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Kudos For A Crusader
Jody Williams wins the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign to ban land mines around the world
By Ginia Bellafante
(TIME, October 20) -- She came of age not in Kabul or Luanda or any other of a number of cities where the trauma of war would have given impetus to her quest to eradicate the legacies of the battlefield. Rather, Jody Williams spent much of her life in the serene, clapboard-church-dotted hamlet of Putney, Vt., where, last Friday, the day after her 47th birthday, she received word that she had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Forthright and irreverent, Williams emerged from her farmhouse to greet the press in jeans, a tank top and bare feet. She shares the $1 million award with her six-year-old coalition, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which has helped persuade nearly 100 governments to support a treaty to end the production, sale and stockpiling of land mines and to clean up existing minefields around the world. The explosive devices, which can cost as little as $3 apiece and are strewn haphazardly in places like Angola, Cambodia and Bosnia, are responsible for killing or brutally maiming some 26,000 people a year.
While the land-mine issue may seem far removed from the lives of many Americans, the urgency of Williams' work is quite clear to a victim like Marianne Holtz of Boise, Idaho, who lost her legs and half her face to the explosives while working with refugees in Zaire. "As a weapon of war, the land mine is inexcusable," says Holtz. "It kills women and children. It kills people long after any battle is over. There is absolutely no argument for it that is valid." Jody Williams is dedicated to ensuring that everyone comes around to that way of thinking.
She has not, however, persuaded the U.S. to disown the mines. From her lawn last week, Williams had harsh words for President Clinton, who has refused to sign the treaty until it makes an exception for U.S. land-mine use along the uneasy border between North and South Korea, where 37,000 American soldiers are stationed, and for the use of antipersonnel mines in conjunction with antitank mines. Said Williams: "I think it's tragic that President Clinton does not want to be on the side of humanity." And she found it odd that he had not yet called to congratulate her. "I think if the President can call the winner of the Super Bowl, he should call the Nobel Peace Prize winner." If he does call, she knows what she'll say: "What's your problem?"
But even as the White House reaffirmed its "rock-solid" position against participation in the accord, Williams was heartened by the news that the once recalcitrant Russia would support the international land-mine ban. The treaty, to be signed in Ottawa in December, will go into effect after 40 nations have ratified it.
What is remarkable about Williams' effort is the speed with which she and her organization have accomplished their mission. Williams was hired by the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation in 1991 to form an anti-land mine coalition. "When we began, we were just three people sitting in a room," she said. "It was Utopia." The numbers grew quickly. The fruits of her labor resulted in the ICBL, an alliance of more than 1,000 anti-land mine groups. Early on, a participant predicted that it would take at least 30 years for a land-mine ban to be enacted.
Williams is the daughter of a Vermont county judge and a mother who oversees housing projects. After earning a degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, she began her career as an activist, protesting U.S. policy in Central America in the early 1980s. Eventually she became the associate director of the Los Angeles-based humanitarian relief organization Medical Aid to El Salvador. Single, she divides her time between Putney and Washington, where ICBL is based.
Williams' cause received heightened attention in the past year when it found an impassioned advocate in Diana, Princess of Wales. Williams, who never met the princess, was taken aback last month during a land-mine conference in Oslo, Norway, when reporters asked if her campaign would suffer a setback because of Diana's death. She thought the question "a bit shallow." Last week the princess's family issued a statement indicating that they were "delighted" at the news from the Nobel committee.
--Reported by Rod Paul/Putney and Cinda Siler/New York
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