Williams College recently announced Nobel Laureate Jody Williams as the speaker at the Class of 1998’s Baccalaureate Service, an ecumenical religious service, June 6.
Williams, a native and resident of Brattleboro, Vermont, is the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
Along with the ICBL, founded in 1991, she was awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for iniating talks that led 121 countries to sign the Ottawa Treaty in December 1997. The Ottawa Treaty, writes News Director Jo Procter, is “aimed at stopping the production, deployment, stockpiling and sale of antipersonnel land mines.”
According to Procter, Williams first became involved in the anti-landmine movement while working as an international activist. After graduating from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Williams worked for 11 years on issues related to the United States’ policy towards Latin America.
She headed the Nicaragua-Honduras Education Project, after which she became the associate director of the Los Angeles based Medical Aid to El Salvador. It was during her many trips to Central America that Williams said she saw up-close the terrible damage that landmines can cause to civilians.
Motivated by such experiences Williams dedicated herself to the banning of landmines. The signing of the Ottawa Treaty marked the culmination of her efforts.
“The treaty is historic,” writes Procter, “not only in its intent, but because never before has a group of small, non-governmental organizations so successfully pressured the world-wide community to enact a global ban so quickly.”
Williams addressed that very issue at the signing of the Ottawa Treaty. She emphasized that the power to bring about change lies in many voices speaking out.
“Together we are a superpower,” she said. “It’s a new definition of superpower. It is not one, it’s everybody.”
According to United Nations estimates landmines kill or maim approximately 26,000 people, mostly civilians, a year. There are believed to be about 100 million land mines currently deployed around the world.
The campaign toward a ban on anti-personnel mines became more widely known with the death of Princess Diana, the cause’s most visible supporter, on Aug. 31.
In her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Williams decried the undiscriminating and lasting nature of land mines.
“Once sown, [landmines] cannot tell the difference between a soldier or a civilian. The landmine is eternally prepared to take victims. In common parlance, it is the perfect soldier, the ‘eternal sentry.’ The war ends, the landmine goes on killing.”
The Nobel Committee said their decision was made in order to recognize that Williams and ICBL had started a process which in just six years had transformed efforts to ban land mines from a vision to a feasible reality.
Williams, however, stepped down as head of the ICBL in February. She cited irreconcilable differences as her reason.
Procter noted, though, that Williams has said “she will continue to lobby governments to support the treaty.”
Like the Class of 1998’s commencement speaker, Yo-Yo Ma, Williams was chosen by the Honorary Degrees Committee and ratified by the Board of Trustees to receive an honorary degree.
“We then agree,” President of the College Harry C. Payne said, “which among them [honorary degree recipients] will be the speakers.”
Payne went on to comment, “As part of the Baccalaureate Service, we ask one of the speakers to offer a set of remarks appropriate to the occasion addressing some moral or spiritual issues. We thought Ms. Williams an excellent example of service in the public sphere.”