Africa through new lenses

This week’s guest writer is Patrick Handrigan. Patrick is a grade 12 student at O’Donel High School in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland where he is active in a wide range of social justice initiatives.

Last summer I had the amazing opportunity to become a better global citizen.

I joined three other  Atlantic Canadian youth, plus five Alberta students, in a three-week youth learning tour to Uganda with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), in cooperation with the Alberta and Atlantic Councils for International Cooperation. The tour was called ACT 4 Global Change. While in Uganda, we visited MCC partners who are working to bring about positive change through peaceful initiatives.

During one of our final group debrief activities, we were asked to relate something we saw, felt, or heard on the trip to a symbol on a die. The pair of glasses that I rolled became a symbol that represented my new vision of Africa.

Uganda group

The group of Canadian students who visited Uganda. Photo credit Leah Attarh

Many Canadians believe that the African continent is the nucleus of poverty, famine, political unrest and conflict. My own closed-minded views of Uganda and its people concerned me and added an element of unease to my travels. The continuous media images of a violent region had me believing that I was going to land in a -plagued zone. But I was wrong. On landing in Uganda, I was greeted with smiles, open arms, and a genuine happiness for my visit. I didn’t expect such a warm reception 10,000 km away from my home in Newfoundland.

After arriving at the Entebbe airport in Uganda, we traveled five hours by bus to Kamuli, a small town in the eastern part of the country. AIDS Education Group for Youth (AEGY) is an organization working within the community to promote the education and the de-stigmatization of HIV/AIDS. They offer support groups, school courses, radio talk shows, and health services to people needing them, with support from MCC.

In our first day in Kamuli, we worked with AEGY to build eco-stoves from clay which allowed for proper kitchen ventilation to reduce the risk of lung-related illnesses of people living with HIV. This unique architectural consideration in a simple family dwelling not only made their homes safe, but gave the community a sense of ownership, pride and self-reliance. Our visit concluded with dancing, singing and lunch with the Namasambya 1 Village Savings and Loans Association, a visit to the Peer Support Clubs at Kasambira High School, and a community game of soccer and netball with teens.

AEGY Stoves (Leah Ettarh)

Students assist in building AEGY eco-stoves. Photo credit Leah Attarh.

The next day, we made a visit to Nakulyako Primary School to observe the RUMPS (Reusable Menstrual Products) club in action. Prior to this program, female students were unable to attend school while on their menstrual cycle, but with support from MCC, this new program evolved. Male classmates fully supported and actively participated in this venture, and understood its importance to a better future for Ugandan women. This is a huge step forward for women’s rights and educational equality in Uganda.

In Kampala, African Leadership and Reconciliation Missions (ALARM) works for  peace between boda-boda (motorcycle) drivers and the local police. At our visit to the police barracks, we learned about peace club initiatives that promote respectful dialogue.

At Mengo Hospital, we met Dr. Edith Namulema, who is responsible for the Counselling and Home Care Clinic and coordinates the peer support group. This group provides medical and counselling services for teens living with HIV. Our team joined the group for a session and connected through eating, dancing, and sharing stories. From the support of MCC, the hospital is expecting the completion of a new clinical wing.

Stella Matutina - Sister Sophia and I (Louise Hanavan)

Patrick Handrigan with Sister Sophia of the Stella Matutina All Girls Secondary School. Photo credit Louise Hanavan.

We were welcomed with open arms at Stella Matutina All Girls Secondary School in Kiryandongo. This school was founded in 2001 during the reign of the Lord’s Resistance Army and provided a safe-haven and an education to girls affected by the war. Under Sister Sophia’s leadership, students performed a comedic spin-off of Cinderella and a somber, more informative play about malaria and its effects on the community. We enjoyed a meal together and spent the afternoon playing volleyball, soccer, racing Sister Sophia in a 100m dash, and teaching the Macarena to the girls–a truly wonderful way to spend my last few days in Uganda.

