[Landmine Abolition] Day 1: Landmine Treaty Conference - Ottawa, Canada [Peaceweb Home Page]

History being made as 155 countries expected in Ottawa

Conference logo (English version) and Jody Williams at briefing Dec. 1
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by Carl Stieren

Ottawa, Dec. 1, 1997 - live from the Landmines Conference

Being present at the first day of this conference, I had a feeling that I had only had a few times before. One time was at the Sheep Meadow in Central Park, New York City, in April, 1975, at a rally where Judy Collins sang at a mass celebration of the end of the Vietnam War. Another time was when I marched along with a million others at the rally for disarmament beside the United Nations in New York City in 1982 at the UN Second Special Session on Disarmament. The third time was when I stood on a part of the Berlin Wall in March of 1990 after the wall had been pierced but before East Germany became part of the Federal Republic of Germany. History is being made here as more than 100 countries gather for their signing, on December 3, of the international treaty to ban landmines.

In what used to be the train station where thousands of Canadian soldiers left to fight in World War II, dozens of journalists from around the world jammed into the briefing room shortly after noon to hear a woman of peace and her colleagues. That woman was Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her work organizing the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. She had just been welcomed to Ottawa by Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy. Then the two of them, joined by Belgium's foreign minister Erik Derycke, welcomed the team arriving on the Ban Bus. The bus had started in Berkeley, California on October 23, and crossed the United States, stopping in cities along the way to New York City before reaching its first Canadian city - Montreal. In each city, the team held meetings and showed slides and displays of the destruction caused by mines and the growing international support for a ban. The Ban Bus was organized by the US Campaign to Ban Landmines and members of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines including Handicap International, Norwegian People's Aid, Save the Children USA and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation.

The first item of business was a celebration. Champaigne corks popped and the group celebrated the fact that more than 100 of the 155 nations attending the conference would be signing the treaty to ban landmines.

At the press conference, Jody Williams was asked if the US should receive a reprimand for deciding not to sign the treaty.

"I don't think the U.S. should be singled out," she said, "there are a lot of other countries which haven't agreed to sign yet."

The room packed with journalists, victims of landmines, and Canadian diplomats, including Bob Lawson (whose article on landmines is reprinted here in Peaceweb, courtesy of Bob and of the Peace and Environment Resource Centre in Ottawa). One of the members of the Ban Bus crew, Mette Eliseussen, works with Save the Children USA and another, Michael Hands, is a former British soldier who had worked with landmines and who now works with Norwegian Peoples' Aid, one of the largest members of the NGO movement supporting the ban.

As I stood in line afterward to get my media credentials (thank you Canada, for not saying "May I see your papers, please?" on the first day of the conference!), journalists from Italy, Bolivia and Canada were also waiting beside me. The facilities for journalists (no, not free food!) from editing suites for radio and TV reporters to a half dozen computers with Web access, were substantial. Everywhere there were staff members to help reporters. The Government of Canada did not scrimp on this conference.

Clutching the floppy nylon briefcase in black with gold lettering saying "A Global Ban on Landmines /L'interdiction complète des mines terrestres" (a keepsake I shall treasure), I ran down to the media work room on the ground level of the Congress Centre to join the media briefing tour. This was one of six tours for the media. On this tour, the badges of my colleagues showed there were journalists from Japan (Asahi Shimbun), Bolivia (New Economy), USA (Baltimore Sun), Italy (Christian Family) and Canada (Canadian Legion Magazine, Anglican Herald).

At 3 p.m. I attended a the not-for-attribution briefing, high-level sources from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs said that between 105 and 110 countries were expected to sign the treaty on December 3.

"Our first estimates were in the 40 to 70 range, so anything over 100 is a real victory for us," the source said.

The source was asked if any new countries had announced that they would sign the treaty.

"Today, Venezuela announced it would be signing, and the Vatican City announce it would sign - but we have known its intentions for quite some time," the source said.

Sitting in front of me was Philip C. Winslow, representing the Baltimore Sun. Winslow, who just wrote a book on landmines called Sowing the Dragon's Teeth, was chatting with me and a young woman representing, astonishingly, something called Inside the Pentagon.

The conference will be more than just a signing ceremony. The Canadian government has organized more than 20 "round tables" on the removal of landmines, assistance to the victims of landmines, and other action items.

"For what we're calling Ottawa II, we're focussing on demining, victims assistance, and encouraging other countries to sign," the source said.

I rushed breathlessly into the office (I had taken part of a day off, to make up later in the week), told my project leader what I had been up to and told him I had registered as media at the conference. "Cool!" was his comment. And when I asked if I could take off Wednesday as a vacation day to report on the signing of the treaty, he said, "Of course." Thank you, o great software company in Silicon Valley North!

Carl Stieren, a member of the Ottawa Quaker Meeting, has been Web Co-ordinator of Peaceweb since it went on the World Wide Web on April 17, 1995.

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Revised December 2, 1997, by C.S.