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Williams strives to rid world of landmines
Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, was the keynote speaker at the Albert Schweitzer Institute conference entitled: “A World of Possibilities: Empowering People with Disabilities” last Friday.
David Ives, executive director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute, talked about how people like Jody Williams are dedicated to following Schweitzer’s philosophy of “reverence for life.”
“Emotion without action is irrelevant,” began Williams, quoting fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Betty Williams. She explained how living through the Vietnam War as a college student triggered her desire to become an activist.
“It made me think about rights and responsibilities to create the world we want to live in,” Williams said.
Williams started her landmine campaign in late 1991. She spent time after college in Central America where she saw the effects landmines had on the civilians of the country.
“I didn’t pick landmines, the issue picked me,” Williams said. “I saw the devastating and crippling effects of landmines, especially on women and children. A country littered with thousands of landmines does not have peace.”
The campaign began with two organizations, one in America and the other in Germany. “I was a staff of one, but since we had help from organizations in two different countries, we could call ourselves ‘international,'” she said. The landmine campaign also received assistance from Human Rights Watch, UNICEF and various churches.
The original mission of the campaign was to ban and clear antipersonnel mines. Williams explained how after a landmine is put into the ground it will wait quietly for up to 100 years until someone activates it. She told a story of a man who lost a leg after stepping on a landmine and after some investigation, the man realized that it was his own father, a former military soldier who planted the landmine many years ago. It is personal stories such as that that Williams said were the most crucial part to her campaign.
“One of the most important elements of our campaign has been the landmine survivors themselves,” Williams said. She also said that there is a new landmine victim every 20 minutes.
Williams met with government representatives to convince them that this was a righteous cause which needed support.
The main goal of the treaty was to ban the weapons themselves. The campaign also strived to get all of the mines out of the ground with 80 countries destroying over 30 million mines. Most of the countries affected by landmines are the poorest in the world and could not remove the mines without international assistance.
“I work everyday to enhance our human rights,” Williams said. “An educated public is the most important element of a democracy. An ignorant population can be easily manipulated.”
With petitions from countries such as Afghanistan, Cambodia and Nicaragua, Williams turned what the Nobel Peace Prize committee called a ‘utopia dream into virtual reality.’
Despite her success, Williams knows that the work is not done. “Negotiating a treaty is only one part of the solution,” she said. “The most important part is its implementation.” Her primary focus in the next five years is to help better the lives of all of the disabled in the world.
Williams is presently the spokesperson for the campaign and is writing three books.
Williams also explained jokingly how having a Nobel Peace Prize is somewhat of a burden.
“Jet setting for social change is hard work. Before I won [the Nobel Prize], no one cared about what I said. Now everything I say is a pearl of wisdom,” she said with a laugh. “But it’s not about I, I, and me, me; it’s about what we have done to make the world a better place.”