Our visit to Soroti gave us the opportunity to see a different geographical landscape and the challenges that persist with living within this region. Action for Peace and Development (APED) supports conservation agricultural community initiatives that create jobs and peace within Soroti District. They follow a method of “Farming God’s Way” which teaches them to respect the earth and not destroy its natural beauty. Church of Uganda in the Teso Region (COU-TEDDO) taught us the importance of agriculture in peacekeeping and the impact climate change is having on this region. We celebrated the first rain in many months together.

Youth, as global citizens, are the catalysts for change in today’s world. We have a responsibility to ignite a paradigm shift in how Africa is portrayed in our society. Learning not to judge an entire country or continent by a news headline is a critical way to increase global understanding. Building positive relationships with that country, in turn, will  assist in the country’s educational, economic, political and social development.

Because of my learning experience, I see Uganda – and Africa — through new lenses.

“If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together.” — Kenyan proverb


Ahed Tamimi and all the other Palestinian children in detention

In just a few short weeks, Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi has become a global celebrity of sorts. In mid-December, then 16-year-old Ahed confronted Israeli soldiers outside her home in the village of Nabi Saleh in Israeli-occupied West Bank. A video showing Ahed slapping and kicking the soldiers quickly went viral.

According to witnesses, Ahed was angered by the soldiers’ presence because they had just shot (with a rubber-coated bullet at close range) and seriously harmed her cousin. The larger context is that other Tamimi members have been killed and many others detained over the years, as the community of Nabi Saleh—through persistent and unarmed resistance—has said “No” to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and more specifically to the confiscation of the village spring by a nearby Israeli settlement.

Days after the confrontation, Ahed was arrested in a night-time raid. Her mother Nariman—who had also appeared in the video—was also detained when she went to a police station, inquiring where her daughter was being held.

Ahed tamimi

Ahed Tamimi enters a military courtroom escorted by Israeli authorities at Ofer Prison, January 1, 2018.  Photo Ammar Awad, Reuters

Ahed now faces a total of 12 charges, including assault, incitement and throwing stones. She could potentially be imprisoned for ten years.  The first hearing of her trial took place on February 13; the next one is scheduled for March 11.

Since December, Ahed’s story has been picked up by news media around the world. Amnesty International and Avaaz have taken up her cause, demanding her release. Canada’s own CBC broadcasted a feature story about Ahed, describing her as the “new symbol of Palestinian resistance.” And parliamentarians like Hélène Laverdière, NDP critic for International Development, have spoken out on her behalf.

And yet Ahed’s story is not only about one young person’s resistance to a military occupation that has humiliated her people for decades. It is about the daily reality of Palestinian children who are arrested, interrogated, convicted and detained in a military court process that denies them basic rights. Most of them are accused of throwing stones.

Ahed’s detention provides a glimpse into what hundreds of Palestinian children experience each year.


Jarrah Mesalmeh was arrested at 15 and spent 9 months in military detention. MCC photo/Meghan Mast

As we have previously written about in our blog, each year hundreds of children aged 12 to 18 face military detention in a process that deprives them of basic rights. In three quarters of all cases, children experience some form of violence after arrest. In most cases, arrest happens at night by heavily armed Israeli soldiers. And in most cases, children are interrogated without legal counsel and without access to a parent or guardian. After sentencing, more than half of detainees are transferred from the occupied West Bank to prisons inside Israel, in violation of international law.

Expert organizations like Defence for Children International, Military Court Watch and UNICEF demonstrate that the ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees by Israeli forces is “widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the Israeli military detention system.”

Moreover, they point out that the process is not primarily about seeking justice—in fact, a staggering 99 percent of Palestinians (adults and children) are convicted. The practices of the military detention system work to protect Israeli settlers who live in illegal settlements in the West Bank and to intimidate and suppress a population that resists a 50-year occupation.

In a recent study, Military Court Watch determined that 98 percent of child detention cases occur near Israeli settlements. As Gerard Horton, the organization’s co-founder, puts it, “If the politicians in Israel decide to put 400,000 Israeli civilians into the West Bank and you give the job to the military guaranteeing their protection, then the tactics employed by the military generally include suppressing and intimidating the villagers living next to those settlements.”

