Critics of the Nobel Peace Prize say the prize derived from support for peace


In Oslo, Norway, on Friday, dignitaries from around the world gathered to celebrate the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize to Filipino journalist Maria Ressa and Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov. But as speeches were made and medals presented, voices outside Oslo City Hall wondered if the world’s most prestigious award, as many believe, had lost its luster.

Over the past decades, the prize has sometimes been awarded to people who many believe have failed to live up to the standards set out by the prize’s founder, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel. His instruction was that he should go to “the person who has done the most or the best work for brotherhood among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” “

Perhaps most notably, this includes Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, who received the award in 2019 for helping end his country’s long war with Eritrea. The award committee cited its “efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for its decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea.”

Today, Abiy is waging a brutal war in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, in which both sides have been charged with a wide range of war crimes.

Controversial rewards

In 2019, the same year Abiy won the award, another laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, appeared before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands. Suu Kyi, who was the head of Myanmar’s civilian government at the time, was there to insist that the widespread massacre and displacement of the Rohingya in her country was not genocide.

Another controversial winner is former US President Barack Obama, who was nominated for the award before he served for a month and received the award before he even served a year. Obama continued to ramp up US troop levels in Afghanistan during part of his presidency, and he stepped up the use of drone strikes against individuals and groups considered enemies of the United States.

Controversial awards are nothing new to the Nobel Committee. Two members resigned in 1973 when the award went to then-US national security adviser Henry Kissinger for allegedly helping organize a ceasefire during the Vietnam War. Kissinger offered to return the award two years later, after the fall of Saigon.

In 1994, when Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin received the award for efforts to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians, a member of the committee denounced Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, as a terrorist and resigned.

Opaque selection process

The Norwegian Nobel Committee is made up of five members chosen by the Norwegian parliament. For generations, the committee has been made up mostly of retired politicians. They collect nominations at the start of each year and typically announce a winner in October.

All documents and records of the selection process are sealed for 50 years, making it difficult to know exactly what committee members were thinking during recent deliberations.

This did not, however, protect the committee from criticism.

“The price loses its credibility”, Unni Turrettini, author of the book Betraying the Nobel: The Secrets and Corruption Behind the Nobel Peace Prize, VOA said. “And when it loses its credibility, it loses the potential impact the price can have on world peace.”

Turrettini said populating the award committee with politicians has given the impression that his choices are sometimes intended to advance the interests of the Norwegian government and its relations with other nations.

“For our country, and as a Norwegian myself, it is in everyone’s interest that we maintain the independent committee on Norwegian politics and restore the trust that has been eroded,” she said. .

Dispute over Nobel’s intentions

Some believe that the committee has too often strayed from Nobel’s original intention.

Norwegian lawyer and peace activist Fredrik Heffermehl has lobbied the committee for more than a decade, insisting that many of his selections deviate so much from Nobel’s instructions, as spelled out in his will, that ‘they are indeed illegal.

Heffermehl told VOA that this year’s award ceremony to Ressa and Muratov, two journalists who bravely fought to defeat government repression of the media in their respective home countries, is another such departure. While they may do an admirable job, none are directly involved in efforts to advance what Heffermehl believes was Nobel’s ultimate goal: widespread disarmament.

“I am more disappointed than I have been in a very long time,” said Heffermehl. “Very few awards, especially over the past 20 years, have met Alfred Nobel’s intention.”

Officials associated with the award committee vigorously contested Heffermehl’s interpretation of the instructions for awarding the award. Olav Njølstad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, was inspired by the pages of the country’s largest newspaper, Aftenposten, to accuse Heffermehl of misreading the historical record.

“The Nobel committee never accepted this interpretation of the will,” Njølstad wrote. “He does not see that Alfred Nobel has nowhere declared that disarmament work should carry more weight than the other forms of peace work to which the will refers.”

An “ambitious” price

Ron Krebs, professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, told VOA it’s important to understand that, especially over the past 50 years, the Nobel Peace Prize has often had an “ambitious” quality. . That is to say, it is sometimes awarded to people who take the first steps towards goals that the Nobel Committee considers to advance the cause of world peace.

This was the case with the awards given to people working to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and even the selection of Barack Obama, whose campaign rhetoric had focused on conflict reduction.

“It is the members of the Nobel Prize committee who are saying, ‘We want to encourage them on this path. We want to strengthen their chances and we will put our moral weight behind them,'” Krebs said.

Krebs said this can lead people to mistakenly believe the award is an endorsement of anything the recipient does or, indeed, will do.

“We must remember that people who receive the Nobel Peace Prize are awarded for particular achievements, or even for particular aspirations,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean they share all of those values ​​that the Nobel Prize committee espouses.”


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