Canada’s Role in the Ottawa Process
Speech by Isabelle Daoust, senior international humanitarian law advisor, Canadian Red Cross
Canadian Council on International Law October 20, 2007
Mesdames et Messieurs, Distingués invités et participants:
Il me fait plaisir aujourd’hui d’aborder le sujet du rôle du Canada dans le développement du droit international, et en particulier en ce qui a trait aux nouvelles normes interdisant l’usage des mines anti-personnel.
As many of you may know, the so-called “Ottawa Process” introduced an important normative shift in International Law. What is interesting about this process, among many other features is the backdrop that was provided through the introduction in the mid-1990s of the concept of human security. Human security was introduced by Minister Lloyd Axworthy at the time, putting the security of individuals at the center of foreign policy and gently pushing aside the central feature of state sovereignty as the guide for all international relations.
With this backdrop firmly set, Canada paved the way for a procession of international participants embarking on a new global norm pathway in treaty negotiation. The terrain of this route was unexplored and daunting in that traditional diplomatic channels were not taken. Instead, Canada led a successfull humanitarian journey with the aim of securing a complete and global ban on anti-personnel landmines.
This unique political initiative known as the “Ottawa Process” was launched in October 1996 and concluded with the opening of the signature of the Mine Ban Treaty in Ottawa, in December 1997. Among its plethora of distinguishing characteristics are 1) a fast track treaty process 2) a cooperative partnerships between NGOs and governments 3) a multi-faceted approach and 4) the adoption of a disarmament treaty without consensus rule.
Allow me to explore each of these features in turn. Before doing that, I would like to remind participants briefly of the history that preceded the launch of this unique diplomatic and normative process.
THE HISTORY: PRE- OTTAWA PROCESS
The awareness of a problem on the ground was first brought to the forefront by humanitarian actors that were operating in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. The Red Cross in particular was witnessing the horrific impact of landmines, mostly on civilians. It was the firsthand accounts and reports from war surgeons, nurses, doctors and data collected from Red Cross field hospitals that drew the government’s attention to the egregiousness of these weapons.
Indeed, at the end of the Cold War, landmines were a part of almost every state’s military arsenal. Countries like Angola, Congo, Bosnia and Uganda who experienced conflict in the 1990s were literally littered with these weapons. Refugees finally able to return home were being killed and seriously injured. Humanitarian aid workers observed the economic barrier landmines posed as the land could not be cultivated safely.
The common outrage led to the powerful collaboration of NGOs under the umbrella of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). The ICBL’s widespread campaign was created to attain the only true solution: a complete global ban on anti-personnel mines. The International Committee of the Red Cross and National Societies like the Canadian Red Cross joined in this campaign.
The Ottawa Process demonstrated the powerful role which civil society can play in developing international humanitarian law. The public conscience in Canada, and around the world, was alive and present throughout the entire Ottawa Process. Sometimes referred to as the “people’s treaty”, the resulting landmine convention was a manifestation of soft power in diplomacy. The ability to influence others through persuasion, communication, organization and negotiation trumped traditional means of military disarmament strategies and technical concepts. It was revolutionary.
NGOs, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) mobilized governments’ involvement in the landmine initiative, giving life of the Ottawa Process. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines was comprised of over 1200 NGOs and individuals including landmine victims, which coalesced with the common goal of banning landmines globally. Many Canadian NGOs were part of the ICBL. Acknowledgement of the ICBL’s crucial role was announced to the world when the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in honour of its invaluable campaign to ban landmines.
1. The Fast Track Process
It was Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Lloyd Axworthy, who shocked the international diplomatic community with his outright global challenge to return to Canada in a year to sign an international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines. The deadline set by the Canadian government set in motion a fast track process for treaty negotiation. Unprecedented for an international agreement of this nature, the Ottawa Treaty was negotiated within a year. Clearly, the Canadian government’s challenge was the springboard for action in the treaty process to globally ban landmines.
In many ways, working with like minded governments, Canada was a model state during the Ottawa Process. It organized and led international treaty meetings, destroyed its stockpile of landmines and was the first state to sign the resulting landmine treaty.
