PRIO Director's Speculations 2008

You can download the text of Stein Tønnesson's lecture on who he thought would receive the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize (presented at the Nobel Peace Centre, 9 October 2008): Norwegian (pdf); English (pdf).   In the lecture, Stein mentions that Martti Ahtisaari -- the eventual winner of the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize -- was a strong candidate in 2006 and 2007 and, erroneously, that too much time had passed since the Aceh agreement for the Nobel Committee to consider him for the 2008 award.

PRIO is situated in the same city as the Nobel Institute, but has no formal links to it. Since no one at the Nobel Institute can indulge in speculation, and the nominators are requested not to publish their proposals, the PRIO Director is asked every year by a number of journalists to guess who the Norwegian Nobel Committee will award the prize to.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee bases its assessment on valid nominations that they receive by 1 February each year. A number of people around the world, including all members of parliaments, have the right to nominate. The members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee can also nominate candidates before their first meeting after the deadline. 197 in total, 164 individuals and 33 organizations, have been nominated for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize, which will be announced on Friday, October 10 at 11:00 am (Norwegian time).

PRIO's Director Stein Tønnesson thinks the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to someone active in defending human rights, since the date of the award ceremony – 10 December – also marks the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If the prize goes to a human rights organization, the most likely candidate is Human Rights Watch. Another possibility is Carla del Ponte, who has been chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). An even more interesting possibility is to award the prize to one of the senior judges, who in several countries have stood up against pressure from the executive, in defense of human rights and against unconstitutional practices. Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Chief Justice of Pakistan who was unseated by former President Musharraf in 2007, is the most likely candidate, but the French, Italian, British, and Zimbabwean Chief Justices or Supreme Court Presidents have also shown great courage in defending human rights and judicial independence. Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to one or more of them would assist the construction of an international system for the enforcement of human rights. Still the Director thinks the most likely winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize will be a jailed dissident, such as the Chinese activists Gao Zhisheng or Hu Jia. Other dissidents that could be honoured with the prize include the Vietnamese Buddhist Thich (monk) Quang Do, and the Russian leader of Memorial, Lidia Yusupova.

The PRIO Director's speculations for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize are:

  1. Gao Zhisheng and Hu Jia
  2. Thich Quang Do
  3. Lidia Yusupova
  4. Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry
  5. The Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC)
  6. FAO or World Food Programme (WFP)

Gao Zhisheng and Hu Jia
Both are Chinese activists and dissidents who were arrested well before the Olympic Games and kept in prision during 2008 so they could not express their opinion in public. Gao Zhisheng (born 1964) is a self-trained lawyer who has advocated on behalf of many victims of injustice. In 2004-05 he wrote three open letters protesting the persecution of the spiritual movement Falun Gong, and gave up his membership in the Communist Party. His licence to practice as a lawyer was then revoked. In January 2006, he was arrested. He responded by organizing a hunger strike, and published an auto-biography entitled A China More Just. He was subsequently prosecuted and convicted to three years in prison suspended for five years, and thereafter kept in house arrest. On 22 September 2007 he was taken away from his home, and has not been heard of since, except that there are strong rumours of torture. After Gao Zhisheng’s disappearance, the younger Hu Jia (born 1973) became the most exposed dissident in Beijing. An acquaintance of Gao he had previously focused mainly on environmental and HIV/AIDS issues, and now actively criticized the government for its treatment of Gao and others. Hu Jia spoke in the European Parliament in November 2007. After his return, he was arrested, and in April 2008 he was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in jail for "inciting subversion of state power and the socialist system". The only Chinese who has ever been given the Nobel Peace Prize is the Dalai Lama (1989). The Nobel Committee must have long been looking for good Chinese candidates. If the Committee should have felt a need to avoid offending the People’s Republic of China in the years preceding the Beijing Olympics, when improvements in the human rights conditions were expected, it may see the time as ripe now to award the prize to a Chinese human rights activist, particularly in view of the fact that the  Olympic Games did not bring the improvement many had hoped for, but instead led to a number of strict security measures.

Other possible Chinese candidates are human rights activists Liu Xiaobo and Chen Guangcheng.

Thich Quang Do 
If the Nobel Committee does not wish to give the prize to a Chinese activist and dissident, they may choose to give it to a Vietnamese. Thich Quang Do is a Buddhist monk, religious leader, researcher, writer and critic of the Vietnamese government and one of Vietnam’s most prominent dissidents. He has spent more than 25 years in detention for his peaceful advocacy of religious freedom, democracy and human rights and is currently detained at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon. In 2006 Quang Do received the Norwegian Rafto prize, and has been nominated for the Nobel peace prize many times.

