At 11am this morning, Friday October 9, the Nobel Committee will stand up and announce this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner in Oslo. But after a tumultuous year — characterized by tragic and worsening conflicts in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq, a refugee crisis bigger than the one seen after World War Two and many other calamities the world over — the human spirit has been tested and repeatedly destroyed, begging the question: Who will be crowned 2015’s “ultimate” promoter of peace?
Like every year, the committee’s decision is shrouded in secrecy and so contenders are little more than media speculation. However, there are a number of people considered to be frontrunners. Top of the list includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her acceptance of approximately 800,000 refugees in the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East and Europe; Pope Francis of Argentina for his commitment to social inequality and his mediating role in the US-Cuba standoff; Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege for his treatment of overly 30,000 rape victims; Eritrean Catholic priest Mussie Zerai for his role in rescuing thousands of migrants from sinking boats in the Mediterranean and lastly, nuclear deal negotiators US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for their role in finalizing a deal on Iran’s nuclear program after a diplomatic paralysis between Iran and the US that has been in place since 1979.
“The nomination process is confidential and what’s said in the media is only an assumption or said by the people who can nominate candidates to the Nobel Peace Committee,” explains former Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. “Candidates are shortlisted and then the most eligible ones are voted on by the Nobel Peace Committee but no one knows who these candidates are.”
When Ebadi found out she had won the prize in 2003 for her work promoting human rights and democracy in Iran, she had had no idea she was even in the running, nor had the press speculated as much. “But I was obviously very happy when I found out and the prize has given me new and greater platforms in which to do my work. That’s helped a lot.”
A committee of five people chosen by the Norwegian parliament give the award each year. In total, 95 prizes have been awarded since 1901, most to singular laureates and 29 to two people at the same time.
In 2014, India's Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai won the award ”for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education."
Dr Beyza Unal, a Research Fellow in Nuclear Weapons Policy at Chatham House, thinks the prize is a great thing and meaningful in many ways.
“The Nobel Peace Prize doesn’t only have a symbolic value, it also has a soft power impact on changing societies, cultures, and states’ perspectives and actions,” says Dr Unal. “It is a means to prosper relations through mutual appraisal. In this sense the prize can be used to reinforce the delicate diplomacy that Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and US Secretary of State Kerry showed with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA).”
She says that, with the nuclear deal, Kerry and Zarif helped build international confidence in taking steps to achieve peace. “Despite international, regional and domestic pressures from hardliners, both Kerry and Zarif deserved at least to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, as do their technical and scientific negotiators, especially Ernest Moniz and Ali Akber Salehi. In the minds of most NGOs, policy experts and academics, Zarif and Kerry have already received the highest support and this support will, in a way, materialize through the Nobel Peace Prize.”
There are very few people who can nominate people to the Nobel Peace prize, a list that includes government members, former laureates and university professors. The names of nominees are only announced 50 years after the winner is declared.
“I’m personally in favor of putting a seal on nuclear peace through this kind of initiative,” adds Dr Unal. “Norway is known to support nuclear projects in the NGO community and it welcomed the JCPA right after it was negotiated, so hopefully this will positively impact the committee’s decision.”
Shirin Ebadi takes a different view, however. It is her belief that there are worthier candidates for this year’s peace prize.
“What Zarif and Kerry did was part of their duties as ministers of foreign affairs. They needed to allocate time to the deal and what’s more, the fate of the deal is not yet known,” says Ebadi. “I personally think either the Pope deserves it because of his modern thoughts and attitude and approach in attracting people to Christianity. Instead of being aggressive, he’s taken a very human approach. Whichever city he goes to, he talks to the most disadvantageous and he goes to prisons and visits prisoners.”
Although Pope Francis is seen as a frontrunner, his adherence to the Vatican’s stance on women and the news that he had met a Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis, who had become a figurehead for American religious hardliners because of her refusal to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples, has cast doubt over his chances of success.
“I think his thoughts are progressive and I like the fact he set up a committee to instil the values of the Catholic church in terms of marriage, divorce and other familial issues,” says Ebadi. “After him, I’d vote for the Congolese doctor [Denis Mukwege] who has welcomed women [who have suffered] sexual violence and rape into his clinic and treats them for free. He could have set up his own private clinic like many of his colleagues in France or in another country and become wealthy but he believed in a greater wealth — humanity.”
But not everyone is happy with this year’s top contenders for the prize. Mairead Maguire, who won the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize with colleague Betty Williams for their part in the Northern Ireland peace movement, has launched a lawsuit against the Board of the Nobel Foundation on the basis that the wishes of Alfred Nobel, the founder of the prize, are being ignored.
“There are a number of us who believe they are failing to take into account Alfred Nobel’s wishes so we’re taking legal action to ensure that future Nobel peace awards go to people who are champions of peace and meet the requirements he wanted,” Mrs Maguire said in an email. ‘We’re not happy with the current contenders.”
But until the decision is announced, nobody can be sure of who will win the prize. It could be the Pope, it could be Merkel or Kerry and Zarif, or it could be someone completely different. Time will tell.
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