The story of Ahed Tamimi provides a window into a much wider reality of oppression. As Brad Parker of Defence for Children International states, “Ahed’s detention and prosecution in Israel’s military court system is not exceptional, but provides a clear example of how Israeli military law and military courts are used to control an occupied Palestinian population.”

Please take action for the hundreds of children like Ahed who are paying the price of this sustained occupation. Join the growing movement of people and organizations who say that military detention is No Way to Treat a Child.

Learn more about Palestinian children in military detention through a story, video and factsheet MCC has produced.

Then sign the petition urging the Canadian federal government to address the situation of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator of the Ottawa Office.

Closing the accountability gap on business and human rights

On January 17th, the federal government unveiled a long-awaited policy reform.


Courtesy of KAIROS Canada.

The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne—Minister of International Trade—announced that Canada will be establishing an independent human rights Ombudsperson to address allegations of abuse by Canadian corporations operating overseas.

For well over a year, rumours have swirled around Ottawa that this announcement was “imminent.” But it wasn’t until two weeks ago that more than a decade of advocacy by civil society groups finally bore fruit.

As an organization that has witnessed the negative impacts of Canadian mining overseas and has heard repeated calls from partners for mechanisms for redress, we at MCC are grateful for this new policy direction.

Called the “Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise,” this position will put the Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor (set up in 2009) out of commission. The Ombudsperson will, at least initially, continue to focus on mining, oil, and gas companies, while also adding the garment industry to the mix.

I doubt that many will be sad to see the CSR Counsellor’s office go. With no political independence (the Trade Minister is, after all, its boss) and no mandate to investigate complaints, make binding recommendations, or require companies to participate in proceedings, this position has been hamstrung by inherent flaws and limitations from the get-go.

Indeed, the CSR Counsellor was, from day one, an inadequate response to long-awaited calls for action.

Dating back to the 2007 National CSR Roundtables, experts from multiple sectors (including industry) have been advising the government to establish an independent human rights Ombudsperson “with teeth” (something other than the voluntary, non-binding, market-based CSR incentives the government usually prefers). Ever since those roundtables, civil society groups have been working hard to keep this “ask” alive-and-kicking on the political agenda.

In recent years, the Open for Justice Campaign—an initiative of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability and MCC partners like KAIROS and the Canadian Council for International Cooperation—has rallied Canadians to push for the establishment of an Ombudsperson as well as for legislated access to Canadian courts (the latter of which also has gained steam thanks to several civil cases winding their way through court on our own soil).

Now, this decade of sustained advocacy finally has paid off.

Touted as the “first of its kind in the world” and part of the government’s “progressive trade agenda,” the newly-announced human rights Ombudsperson—and its promised multi-stakeholder Advisory Body—will provide a fresh start for Canada to take leadership for responsible business conduct abroad.

Last week, MCC joined the voices of Canadian civil society in welcoming the Ombudsperson announcement in a letter to the Trade Minister. “If properly implemented,” the letter says, “this position will help hold Canadian companies accountable for human rights violations overseas, provide remedy for victims of abuse, and prevent future harm for local communities.”

If properly implemented…

Herein lies the crux of the matter.

As the government now begins the work of building the office and hiring its very first Ombudsperson, key questions still need to be firmly answered.

Will the office…

…be fully independent from business and government at all stages of the process?

…be properly funded and staffed, so as to undertake complex investigations?

…be entirely transparent, making its progress, findings, and final recommendations for remedy publicly available?

…be able to monitor progress on recommendations and settlement agreements?

and, most importantly…

…have the authority to summon witnesses and compel disclosure of corporate documents?

The Government of Canada has the opportunity to take a real, global leadership role here. And civil society partners like KAIROS are “cautiously optimistic.”

But the credibility of the office hinges on its implementation.

