and the legacy of landmines that they recognized the long-term, indiscriminate impact of the weapon.
One of the things about the landmine campaign that fascinated me immediately was that if you simply wanted to work on the humanitarian aspect of the landmine problem and keep it narrowly focused, you could do that. But you could also use the issue as a prism through which to talk about larger issues of the laws of war and the means and methods of warfare. It captured my imagination!
POV: What challenges did you face in the beginning? How did you overcome them?
Jody Williams: I think the biggest challenge 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. After all, landmines are a conventional weapon that have been used by almost all the fighting forces of the world in one form or another for about a century. No conventional weapon in widespread use had ever been comprehensively banned before. But we believed what we were doing was right and no matter what the outcome we would build the movement, build public awareness so that citizens everywhere (civil society) would tell their governments to get rid of the weapon. And it worked!
POV: Did you ever think you would win the Nobel Peace Prize?
Jody Williams: It is not something we ever thought about in the ICBL. We started this campaign to get rid of a weapon that continues to kill people all over the world long after the wars are over. We had no idea where the campaign would lead, but we knew we could do something to make the lives of mine victims better and that was what motivated us then and motivates us today. The real “prize” for us in the Campaign is the Mine Ban Treaty — which provides the world a framework to ultimately eliminate this indiscriminate killer of men, women and children.
POV: Why are you still working on landmines? Didn’t the 1997 Landmine Treaty solve the problem?
Jody Williams: We are still working on landmines because the Mine Ban Treaty just lays the groundwork for the next steps in our movement to eliminate landmines. Until all countries are party to the treaty and everyone obeys it — that means all the mines are destroyed, victims are taken care of — our work is not finished.
When a country signs the treaty, it is just the first step. Then they must ratify the treaty and obey the various provisions of the treaty, such as stopping production, trade and use of the weapon; destroying their stockpiles of landmines; taking mines out of the ground; helping provide support for mine survivors. Change doesn’t happen overnight.
The Mine Ban Treaty is part of international law. We must make sure that countries obey this treaty to help strengthen all international law.
To find out more about landmines and what you can do to help, go to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
Jody Williams was the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). In that capacity, she oversaw the growth of the ICBL to more than 1,300 NGOs in over eighty-five countries and served as the chief strategist and spokesperson for the campaign. Working in an unprecedented cooperative effort with governments, UN bodies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the ICBL achieved its goal of an international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines during the diplomatic conference held in Oslo in September 1997. Ms. Williams now serves as Campaign Ambassador for the ICBL, speaking on its behalf all over the world.
She has written and spoken extensively on the problem of landmines and the movement to ban them. She has spoken in various fora, including at the United Nations, the European Parliament, and the Organization of African Unity. Ms. Williams co-authored a seminal study, based on two years of field research in four mine-affected countries, detailing the socio-economic consequences of landmine contamination. She has written articles for journals produced by the United Nations and the ICRC, among others. (See Articles and Statements.)