Lidia Yusupova
Human rights lawyer and spokeswoman for the forgotten victims of the war in Chechnya, Lidia Yusupova gathers testimonies from victims of human rights abuses, and presses their cases with law enforcement and military agencies. She is also the coordinator of the law office at Memorial, a human rights organization based in Moscow. Yusupova received the Norwegian Rafto prize in 2005. Giving the price to a Russian dissident would also give the Nobel committee a chance to evoke the memory of Anna Politkovskaja, the Russian journalist, author and peace activist who was murdered 7 October 2006.  

Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry
Chaudhry was the 20th Chief Justice of Pakistan, appointed on 7 May 2005 by former President Pervez Musharraf, who later suspended him on 9 March 2007. This was the first suspension of a chief justice in the 50-year history of the Pakistani Supreme Court. The court under Chief Justice Chaudhry had made rulings against governmental corruption, and Chaudhry openly criticized dictatorship and emphasized the rule of law. When Musharraf pre-empted an impending court decision against his re-election and suspended the constitution and declared a state of emergency on 3 November 2007, Chaudhry ordered all civil and military personnel to ignore the order. As a reaction to this, the Supreme Court was stormed by Pakistan Army and Chief Justice Muhammad Chaudhry was, along with many other Supreme Court and other high court judges, suspended and put in house arrest. Within the new government coalition, made up of the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League, the question of restoration of Chaudhry as chief justice led to deterioration in relations within the government. Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League, worked for the restoration of Chaudhry as Chief Justice, while President of Pakistan and leader of the Pakistan People Party, Asif Ali Zardari opposed it. Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was awarded the Harvard Law School Association’s Medal of Freedom, and Lawyer of the Year by the National Law Journal in 2007.

The Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC)
The Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) is an international coalition of some 300 NGOs that has, since 2003, campaigned to ban the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of cluster munitions. This effort met with success in Dublin in May of 2008 as 111 states agreed to a treaty text that prohibits the use of most types of cluster munitions, what has become known as the “Oslo Process.” This agreement will be signed On December 3rd 2008 in Oslo, Norway. Giving the prize to CMC would follow the lead and reasoning the Committee used in 1997, when it awarded the prize to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), arguing that the campaign had significantly contributed to mitigating the detrimental humanitarian effects of landmines, as well as making a positive contribution to disarmament. In this sense, the exact same arguments can be invoked in favor of awarding the prize to CMC. A counter argument, however, is that the role of the CMC may not have been quite as significant as that of the ICBL in 1997, with the process being driven more by states (particularly Norway) than by the campaign itself.

The CMC has been coordinated by Thomas Nash since its beginning in 2003, and who may receive the prize either on behalf of the CMC or jointly with the CMC.

FAO or World Food Programme (WFP)
With the dramatic rise in world food prices between 2007 and 2008, the Nobel committee could also choose to award its third ‘food prize’. The first Director of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), John Boyd Orr, received the prize in 1949, and Norman Ernet Borlaug, one of the scientists behind the ‘green revolution’ was awarded the prize in 1970. This time it could be the turn of the World Food Programme (WFP). As the United Nations’ frontline agency in the fight against global hunger WFP provides food, on average, to 90 million people per year, 58 million of whom are children. From its headquarters in Rome and with more than 80 country offices around the world, WFP works to put hunger at the centre of the international agenda, promoting policies, strategies and operations that directly benefit the poor and hungry. WFP operations aim to meet emergency needs as well as to contribute to economic and social development over time, helping the poor break out of the poverty trap. FAO itself has also of course addressed the food prize crisis. For many of the 800 million people who are already affected by chronic hunger the price rise can be devastating, and the situation has naturally provoked social unrest in many developing countries. As a response to the situation, FAO in December 2007 launched its Initiative on Soaring Food Prices, to help vulnerable countries implement urgent measures to increase food supplies. The initiative now covers projects in 54 countries worldwide, with vulnerable populations as the main target.


If the Nobel Committee should wish to go beyond the food prices, and build further on last year’s prize to Al Gore and the International Panel on Climate Change, it might wish to draw attention to the widespread scarcity of water, one of the reasons behind the food crisis, and honour someone working on this issue. It is difficult to see, however, who that should be.


The Director’s own nominee
In a change of tradition, the PRIO Director has, for the first time, decided to nominate someone for the Nobel Peace Prize on his own initiative. Respecting the Nobel Committee's request that nominators refrain from publishing their proposals, the PRIO Director's own favourite is not included in the list below, and will not be publicised, but is someone directly engaged in conflict prevention and peace-related activities.

As a leader of a peace research institute, the PRIO Director is entitled to submit a proposal.  In addition to leaders of peace research institutes and institutes of foreign affairs the following persons are allowed to make nominations: members of national assemblies and governments; members of international courts of law; university chancellors; university professors of social science, history, philosophy, law and theology; former Nobel Peace Prize laureates; board members of organisations that have received the Nobel Peace Prize; present and past members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee; and former advisers at the Norwegian Nobel Institute.

