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Banner: First Among EqualsJoseph Jacques Jean Chrétien banner

Speech at the Treaty-Signing Conference for the Global Ban on Anti-Personnel Landmines, Ottawa, December 3, 1997


Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have come together today to bring an end to the landmine epidemic. The sting of death that remains long after the guns grow quiet, long after the battles are over.

At international conferences, there is always a great deal of talk and debate. But the most powerful voices here in Ottawa will not be the ones inside this conference site. They will be the cries of the victims of landmines-from the ricefields of Cambodia, to the suburbs of Kabul; from the mountainsides of Sarajevo to the plains of Mozambique. A chorus of millions of voices, pleading with the world, demanding the elimination of anti-personnel landmines.

I welcome you to an historic occasion. For the first time, the majority of the nations of the world will agree to ban a weapon which has been in military use by almost every country in the world. For the first time, a global partnership of governments, international institutions and non-governmental groups has come together-with remarkable speed and spirit-to draft the treaty we will sign today. For the first time, those who fear to walk in their fields, those who cannot till their lands, those who cannot return to their own homes-all because of landmines-once again can begin to hope.

For all of them, for all of us, this is a day we will never forget.

The work of many nations, groups and individuals has brought us to this moment. The International Committee of the Red Cross, whose surgeons have seen too many bodies shattered by landmines, offered early leadership. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines drove the cause with their enthusiasm and commitment. The late Princess of Wales seized the attention of the world when she exposed the human cost of landmines. And Secretary-General Kofi Annan showed courageous leadership. He recognized that the Ottawa process embodied a solemn commitment made by 156 UN members in 1996. A pledge to "pursue vigorously an effective, legally-binding international agreement to ban the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines."

At the first G-7 Summit I attended as Prime Minister, in Naples in 1994, I raised the Canadian concern over the landmine epidemic. In 1995, our foreign minister, André Ouellet committed Canada to the cause of banning landmines. And in 1996, Lloyd Axworthy brought new energy, commitment and new urgency to world action. He convened a conference in Ottawa because we were not satisfied with what had been done to end the extermination in slow motion caused by landmines.

We knew that it was not good enough to end the landmine epidemic at some distant future date. Not with a hundred million mines planted all over the world. Not with thousands of innocent civilians-men, women and children-dying every year. We knew we had to act. And we did.

At the end of that October conference, on behalf of Canada, Lloyd Axworthy challenged the world to return here just fourteen months later to sign a treaty banning the use, transfer, production and stockpiling of anti-personnel landmines. His challenge marked a breakthrough. A breakthrough that has led directly to this historic moment. Back then, we believed if only a handful of countries came to sign, it would be an achievement. Today and tomorrow, more than 100 countries will sign this treaty. I want to say to Lloyd-your government is proud of you and your country is proud of you.

Like all of you here today, I have so many memories of the land mine campaign. Just last month-as every year-we honoured our war dead at the Cenotaph, just metres from this building. Standing there, I realized that, within weeks, we would be banning a weapon that has killed and maimed Canadian soldiers since the First World War.

I will never forget my discussions with prime ministers and presidents as they grappled with the consequences of signing this treaty, and my delight when they said that their governments would be in Ottawa in December. Of course, not all will be here, but even in the case of many who are absent, there is a new commitment to ban exports and end production. A commitment that would not be there if this conference were not taking place.

I give you my commitment that Canada will continue to work to persuade those who are not here to sign. We must always recognize that this treaty is open to all but can be hostage to none.

Canada, my country, has never had landmine killing fields. But in this century Canadian soldiers and peacekeepers have walked and died in those fields. As Secretary General Annan knows so well, over 200 UN peacekeepers have died as landmine victims.

In June 1994 Master Corporal Mark Ifield, a Canadian peacekeeper in Croatia, was killed by a landmine. We honour those peacekeepers today as we remember all who have fallen victims of this horrible weapon.

And we listen to those who still fear like Admir Mujkic, a grade 12 student, in East Tuzla in Bosnia. In an essay, he told us his dream and his fear:

I want to run through fields with my girlfriend. I want to pick the first violet for her, and to climb the trees in the forest... Should all my life be permanently marked with the word "mine"?

No Admir, it should not. Let us say to all the children of the world that you will walk again through the fields, and climb the trees in the forests, in a world free from mines.

And let us swear to those hundreds of thousands who have been of murdered by landmines that we will not turn back. To the children whose very futures were stolen from them; to the families that were destroyed; to those who have lost limbs, who have lost lives: this slaughter must end. It will end. And that ending begins here-in Ottawa.

We will leave Ottawa proud of what we have done but very conscious of what is left to do. There are still many nations which must join us. There are still hundreds of thousands of victims to help. There are still tens of millions of mines to clear.

Certainly the commitment of the Government of Canada does not end with hosting this conference. I am proud to say that, by unanimous consent, both houses of our Parliament have ratified the treaty, and it has been proclaimed as law, making Canada the first nation in the world to ratify this historic convention.

On behalf of our government, I am also proud to announce today the establishment of a $100 million fund to implement this treaty. This means bringing it to life; making it truly global; clearing the mines; helping the victims. Both with immediate medical care and long-term help rebuilding their lives.

I know other countries are making similar contributions. I call on all countries to put forward the resources needed to rid the world of these buried killing machines-once and for all.

Jody Williams soon will go to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Forty years ago, a Canadian made the same journey. In bestowing the prize on Lester Pearson, the Nobel Academy said: "No matter how dark the outcome for the world may be, Lester Pearson is no pessimist. His efforts would not have been possible unless he had been supported by a strong faith in the final victory of the good forces of life."

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, we still have much work to do, but I am no pessimist. And obviously, neither are any of you. Today is a triumph for Jody Williams; for Lloyd Axworthy; for Secretary General Annan; for all the many others who deserve our thanks. But to borrow those words of forty years ago in Oslo, it is the triumph of something else, something even bigger: It is the triumph of the forces of good in life.

Today, in Ottawa, let us celebrate that triumph. And let us commit here and now to even greater triumphs ahead.


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Source: Office of the Prime Minister. Web site: http://pm.gc.ca. Downloaded January 29, 2001.

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