Lend your voice (with our easy email tool!) in thanking the Canadian government and expressing your support for an effective and fully independent Ombudsperson with strong investigative powers!

By Jenn Wiebe, MCC Ottawa Office director

***Check out CNCA’s great infographic on criteria for an effective Ombudsperson

From hand to hand to hand: The journey to North Korea

This piece by Julie Bell, a senior writer and editor for MCC, was originally published by MCC Canada on December 2, 2017.  We share this piece again in our Ottawa Notebook in light of the international summit Canada is hosting this week on North Korea.

PYONGYANG, DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea) – It’s been a long trek for these eight small bags of medical supplies. They have been packed and re-packed, crossed an ocean, passed through three countries and numerous airport security checks.

On this day the bags have reached their destination – a small medical clinic on a farm near Pyongyang.

North Korea story 2

Julie Bell, MCC Canada senior writer and Chris Rice, MCC representative for Northeast Asia, with medical staff at clinic near Pyongyang. MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert

As I watch my MCC colleague, Chris Rice, hand one of the bags to the medical staff, I am humbled by the significance of this small gesture. Rice and I, and two of our MCC colleagues, are in DPRK at a time when tensions between this country and other parts of the world are running high. On this day, U.S. president Donald Trump is in the region and most people, including the people of DPRK, are aware of that.

And yet, the story of how the medical kits came to be is what matters most in this moment. Through translation, we tell the medical staff we have come to DPRK to visit some of the projects supported by MCC; including providing canned meat and soybean products to orphanages and schools and agricultural support on their farm. But their faces light up when we tell them that it was a conversation during a previous visit to the farm that prompted a collaboration of people around the world.

North Korea story 3

A farm near Pyongyang, DPRK, where MCC has provided agricultural support. MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert

During that visit, medical staff told MCC about accidents on the farm – everything from cuts and scrapes to sprains and broken bones. Word of the need for medical supplies travelled through MCC’s regional office in South Korea and on to MCC offices in Canada and the U.S. We decided to put together medical kits and consulted with medical experts, both in and outside MCC, on what the kits should contain. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we were able to buy the supplies and they were delivered to our material resources warehouse in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

That’s where Natalie Gulenchyn, a long-time volunteer at the resource centre got involved.  She cut the fabric and sewed the bags, complete with MCC’s iconic dove logo.

North Korea story 4

Natalie Gulenchyn, who is in her eighties and volunteers at MCC’s material resources warehouse in Winnipeg sewed the medical kit bags that were transported to DPRK. MCC photo/Rachel Bergen

Everything was packed into a piece of luggage, which travelled with me from Winnipeg to Beijing, China.

In Beijing, we checked to make sure everything was okay and re-packed the luggage.

The luggage crossed its last border when we travelled to Pyongyang in DPRK. In yet another hotel room, we moved the supplies – from bandages to surgical tape and disposable gloves – into the eight bags lovingly sewn by Natalie.

North Korea story

Julie Bell, MCC Canada senior writer and Chris Rice, MCC representative for Northeast Asia, along with medical staff at a farm clinic near Pyongyang, DPRK. MCC photo/Jennifer Deibert

Now, as the nurses and a doctor at the clinic thank us for the supplies, I am so grateful for all the hands and hearts involved in bringing these simple gifts here. Donors, volunteers, MCC workers and their families – these people made it happen.

On this day, the hostilities and harsh rhetoric of current times are irrelevant. I think about the many references in the Bible to “do the work of God’s hands.” The call to carry gifts of comfort and words of peace is the only truth that matters.

A New Year’s plea for children

The Christmas leftovers are eaten, the decorations are packed away, and the season’s concerts are receding into memory.  But it is just a short time ago that many of us gathered with family – including little children – to celebrate the birth of another child, the Christ-child Jesus.

As I witnessed the wonder and delight of my little grandchildren at Christmas, I once again whispered a prayer of gratitude that they are growing up in safety and security, their basic needs met, and love surrounding them. But I was also reminded that the well-being of these two little ones results, not only from their amazing parents, but from white middle-class privilege and the good fortune to be born far from a war zone.

