The five members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee have once again been huddling for months over who should win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Speculation was flying around 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, but experts were skeptical and think other candidates including journalist- and arms control organizations were more worthy and likely to win on Friday.
“Our absolute favourites,” said the head of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Henrik Urdal, “are Youth Peace Activists Hajer Sharief of Libya, Ilwad Elman of Somalia and Nathan Law Kwun-chung of Hong Kong.” Urdal, in a recent meeting with foreign correspondents in Oslo, made it clear that PRIO shortlists those who they feel are most worthy of the Peace Prize, not necessarily the most likely.
“This has been a year of young people setting the agenda,” Urdal noted in drawing attention to those who aren’t giving up on a “peaceful democratic transition” in Libya, fighting gender-based violence and promoting peace in Somalia, and working to retain democracy and freedom in Hong Kong.
Both Urdal and Asle Sveen, a teacher and researcher at the Nobel Institute who co-wrote a book on the history of the Nobel Peace Prize, think Thunberg is too young, and that the committee will hesitate in putting a Peace Prize burden on her shoulders. Questions have arisen over whether peace activist Malala Yousafzai, who survived Taliban bullets in Pakistan, was also too young when she received the prize at 17, not least because of the expectations it put on her.
There’s also a practical problem with Thunberg, who refuses to fly. She’s due to be at a major climate gathering in South America in December when the Peace Prize is formally awarded, and likely couldn’t make it Oslo for the ceremony that’s always held on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel benefactor Alfred Nobel’s birth.
Peace Prizes to climate and environmental activists have been awarded before, to Al Gore and the UN’s climate panel in 2007 and to Wangari Maathai for her tree-planting in 2004. While such prizes have been criticized, the leader of Norway’s Nansen Peace Center notes that saving the climate and environment can prevent conflicts over resources. The Nansen center has listed Greta Thunberg and the Youth for Climate Action movement as a favourite.
Praising the role of journalism
Another favourite of both PRIO and Sveen is the organization Reporters Without Borders, an international watchdog group based in France that’s dedicated to preserving media freedom and freedom of expression by protecting journalists and threats against them. PRIO also cites the Committee to Protect Journalists as being of vital importance in questioning authority, reporting professionally and keeping track of journalists who have been attacked or killed in their reporting work. At at time when the professional media is under extreme pressure from authoritarian leaders around the world, and so-called “fake news” remains a threat, a Nobel Peace Prize to a journalists’ organization “would send a message to the international community” about the importance of journalism and free speech.
No Peace Prize has even been awarded to a journalists’ organization, so it would also break new ground. “It’s a glaring omission of sorts,” Urdal said. “To us it’s important to highlight the work they do.” He described the link between journalists and peace as “accurate and independent reporting” that provides information on which leaders “can make better decisions.” It also plays a critical role in putting “checks and balances on political authority” and exposing conflicts of interest and abuse of power.
Arms control advocates cited, too
PRIO also has the Control Arms Coalition on its shortlist of especially worthy Peace Prize winners, not least because of the proliferation of arms around the world, illicit trade in arms and resulting gun violence that “poses a threat to peace and security even in regions not directly affected by war.” Mass shootings and recent attacks by right-wing extremists like those seen in Norway and more recently in Christchurch and El Paso “have put gun control on the media and policy agendas.” The Control Arms Coalition is made up of more than 100 non-governmental organizations that campaign for strong international arms control as a means to combat violence, poverty and human rights abuses.
Oslo-based newspaper Aftenposten ran an article on Thursday about Peace Prize winners who turned out to be disappointments. Aung San Suu Kyi topped the list, for failing to promote and preserve the human rights she long championed while under house arrest in Burma/Myanmar when she finally gained power. Today she is Myanmar’s foremost political leader, but she failed to act when hundreds of thousands of the country’s Rohingya minority were attacked, abused and driven out of the country to live in squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Norway’s Nobel Committee was also criticized over its Peace Prizes to South Korea’s former president Kim Dae-jung, who actively lobbied for it, and to former US President Barack Obama, who won the prize after less than a year in office. Earlier prizes to US secretaries of state Henry Kissinger, who won while the Vietnam War was still raging, and Cordell Hull, who refused to take in Jewish refugees from Europe during World War II, were also criticized.
The Nobel Peace Prize was to be announced in Oslo on Friday.