Twenty years ago today Canada’s then foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy issued a surprise challenge at an international conference in Ottawa. Minister Axworthy’s challenge led to an intense and unique diplomatic process that resulted in a ground-breaking treaty banning landmines.
The challenge was issued during the closing session of a three day conference on mine action held at the old downtown railway station in Ottawa that had been converted into a government conference centre. The conference was forward looking and didn’t focus on past failures to effectively address the global landmines crisis. It attracted representatives from 75 countries, international organizations and civil society. Few in attendance expected a consensus on a new treaty to emerge let alone Axworthy’s call for a treaty to ban landmines.
However, many accepted the surprise and unusual challenge and a very vigorous effort began to bring governments together to negotiate a new ban treaty. Canada and a small group of like-mined countries (such as Austria, Belgium, Mexico, Norway, South Africa) led the diplomatic efforts with the International Committee of the Red Cross and United Nations agencies adding their expertise while civil society under the leadership of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) brought the voices of affected communities and landmine survivors into the negotiations. It was an accelerated and inclusive effort that worked. That effort became known as the Ottawa Process and has been widely studied as a new form of international relations.
On December 3, 1997 more than 120 states came to Ottawa to sign the resulting treaty that combined humanitarian and disarmament components into a comprehensive ban on landmines. The treaty signing happened a little less than 14 months after Lloyd Axworthy issued his challenge. Commonly known as the Ottawa Convention or Mine Ban Treaty it has been very successful to date. It is humbling to think of the results of that surprise announcement in a converted train station in our national capital 20 years ago today: countless lives and limbs have been saved, survivors around the world have access to services to live their lives in dignity and thousands of square kilometres of land has been cleared of mines.
Mines Action Canada was at that conference 20 years ago and we are still here working to ensure the Ottawa Treaty achieves its ultimate goal of a landmine free world. We hope you will join us in commemorating this significant event and the remarkable achievements that have resulted from it.
Over the next 20 days on our website and Facebook page, through social media on our Twitter and Instagram accounts and via emails, we’ll periodically share our thoughts on why this was such an important moment in time. We hope you will find it interesting and informative, maybe even inspirational
We were there 20 years ago, we’re here now and we want to finish the job. To do that we’ll need your help.
During this 20 day period we’re hoping at least 20 new donors will join us. Will one of them be you?
If you have supported us in the past perhaps you’d like to make a one-time contribution of $20.00 or more to mark this 20th anniversary.
The promise of a mine-free world began with a surprise on October 5, 1996. After 20 years of hard work we have never been closer to a world without landmines. Let’s make it a reality.