Confirmed Nominations:
Although nominators are requested not to publish their proposals, the following list of nominees is confirmed only to the extent that the nominators have apparently chosen to publicis their choice anyway.

  • Thich Quang Do, Deputy Leader of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBVC), nominated by a wide range of academics and legislators from Europe, the United States and Asia
  • Hu Jia, Chinese activist and dissident
  • Gao Zhisheng, Chinese lawyer, activist and dissident
  • Wei Jingsheng, Chinese dissident
  • Mordechai Vanunu, Israeli former nuclear technician who revealed details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program to the British press in 1986
  • Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algerian President
  • Helmut Kohl, former German Chancellor
  • Bill Richardson, New Mexico governor and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations
  • Ingrid Betancourt, Colombian politician, former senator and anti-corruption activist, kidnapped by Marxist FARC rebels during her presidential campaign in 2002, and held hostage for six years. Since her release, on 2 July 2008, her popularity has soared, with calls for her to re-enter politics and run for president of Colombia again (and to award her the Nobel Peace Prize - it would appear that Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has nominated her, but probably too late).  The Committee might wish to award the prize to this strong, high-profile, Latin American woman for maintaining, despite her ordeal, that political transformation must happen through peaceful and democratic means, in a country which, we should remind ourselves, suffers heavily from the world's longest running civil war. Ingrid Betancourt has suffered substantial human rights abuse from her captors. Betancourt’s recent comments on the need to talk with terrorists in order to fight terrorism may speak to her advantage.
  • Martti Ahtisaari, former Finnish president and now peace negotiator, was a top candidate in 2006-07 and has been nominated again this year
  • Vladimir Putin, Russian President, has been nominated by The International Center for Research on Biofuels and Patents in Zurich for his alternative fuel initiatives in Russia
  • Esperanto, the international language, has been nominated by two Swiss members of parliament
  • Former Governor George Ryan, in honor of his decision to commute all death sentences in Illinois to life prison shortly after he left office in 2003
  • Father John Dear, peacemaker
  • Bob Geldof
  • The Peace Jam Foundation
  • Greenpeace

Possible Nominations:

The following "possible" nominees are not confirmed. Although there is plenty of speculation in some cases, the nominators have not chosen to publicly confirm their nominations.

  • Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, the majority party in Zimbabwe, withdrew from the second round of elections in June 2008 because of widespread use of violence by Robert Mugabe's regime to frighten the electorate. Although he is more of a traditional political leader than a peace or human rights activist, Tsvangirai's non-violent political activism against the nefarious Mugabe regime makes him a possible candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. With the recent power-sharing agreement between President Mugabe and Tsvangirai, the latter has become Zimbabwe’s new Prime Minister. This does perhaps make it risky to award him the price. We cannot know how his government will be doing. On the other hand, a prize to him would serve as a direct encouragement for a further peaceful regime change in Zimbabwe. 
  • Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, possibly with the African Union, for their parts in helping to curb the violence that occurred after the 2007 presidential election by agreeing to share power and implement reforms. The effort made by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, with a mandate from the African Union and an international team, to persuade the two rivals in Kenya to share power may be hailed as an example of good preventive diplomacy. It is highly debatable, however, that the two rivals deserve the prize, as it remains to be seen how successful the power sharing agreement will be. So it might be a little premature for the Nobel Committee to reward the conflict preventers in Kenya, and the main broker of the power sharing agreement, Kofi Annan, is already a peace prize laureate.
  • The European Union, Thorbjørn Jagland former Prime Minister and current President of the Norwegian National Assembly, has for several years promoted the idea of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, as President of the European Council, mediated between Russia and Georgia after the August 2008 war. However, if he has been nominated, it would be for a different reason, since the nomination deadline was before the Russo-Georgian war.
  • Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, spiritual leader and founder of the international Art of Living Foundation
  • Pastor Bulambo Lembelembe Josué, church leader and winner of this year’s Rafto prize, for his work for peace in Eastern Congo. More than five million people have lost their lives in the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped. Pastor Bulambo Lembelembe has initiated a rehabilitation program for women victims of rape (CAMPS), and a program to help child soldiers. As a church leader he preaches democratic ideals in order to relieve tensions between ethnic groups in the region, and he is the Vice President of the human rights organization Hèritiers de la Justice. Four Rafto laureates; Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi, East Timor's Jose Ramos-Horta, South Korea's Kim Dae-Jung, and Iran's Shirin Ebadi, have subsequently also won the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • B'Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, a group of prominent academics, attorneys, journalists, and Knesset members, that endeavors to document and educate the Israeli public and policymakers about human rights violations in the Occupied Territories.
  • Dr Denis Mukwege and the Panzi Hospital of Bukavu (DRC), a hospital established in 1999 in response to the atrocities being committed to the population of Bukavu during the "war of liberation" of 1996.

The 2008 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday, October 10, 11:00 a.m. CET.