For millions of children around the world, and in Canada, life does not include a safe home, enough food and water, or the presence of loving caregivers. It does not include communities in which children can grow and thrive.


Kolo Adamu holds a photo of her 18-year-old daughter Naomi who was abducted by Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group, in 2014 along with more than 200 other girls who were taken from Chibok secondary school in Nigeria. In May 2017, Naomi was among 80 girls who were released. MCC photo/Fred Yocum

Consider these realities:

  • According to UNICEF, 2017 was a “nightmare year” for children living in conflict zones. Children in conflict zones came under attack in places that should be safe: homes, schools, hospitals and playgrounds. They were used as human shields. They were raped and enslaved, abducted and recruited to fight, maimed and killed.
  • Hundreds of thousands of children were displaced from their homes. Indeed, it is estimated that, currently and worldwide, 50 million children are uprooted by brutal conflict and extreme poverty.
  • Displaced children become refugees when they cross an international border. In the last weeks of 2017, we heard much about Rohingya children fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh, but child refugees also fled and continue to flee countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. Many of them were alone. In Europe, refugees who are “unaccompanied minors” number 100,000 annually.
  • Millions of children live with hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity. In East Africa alone – notably South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia – at the end of 2017, 6.9 million children suffered from malnutrition, with 1 million severely malnourished or at risk of dying by the end of the year.
  • Palestinian children in the occupied territories, convicted of throwing stones or some other misdemeanor deemed a security threat to Israel, are placed in Israeli military detention, where abuse, harassment and violation of basic rights are systemic and widespread.  (Learn more and take action on this issue.)
jingle dancer

Tricia Monague, an Ojibway jingle dancer, dances in Ottawa in memory of Indigenous children who died at Indian Residential Schools. MCC photo/Alison Ralph

And the horrors many children experience are not just “over there.”  Many children here in Canada live with poverty, discrimination, violence and insecurity as well.

Children deserve a life free of fear and free of want. They deserve to be loved and cared for by people they can trust and love in return. They deserve to be surrounded by communities of care.

As Christmas 2017 recedes and 2018 opens before us, let us commit to building a world of justice, peace and security for children.  Especially those of us who welcome and worship the Christ-child Jesus.

“When God is a child, there is joy in our song, the last shall be first and the weak shall be strong. And none shall be afraid.” — Excerpt from song by Brian Wren, “When God is a child,”  © 1989 Hope Publishing Company.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the Ottawa Office.




Advocacy as sounding an alarm

This week’s guest writer is Jason Carkner, External Grants Coordinator for MCC Canada. Jason is originally from Whitby, Ontario and holds an M.A. in international development from the University of Ottawa.

A recent trip to Chad changed my ideas about advocacy and about how I work with MCC partners around the world.

I was in Chad working with the Ethics, Peace, and Justice Department (EPJ) of the Evangelical Churches & Missions in Chad—the national umbrella organization for Protestant churches in the country, and long-time partner of MCC. I was there to help develop a peacebuilding proposal for EuropeAid, which focused on the formation of interfaith committees of Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic men, women and youth. The proposal included 68 committees, each with a diverse membership of 10 people, that would launch 135 local initiatives that promote interfaith understanding, acceptance, and peace across the country.

As MCC Canada’s External Grants Coordinator I do a lot of proposal writing, which typically means plenty of Skype calls, way too many emails and Word documents and spreadsheets, and long hours spent in a cubicle overlooking the traffic on Winnipeg’s Bishop Grandin Boulevard. What often gets lost in those long-distance collaborations are the stories, relationships, emotions, hopes, and convictions that undergird the work of MCC’s partners. My meetings with Victor Dogos, EPJ’s Program Coordinator, had all of that.

Jason with Victor in Chad

Jason Carkner with Victor Dogos of the Ethics, Peace, and Justice Department (EPJ) of the Evangelical Churches & Missions in Chad.