2. The Canadian government partnered equally with NGOs in the Ottawa Process.
Perhaps most critical to the success of the Ottawa Process were the coherent, strategic partnerships formed between civil society, NGOs and governments. For the first time in the history of international treaty development, NGOs, members of civil society such as landmine victims were equal participants and allowed a voice in all aspects of the diplomatic process. Previously granted only observer status, they sat at the table as like-minded partners with states and international institutions like the UN and ICRC. At international treaty conferences, NGOs and the ICRC were equally and actively involved with governments in strategizing, drafting and negotiating a landmines treaty. This integral involvement of NGOs delivered a “reality” to the process, usually absent in traditional diplomatic channels.
During this diplomatic process, the voices of landmine victims were also heard. The Landmine Survivors Network was a highly influential partner in the coalition. Narrative accounts from the victims themselves were delivered at treaty conferences in efforts to obtain government assistance for victims.
3. Multi-Faceted Treaty Approach
The Ottawa Process kick-started an invaluable and essential practice of working from the ground up which provided an accurate means of assessing needs and creating mechanisms of the treaty process. Data collection from the field conferred a reality usually absent in the treaty drafting process. Reports from ground personnel such as medics infused the process with consistent reminders of the urgent state of this humanitarian crisis and the importance of a rapid treaty negotiation process. More effective and practical measures could be developed in response to the reality of the situation, essential in the development of a multi-faceted treaty. Thus, in addition to the destruction of stockpiles, initiatives like victim assistance and landmine clearance on the ground were able to be addressed in the negotiation process. The presence of the International Red Cross on the ground providing reports was significant in facilitating an effective multi-faceted treaty approach.
4. The Adoption of a Diplomatic Process that does not rely on Consensus
The development of a disarmament treaty not governed by a consensus rule occurred during the Ottawa Process. The Canadian government created a credible negotiating process in order to legitimately circumvent traditional UN diplomatic processes. In this case, treaty negotiating process relied on voting rather than consensus procedures. Ensuring the negotiation process was focused and strongly led was crucial due to the limited time period set. The mandatory process of “opting in” was significant to efficient negotiations since state governments had to be supportive in order to attend treaty conferences. Basically, governments could only attend treaty conferences if they were in agreement with the agenda items. This expedited method responded to the failure to yield progressive results in the formal negotiations relying on consensus to amend the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons' (CCW) which focused mainly on mine use and technical specifications.
In terms of the diplomatic process, Canada carefully arranged for meetings to take place before the scheduled reunion meeting in Ottawa. The formation of a core group of countries led by Canada was crucial to the creating an effective international instrument. Austria, Norway, South Africa, New Zealand, Switzerland, Belgium and Mexico were enlisted to act as a team for the hosting of diplomatic sessions and as a starting base for the eventual treaty ratification. The new participant status at the table was evident at the Expert Meeting on the Text of a Convention to Ban Anti-personnel Mines where the ICRC outlined what it considered to be the key issues at stake. This discussion of draft text was attended by representatives of 111 governments. In Bonn (Germany), the issue of verification was reviewed; in Brussels (Belgium) a declaration determined and in Oslo, Norway, treaty negotiations occurred.
Conclusion: Call for Action on Cluster Munitions?
Under Canada’s leadership, the Ottawa process provided the world with an invaluable diplomatic working model and a new humanitarian norm for international law. The uniting and forging of partnerships between governments and non-government actors, other international institutions like the ICRC and the UN was critical to the success of the Ottawa Process. The unifying factor which forged these invaluable partnerships was a tragic humanitarian concern.
Currently, the world is faced with another humanitarian concern – cluster munitions. These deadly weapons that have been most recently used in Lebanon, disperse bomblets over an extremely wide area. Many of these bomblets do not detonate on impact as they are designed to do. Children are most often the victims as they often mistake the bomblet for a toy. Their devastating impact on civilians also demands immediate global action. The lessons learned from the Ottawa Process can also be applied to the cluster munitions crisis.
The human security approach of the Ottawa Process delivered a cogent message: The world values the protection of human life. The same message should be delivered with respect to cluster munitions that indiscriminately mame and kill. Canada is well rehearsed and proven more than capable in leading a development process for an international instrument banning weapons. Without question, Canada’s leadership in the Ottawa Process created a successful global template for diplomatic action in the realm of weapons disarmament. Will Canada demonstrate the same type of leadership in the process to address humanitarian concerns created by the use of certain types of cluster munitions? It remains to be seen. Thank you.