Nobel Laureate Speaks on Landmines



Speaking with passion and conviction, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jody Williams spoke to the Colgate community about her work to ban landmines and encouraged people to become involved with issues they care about in the world.On Wednesday afternoon the Colgate Chapel was full of students and faculty eager to listen to this first installment of the Center for Ethics and World Societies’ yearlong discussion entitled Weapons and War. Williams’ lecture focused on the genesis and fulfillment of the successful campaign for a treaty banning anti-personnel landmines.An activist, teacher and writer, Williams turned her focus to landmines as the Cold War came to a conclusion. She described this period as a time of hope when people believed there was no longer a need to worry about the incredibly destructive power of nuclear weapons. “I think that when we started the landmine campaign, it was a moment when people thought the world might be different,” Williams said. “Some people thought we could turn our mind to other weapons.”Providing examples of the far reaching and devastating effects of landmines on civilians, like death and maiming, Williams shared stories of landmine victims whom she has encountered in her work. There are countries in the world that have to live with the daily threat of landmines, such as Cambodia where 50 percent of the national territory is covered with landmines and Afghanistan where 27 provinces have landmines. It was these compelling statistics and stories, Williams said, that convinced her she had to do something. “It’s absolutely mind boggling, amazing that people have to live like that,” Williams said. “If we could make the lives of people better whom we don’t even see, how awesome is that?”Williams, working with a Vietnam veterans group and Human Rights Watch, decided to politically deal with the problem of landmines. She explained the difference between a landmine and a gun as a weapon of war. With a gun a human being makes the decision to use it, while with the landmine there is no person who determines its detonation. “It [a landmine] sits and waits for decades and decades until it blows up and takes a victim,” Williams said. “It can kill and maim the great grandchildren of those who laid them.”A weapon of this nature, Williams explained, violates a law of war which is that the utility of a weapon should be greater than its impact on civilians. Since a landmine’s greatest impact is on civilians and not enemy combatants, its illegality is clear.Taking this reasoning as a foundation, Williams described she formed the International Campaign to Ban Landmines in November 1991. Over the next five years, she led this group in its goal to create an anti-landmine treaty.In the fall of 1997, they were successful. The Mine Ban treaty was signed by 102 nations in September of 1997. This treaty banned the use of landmines along with requiring ratifying countries to destroy stockpiles and remove any existing landmines. “In the space of five years, we were able to bring together government, armies and people like me in a common cause to sign this international treaty,” Williams said.Shortly after this success, Williams found out that she had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her world. The day after the completion of the treaty negotiations, she flew to Norway to receive and celebrate the prize. She said, “It was an amazing fall that I will never have ever again.”Williams described the continuing efforts for this cause. They have gotten more countries to join the treaty, while also making sure participating countries are meeting their obligations. Williams encouraged people to think about what they can do to change and improve the world. She stressed that such change does not necessarily take billions of dollars as the campaign did, and that even the smallest contribution makes a difference. “Change can happen if you care,” Williams said. “Change doesn’t take a wad of money but it takes a desire to leave the world a little bit better than you found it.”One impression Williams wanted to leave on the Colgate community was that there are ways to give back and improve the world. She stated that emotion without action is irrelevant. “If I am silent, I am giving my consent to something I don’t agree with.” Williams was confident in her philosophy that caring about something and taking action makes the world be a little bit better.