In one meeting I was trying to have Victor number off the central issues affecting interfaith conflict in Chad, explain how the project was designed to address each one specifically, and articulate how this will result in changes to the lived experience of Chadians. But he didn’t really do that. Instead, he told me stories.

He told me that when a man is ready to marry, he will seek approval from his prospective in-laws by taking something from someone else by force, typically livestock or valuable materials, and presenting it to them as a symbol of his authority, power, and ability to provide and protect.

He told me that police formally provide “mediation services” for community disputes, but that they function more like bribe-based arbitrations that assign blame, fuel distrust, and do more harm than good.


Dogos Victor, left, and Tchingweubé Yassang Boniface lead a session at an EEMET workshop, teaching skills in conflict resolution and practical strategies for acting as community peacemakers. (MCC Photo/Silas Crews)

I heard many stories during those meetings. Plenty of follow-up questions and “translation” work was required to generate the language of results-based management that institutional funders require. It was a great reminder that, despite the heavy emphasis on participation and inclusivity in the development sector, this technical language can itself be exclusionary. If we’re not careful, it will command a particular way of viewing development at the exclusion of all other perspectives.

During a broader conversation about EPJ’s work—which includes peacebuilding, HIV/AIDS, and advocacy—Victor explained something that has changed the way I think about advocacy and the work I do with MCC. His comments, which were paraphrased by a translator, went something like this:

“Advocacy is kind of like sounding an alarm. If a community says there’s no health centre here, or there’s no clean water to drink, we can do advocacy on their behalf to show that there is need. There’s an advocacy for something, and there’s also an advocacy against something. In the case of police brutality, you can name it and advocate against it. That helps improve the conditions of life for people. The common thread that runs across our three programs—peacebuilding, HIV/AIDS, and advocacy—is improving the quality of life and stability of the community.”

It struck me that he spoke about advocacy as a means of “naming” an issue. Giving something a name makes it easier to tell its story, which makes it easier to know and understand, which makes it easier to change. But through his stories Victor was telling me that we only name things and know them from our own vantage point, and that the challenge is to establish shared names and shared meaning. That was the objective of our project.

In hindsight I can see that, through his storytelling during those meetings, Victor was advocating. He was sounding an alarm. He wanted me to understand that violence is valued as a display of authority and an ability to provide and protect, and that local authorities treat conflict as a matter of right and wrong, black and white. He wanted me, and the EuropeAid evaluators, to “get it”.

My conversations with Victor helped me realize that a proposal should be more than a technical document requesting funding. It should be a piece of advocacy that enables our local partners to sound an alarm, to name the drivers of conflict, and tell the stories of the harm they cause and how they can be overcome.

Jason's desk in Chad

Jason Carkner’s desk while working with the Ethics, Peace, and Justice Department (EPJ) of the Evangelical Churches & Missions in Chad.

We all see injustice, so we all have opportunities to sound an alarm. Not all advocacy needs to take the form of a letter to the Prime Minister or a protest sign at a rally. My time with Victor taught me that advocacy is everyday stuff.

A landmine-free world? Not there yet

Twenty years ago this week, history was made.

On December 3-4, 1997, the Mine Ban Treaty opened for signature at the National Conference Centre, just a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill.

As Former Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy put pen to paper and affixed the first signature to the landmark treaty, thousands gathered in Ottawa—state delegates, throngs of media, NGOs, grassroots peace activists, and even a bus-load of landmine activists who had traveled several continents to get here.

That day, they accomplished what had felt nearly impossible just 14 months before—an international treaty that entirely banned a weapon known to cause indiscriminate physical and psychological harm to civilians around the world.

Sometimes referred to as the Ottawa Convention—though officially known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction—this treaty is arguably one of the world’s most successful.

Photo by MAG Sri Lanka

In the mid-1990s, roughly 26,000 people were victims of anti-personnel landmines every single year—killed or permanently maimed, their lives altered in an instant.

