Friday, March 02, 2007

The anti-landmine campaign and its legacy

Almost ten years ago, the international treaty to ban landmines was signed in Ottawa, presumably because of the leadership shown on the issue by Canada's then-foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy.

While Axworthy provided the impetus on the governmental level, the movement was really headed by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. The ICBL is a coalition of over 1400 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) cooperating on this issue. The ICBL and its then-coordinator Jody Williams were awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Voice of America has a brief piece on how successful the treaty has been. Though it notes that most of the world's top military powers have refused to sign the treaty including the United States, China, Pakistan, India, Russia and most countries in the Middle East.

While the failure of the US to adhere to these basic standards of making warfare slightly less savage is a disappointment, the ICBL's legacy has been enormous. The international development agenda was once dominated by governments, some anti-democratic, others in hoc to financial and commercial interests. Essentially, few entities existed to look at development from an unbiased perspective, with the interest of the ordinary masses of people in mind.

The ICBL was really the first time I'm aware of that NGOs were able to wage a huge advocacy campaign that ultimately resulted in the adoption of a major international treaty. This, along with the 'blood diamonds' campaign that followed shortly thereafter, have essentially become the template for NGOs can have an impact on the international agenda.

NGO power still pales in comparison to the obscene influence of multinational behemoths. Big corporations have plenty of money to grease the skids, while NGOs only have moral authority. But at least there's now a way by which the agenda of ordinary people can actually be heard... and once in a while even advances.

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