Why does the Nobel Peace Prize often stir controversy?

With the winner from 343 candidates set to be announced on Friday, a look at an award won by people as varied as Obama, Gorbachev and Kissinger.

PLO leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres pose with their medals and diplomas, after receiving the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo
PLO leader Yasser Arafat, left, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, centre, and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres pose with their medals and diplomas, after receiving the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo's City Hall [File: AP Photo]

The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the six awards given each year to the world’s most elite human rights leaders, economists, scientists and writers in the beginning of October. The winners of the Nobel Prizes in medicine, physics and chemistry have already been announced.

This year, there are 343 candidates – 251 individuals and 92 organisations – for the Nobel Peace Prize, and the winner will be announced on Friday.

However, one of the most awaited awards has often led to controversies. The prize committee has been accused of being politically motivated, subjective and sometimes basing the award on aspiration rather than achievements.

How are the winners chosen?

  • The Norwegian Nobel Committee – composed of five members appointed by the Norwegian parliament – is responsible for selecting the Nobel Peace Prize laureates.
  • To be eligible for the award, a person needs to be nominated by qualified individuals, which includes members of national governments or current heads of states, previous winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, university professors and more. Self-nominations are not considered.
  • The Nobel Foundation prohibits disclosing information on the nominations and deliberation process for the next 50 years after winning.
  • The winners include the likes of Barack Obama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Malala Yousafzai and Nelson Mandela.
  • Journalists Maria Ressa from the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov from Russia won the prize in 2021.
  • Each winner gets nearly $900,000, which is handed out with a diploma and a gold medal on December 10 – the date of Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.
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(Al Jazeera)

Why some past laureates were controversial

  • The Nobel Peace Prize was first presented in 1901 and is today considered one of the most prestigious – and sometimes controversial – awards.
  • The selection process has at times been marred by accusations of sexism, racism and the award committee being Eurocentric. 
  • So far, 109 individuals have won the peace award but only 18 were women, including Mother Teresa in 1979 and Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991.
  • The award has been criticised for its premature or faulty understanding of peace or for being politically motivated. For example, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the prize in 2019 for ending the 20-year conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia by establishing a peace agreement. However, a conflict started in northern Ethiopia in November 2020, and Abiy has been criticised for human rights violations and war crimes committed by his forces in the Tigray region.

  • Similarly, Obama’s award of 2009 faced a wave of criticism. He received the prize in the first year of his presidency, which some considered too early. But it raised questions about the selection due to the Obama administration’s involvement in wars in Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen.
  • Other controversial winners include an award given in 1994 to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for their work on the Oslo Peace Accords.
  • Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his negotiations to end the Vietnam War. But Kissinger was also accused of several war crimes during the Cold War, including bombings in Cambodia in 1969 and 1970.

Who was Nobel and why the peace prize?

  • Alfred Nobel was a wealthy Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite. He has also been subjected to controversy due to his gained wealth from an invention used in conflicts and wars.
  • On November 27, 1895, Nobel signed his last will and testament that the largest share of his fortune would go to a series of prizes.
  • In Nobel’s will, one part was dedicated to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.
  • Five years after his death, the first awards were handed out in 1901, and since then 101 Nobel Peace Prizes have been awarded to 109 individuals and 28 organisations.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross has been awarded the prize three times (in 1917, 1944 and 1963), followed by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees two times (in 1954 and 1981).
Source: Al Jazeera