Diplomatic Surprise Still Saving Lives 25 Years Later

A Canadian initiative has been saving lives every day for the past 25 years but most Canadians have no idea.

After many years of failed efforts at the international level to adequately address the global landmine crisis, Canada agreed to host a conference in October 1996 to try to make progress on reducing the harm caused by these indiscriminate weapons. The year before formal talks in Geneva failed frustrating many countries, the ICRC, UN agencies and the three-year old International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

Usually at such international gatherings much is agreed before the meeting takes place, but at the Ottawa Conference then Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy shocked the world by ending the meeting with a challenge to come back to Ottawa in a year to sign a treaty banning the indiscriminate weapons.

Though most in attendance were greatly surprised, the meeting resulted in renewed energy with efforts around the world. On December 3, 1997 over half the world came to Ottawa to sign a newly negotiated treaty banning landmines.

Now 164 countries belong to the Ottawa Treaty also known as the Mine Ban Treaty which prohibits the use, production and stockpiling of anti-personnel landmines and requires states to clear landmine affected areas and assist victims.

To say the Ottawa Treaty saves lives every day is an understatement.

The past two decades have shown that when the treaty is implemented with ambition and support amazing things can happen. Before the treaty, there were an estimated 20,000 landmine casualties a year; in 2020, the Landmine Monitor reported 7,073. Annual casualties are still far too high but clearly the treaty is working.

Thirty-three countries have cleared all the landmines from their territories ensuring everyone can walk and play safely. In 1997 Mozambique estimated that it would take 100 years to clear all of the landmines in the country, today Mozambique is a global success story, free from the threat of landmines.

More than 55 million landmines have been destroyed from stockpiles with millions more cleared from contaminated land.

A global problem we can solve

There are still too many casualties, too much land needs to be cleared of landmines and far too many survivors, who were victimized by the weapon, need support to rebuild their lives, restore their livelihoods and reaffirm their rights.  

For those still living in affected communities the Ottawa Treaty means hope for sustainable development and for a safer future. We know what needs to be done.

  • Stop the use and production of mines.
  • Destroy stockpiled mines so they can never be used.
  • Clear mine areas.
  • Assist the victims so they can rebuild productive lives in their communities.

All the international community needs is political will and reliable, multi-year funding. Increasing Canada’s funding to these areas of work known as “mine action” to a dollar per Canadian per year would have a huge impact on countries around the world. Investing in mine action will benefit Canadians and the affected communities.

Mines Action Canada was at that 1996 conference and we helped celebrate the treaty signing in 1997 in Ottawa. Today we commemorate that day in December 1997 and recommit ourselves to finish the job.