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November 30, 2010
WASHINGTON, DC: Fifteen past recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize delivered a letter to fellow Nobel Laureate President Obama Tuesday urging the U.S. to relinquish antipersonnel landmines and join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty without delay.
"As this letter demonstrates once again, the world is calling on the U.S. to join the Mine Ban Treaty," said Zach Hudson, the coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL). "Over the past year, the administration has received letters of support for the Mine Ban Treaty from 68 Senators, countless NGO leaders, key NATO allies, and citizens from around the world. Now 15 Peace Prize recipients are writing their fellow Laureate to ask him to complete the review and join the treaty. It’s time to get on board.”
In the letter, the Laureates emphasize that “United States accession to this important instrument would bring great benefits to the U.S. and the world. It would strengthen U.S. national security, international security, and international humanitarian law. It would help strengthen the fundamental goal of preventing innumerable civilians from falling victim to these indiscriminate weapons in the future, and help ensure adequate care for the hundreds of thousands of existing survivors and their communities. U.S. membership would help spur to action the 39 states that remain outside the treaty.”
The letter was coordinated by Jody Williams, an American who was awarded the prize along with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) largely for their role in bringing about the Mine Ban Treaty. A total of fifteen individual Nobel Peace Laureates signed the letter to President Obama: Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams (1976), Adolfo Pérez Esquivel (1980), Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984), Elie Wiesel (1986), Oscar Arias Sánchez (1987), His Holiness Dalai Lama (1989), Rigoberta Menchú Tum (1992), F.W. De Klerk (1993), José Ramos-Horta (1996), Jody Williams (1997), John Hume (1998), Shirin Ebadi (2003), Wangari Maathai (2004), and Mohamed El Baradei (2005).
“We hope that President Obama, as a fellow Nobel Peace Laureate, will listen to our call to ban landmines and ensure the US takes the necessary steps to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty,” said Jody Williams, now ICBL ambassador and chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative. “Anything less than a total ban on antipersonnel landmines would be a half-measure, falling short of the US leadership that is needed.”
The letter was delivered during the Tenth Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty in Geneva which opened on November 29. This conference takes place one year after the Mine Ban Treaty’s Second Review Conference during which the U.S. delegation announced that the Obama administration would begin a formal review of U.S. landmine policy. The Nobel letter expresses hope that the landmine review, which is still underway, “will be guided by the humanitarian concerns that have already led 156 nations to ban the weapon, including nearly all U.S. military allies.”
The United States began a comprehensive landmine policy review in late 2009 at the direction of President Obama. The U.S. has not used antipersonnel mines since 1991 (in the first Gulf War), has not exported them since 1992, has not produced them since 1997 and is the biggest donor to mine clearance programs around the world. However, it still retains millions of stockpiled antipersonnel mines for potential future use and has not yet joined the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.
Several Nobel Peace laureates have long expressed concern at the humanitarian impact of antipersonnel mines and have worked for their eradication:
- The NGO founded by Adolfo Pérez Esquivel (1980), Servicio Paz y Justicia (SERPAJ), has worked to ensure that the Mine Ban Treaty is ratified and implemented throughout Latin America.
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984) publicly endorsed the call for a ban on antipersonnel mines in March 1995, when he was president of the All Africa Conference of Churches. Tutu opened a regional conference on landmines held in South Africa in May 1997 that proved instrumental in building African-wide support for the creation of a strong treaty to ban antipersonnel mines.
- His Holiness Dalai Lama (1989) endorsed the call for a total ban on landmines in 1995 at the urging of the Supreme Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism, Maha Ghosananda, and Cambodian landmine survivors.
- Rigoberta Menchú Tum (1992), Betty Williams and Mairead Maguire (1976), and the three other founders (Williams, Ebadi, and Maathai) of the Nobel Women's Initiative, established in 2004, have actively supported the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Activities have included statements to annual meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty, media work, and outreach to governments that have not yet joined.
- José Ramos-Horta (1996) spoke out against landmines and other weapons designed to inflict pain and death in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. When he became the Timor-Leste’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs, the government acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty, making it the first disarmament treaty that the new country joined after independence.
- Jody Williams (1997) was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her leadership role as founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). Williams spearheaded the civil society-based campaign that cooperated with a group of small and medium-sized countries through the “Ottawa Process” to create the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.
- Shirin Ebadi (2003) launched the “Mine Clearing Collaboration Campaign” in 2004 to demand that Iran take greater action to clear mines laid during the Iran-Iraq war, assist mine victims, and join the Mine Ban Treaty.
- Wangari Maathai (2004) participated in several events at the First Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty, held in Nairobi, Kenya in November-December 2004.