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Alum shares in landmine treaty victory and Nobel Peace Prize

B Y   R E B E C C A   L A R S O N   ' 7 5 ,   S T E E R I N G   C O M M I T T E E   C H A I R ,   I N T E R N A T I O N A L   C O M M I T T E E   T O   B A N   L A N D M I N E S

Rebecca Larson '75 (left) and 1997 Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams are excited that their work to ban landmines is now receiving worldwide attention.

On Dec. 10, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and to its coordinator, Jody Williams. Attending the awards ceremony in Oslo, Norway, on behalf of the ICBL was Rebecca Larson '75. Larson works with the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva, where her responsibilities include coordinating the involvement of Lutheran churches around the world in the ICBL. For the past four years, she has chaired the steering committee of the ICBL and helped shape the strategy of the campaign, which led to an historic international treaty to ban landmines, signed in Ottawa, Canada, in December 1997.
      Larson offers this firsthand account of the treaty signing and Nobel Peace Prize events.

It is not an understatement to say that the Ottawa treaty signing was history in the making. It simply has never happened that 122 countries (the United States was not among them) have signed a treaty to ban a weapon in current use -- an agreement that took less than a year to negotiate.
      Over the last year, Canada, the ICBL and many other countries have worked in close cooperation around the world and around the clock to get countries to commit to the ban. In the end, 122 countries agreed to end the production, trade, use and stockpiling of antipersonnel landmines.
     
The treaty to ban landmines
In December 1997, 122 nations - not including the United States and some other major world powers - gathered in Ottawa, Canada, to sign a treaty banning landmines:
  • The treaty goes into effect six months after 40 countries fully ratify the agreement (expected to take one to two years.)
  • Once effective, signers have four years to destroy landmine stockpiles and 10 years to remove all landmines planted within their borders.
  • The United Nations secretary-general will have much of the responsibility for ensuring compliance with the treaty.
Experts estimate more than 100 million landmines remain scattered around the world.

Source: The News Tribune

There is no convincing military utility for landmines due to the indiscriminate nature of their effects. After soldiers leave the battlefield, landmines stay in the ground and target civilians, mostly women and children.
      The Ottawa conference was remarkable in that nations were there because they wanted to be. There really was the sense that "We are doing something good here, good for this planet and for the children to come." It was a rare taste of what can happen when middle powers work together toward a common goal with all who want to cooperate: school kids, nongovernmental organizations, governments, media and even princesses.
      The "Ottawa process" came to represent a new way of conducting international diplomacy in the post-Cold War era, and many are watching it closely as a pragmatic model for achieving specific political goals outside of rigid ideological frameworks.
      The question still pressing is, of course, about the role of China, the United States, Russia and other countries that have not signed the treaty. Obviously, the treaty would be stronger if these countries were part of it. But what has been most interesting in this process is that the rest of the world was not willing to wait for all countries to agree in order to move ahead on this critical issue.

Receiving the Peace Prize
It took Oslo and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to make those of us involved in the campaign really stop and celebrate. Jody Williams was there, of course, as the Nobel laureate for half of the prize, as well as about 20 people from the ICBL for the other half.
      The official Nobel Peace Prize ceremony was held with impressive pomp and circumstance in the Oslo town hall. The procession was led by His Majesty King Harald of Norway and the members of the Nobel committee. The Nobel laureate representatives included the two people who would be receiving the prize on behalf of the campaign: Tun Channereth, a Cambodian amputee campaigner, and Rae McGrath, a British de-miner. Together with Jody Williams, they represented the three platforms of the campaign: political, victim assistance and de-mining.
      The ceremony began with comments by the chair of the Nobel Committee, who noted an interesting irony: that Alfred Nobel, the person who invented dynamite, would create a peace prize that one day would be given to those working to ban a dynamite-based weapon.
      After speeches by Williams and McGrath, the audience clapped and cheered, probably more enthusiastically than do most Nobel audiences. The evening torchlight parade through the winter streets of Oslo reflected the widely held mood of support for this year's Peace Prize cause.
      Other events included a formal banquet, and a concert and tribute in the Oslo Grand Theatre, with a lineup of rock stars to make my 16-year-old daughter envious: Boyz II Men, Mariah Carey, Jewel, Sinead O'Connor and Emmylou Harris. Each played their own part but none took the spotlight. That was given to Jody Williams and a representative of the campaign from the Vietnam Veterans Foundation of America, one of the organizations that has strongly supported the campaign. Between the artists were videos of other Nobel laureates and a tribute to Princess Diana.

What now?
Many people ask the question, "What now?" Within the ICBL, the answer is that now the work begins. A treaty now exists establishing an international norm of illegality. A lot of work must be done to make this treaty effective until the final goal of ridding the world of all landmines and making a planet in which all children can walk and play without fear is accomplished.

A Canada native, Larson earned a master's in religion and culture from Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada; an M.Div. from Waterloo Theological Seminary; and a Ph.D. in development education from the University of Calgary. Her doctorate focused on how to educate churches for political involvement in issues relating to international development. Larson was ordained in 1981 as a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. She lives in Geneva, Switzerland, with her husband, Stephen '71. They have two daughters, Katie, 19, and Sarah, 16.

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