Twenty years later, 162 states have become treaty signatories; more than 51 million stockpiled landmines have been destroyed; 27 countries and 1 territory once plagued by contamination have declared themselves mine-free; and production by the majority of the world’s landmine producers has ceased.

Just as importantly, the Treaty has helped make landmines one of the most stigmatized weapons in the world. At the end of the Cold War, landmines were an accepted component of virtually every state’s military arsenal. Fast forward to today, and international norms have developed that discourage any country—signatory or not—from using them. In fact, many non-signatory states (the U.S., for instance) are in de-facto compliance with the Convention.

This groundbreaking instrument also has broader significance for the ways in which it shaped future arms-control activism.

Back in 1996, most countries favoured working through traditional UN disarmament channels. But as negotiations within these structures (i.e. the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons) were resulting in diplomatic stalemate, Canada did the “un-diplomatic” thing. It stuck its neck out—proclaiming that by December of 1997 Canada would hold a conference to sign a new treaty banning landmines. And it would do so by bypassing conventional channels altogether.

This alternative (and, at that time, unusual!) diplomatic model broadened the scope of participation to include civil society in the negotiations. While not an easy sell for many governments, this innovative process, Axworthy recalls, gave “participants…equal standing at the table regardless of their position. Mine victims sat next to ministers discussing strategy, reflecting an emerging sense of partnership between government and civil groups.”[1]

Within this context, NGOs and landmine victims—mobilized under the banner of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (a Nobel Peace Prize winner!)—made their case, providing compelling documentation on the devastating humanitarian impacts these weapons had.

In the end, this alternative process achieved an outright ban on a weapon that countries had once argued were indispensable. It was a game-changer.

One only need to look to later treaties on cluster bombs (2008), small arms (2014), and, most recently, nuclear weapons (2017), to see how NGOs, governments, and civil society have come together again and again to put humanitarian concerns at the center of disarmament conversations.

At this twenty-year anniversary of the Landmine Treaty, there obviously are plenty of reasons to celebrate.

In Ottawa this week we did just that. On Monday, December 4, NGOs gathered with government officials, diplomats, de-miners, and landmine survivors to commemorate the success of the Treaty. The conference, aptly-named “Unfinished Business: The Ottawa Treaty at 20,” explored the “wins” of the last twenty years, but it also threw down the many challenges that remain.

Let’s make no mistake—there is much business to be finished. Landmines are not an issue of the past.

With well over 60 countries still contaminated, people can’t travel freely, return home post-conflict, farm their land, or regain their livelihoods (check out the Landmine Monitor for annual statistics).

And as we heard this week, the world is facing a new landmine emergency. The number of people killed or injured by anti-personnel mines and other explosive devices has increased in recent years, hitting a ten-year high in 2015.

As organizations like Mines Advisory Group have reported, the regional conflict in Iraq and Syria (not to mention Ukraine and Myanmar) has resulted in a scale of contamination not seen for decades. Improvised explosive devices and locally-manufactured mines in these contexts are “sensitive enough to be triggered by a child’s footsteps but powerful enough to disable a tank,” MAG said at the conference.

All of this within the context of a global decline in funding.

Thankfully, on Monday Canada announced almost $12 million in funding for mine action projects in places like Iraq, Syria, Cambodia, Laos, Ukraine, and Colombia.

While a far cry from the $62.8 million Canada contributed at its peak in 1997, this funding is crucial. As the Landmine 2025 campaign is pushing, global support for clearance must be re-energized if signatories are to achieve treaty commitments.

And as Axworthy also noted this week, Canada could also lead in efforts to invest in new technologies for clearance.[2]

In other words, even as we celebrate the Treaty’s remarkable achievements, we must also recognize that much work remains. Let’s finish the job!

By Jenn Wiebe, Ottawa Office Director

[1] Lloyd Axworthy, Navigating a New World: Canada’s Global Future, Chapter 6: The Ottawa Process, pg. 127.
[2] Check out groups like Demine Robotics in Kitchener-Waterloo, ON.