We Have Swung into the Dark Ages, Says Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams

Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams won the prize for her work to eradicate landmines in 1997. She is pictured here speaking at a youth protest at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates held in Merida, Mexico. Courtesy: Albany J Alvarez/ Nobel Women’s Initiative

By Anna Shen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 26 2019 – On Monday, United States President Donald Trump continued to float the idea that he should be awarded a Nobel Prize, but that it would never happen because the system was rigged.

Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams, who won the prize for her work to eradicate landmines in 1997, would likely agree Trump would never win – but not because the system was rigged, but because under his leadership she said: “We have swung into the dark ages.”

Speaking at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, in the heart of the Yucatan, in Merida, Mexico, she was asked which conflict she was most concerned about, and she replied, “Trump. He is a global crisis in and of himself.”

“He is pulling out of treaties on the climate, recharging the nuclear weapons that the U.S. has, and modernising the weapons arsenal. We don’t need more nuclear weapons,” she said, adding that everything he does is about ruining institutions.

Trump-like behaviour has spread everywhere, she continued. “Around the world, Trump has given voice to xenophobia, hatred, racism and emboldened several leaders like him. In Brazil and Italy, the leaders are the same,” she said.

Williams had much to speak about, including Trump, the state of world peace, why women are critical to the global peace process, and how to engage youth.

In an interview after the Summit, she stopped to give her thoughts — before continuing on to Rome for meetings at the Vatican to discuss killer robots and artificial intelligence, which she is increasingly concerned about because “nobody is talking about them.”

Excerpts from her interview:

Inter Press Service (IPS): You are chairing the Women’s Nobel Initiative (NWI). Why and how did that come about?

Jody Williams (JW): In 2004, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi and I were in Nairobi for an international landmine meeting.  She had started an NGO to protect children from landmines on the border between Iraq and Iran. A handful of Nobel women, in support of women’s rights, met with Nobel Laureate Waangari Maathai.

All six of us decided to use whatever influence we had to shine a spotlight on grassroots women’s organisations working on sustainable peace. We believe that if there is no justice there is no peace, and if there is no equality there is no peace. Women are critical to the peace process globally.

The Nobel Women’s delegation focuses on women because nobody listens to women. We have worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo with women, and at the height of Bangladesh’s Rohingya crisis. We have done a lot in Mexico, especially to protect indigenous land in Ateneco, where, in 2001, government officials wanted to take over, some would say steal, the lands of the farmers of Atenco.

This was to build a new international airport near Mexico City. Forty-seven women were raped, and the men who organised defending the land were imprisoned for four years. Others spent years in hiding. Suddenly, the women found themselves thrust into the role of leadership.

Over the next years, the Nobel Women’s Initiative became involved in supporting the efforts of the women of Atenco by lending our voices to amplify theirs.  It seemed to help. I went to Atenco to show further support on behalf of NWI and other Nobel Laureates supporting their efforts.

At one point the women protested, and with indignation they came – How dare you take our land and imprison our men? They were setting a precedent for “public protest” that this was their land and they wanted to keep it.

Finally, the cases of the 12 men came to the Supreme Court in mid-2010 and at a strategic moment, I was able to return, meet with the Justices themselves and other public officials – and then be there when the court decided to set the twelve political prisoners free. It was unreal. Amazing. Just think about the precedent set by freeing the men, something that underscored the freedom of assembly and all, but for one acquittal.

Later, I was able to go back to Atenco to see the women we’ve supported in their struggle to defend their land and their rights. Also, I got to meet the twelve men.  They are strong, dignified, and proud of their struggle to defend their land and their livelihoods. They even gave me my own machete. It is not a weapon, but more of a symbol, as it something used to slash in the fields.

IPS: Why are women essential to the peace process globally?

JW: I ask — why aren’t women needed? I followed the route of Syrian refugees up through Balkans to Germany – through Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Germany and met with Syrian women who had formed an organisation to push for peace and for reconciliation.

During a press conference, a young man stands up and asks: ‘What is the role of women in the peace process?’ I gave him a death stare. I asked him: ‘What is the role of men?’ He is dumbfounded, fascinated in positive way, as if he was hit by a bolt of lightning. He replied that he had never thought about that way.

If all sectors of society are not involved in peace negotiations, the root causes of the conflict are not addressed. In El Salvador’s peace agreement, three-quarters of it was given to separating combatants and disarming the guerillas and trying to help them with a political party.

There were only a few pages talking about the root causes of the problem. The thought was that once all of this is done, they would try to look at the root. But the problem is that we need to look at those causes now. How do you have a full-blown agreement and get buy-in during the process?

Women — who are trying to hold their families together — have a lot to say about the peace process. Our role as women is everything — community, life, keeping people together. You don’t have to love everyone, but accept they are different, as long as they are not breaking the law.

IPS: How can we solve the climate crisis?

JW: When I think about ways to address solve the climate crisis immediately, it is about redefining security. It is not about having more bombs, but making sure that we continue to exist and live on this planet, and that we stop destroying it every day.

We should be protesting the government’s budgets on the military. If we think about it, trillions and trillions and trillions of dollars are spent building weapons of war. If you are constantly planning for war, then you have to practice and invade somebody.

I am proposing that governments reduce military budgets by 25 percent and put it into a fund to save the planet. If they did reduce, we would have enough money to save the planet and fulfil every one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

We also have to put at the forefront our corporations, whose bottom line is making money and is not worrying about a better planet. We need to raise our voices in companies, tell them that if they do care about what they are doing to destroy the planet, and if they don’t change, we won’t buy their stuff. It takes a community to come together and not buy their stuff. It’s doable. All these elements can change this planet quickly.

We have to work together. No one person changes the world and I don’t care who pretends they do. It takes collaboration and communication about what we are doing to make a difference. Together we can. A small group of people working together can do a lot on this planet.

IPS: What is the role of youth, and especially of young women in creating peace?

JW: Often people will say to me that young people don’t care. But look at Greta Thunberg and the climate strikes. Not all young women, but many, know they have a place. Young people aren’t waiting, they are using their voices to hold adults who messed up everything, to account. Young people are playing a role. I’m proud of them and especially to walk with them and learn more from them.

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