PRIO Director's Speculations 2009

Kristian Berg Harpviken took over as PRIO's Director on 1 July 2009. He will continue the tradition for the PRIO Director to indulge in speculation as to who might win the Nobel Peace Prize. While the PRIO Director may be well placed to do this, his speculation does not confirm or endorse nominations, or reflect the opinion of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. PRIO does not have any formal links to the Nobel Institute.

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 following the deadline. In total, 172 individuals and 33 organizations have been nominated for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, the highest number of nominations ever. The winner will be announced on Friday, October 10 at 11:00 am (Norwegian time).


Kristian Berg Harpviken thinks it is most likely that the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to an individual or organization engaged in the resolution of protracted armed conflicts. The most likely candidate is Piedad Córdoba, the Colombian senator who has been eagerly advocating a peace process in her country, and has played an instrumental role in the release of hostages. A second strong candidate is the Jordanian Prince, Ghazi bin Muhammad, who as an Islamic scholar plays a key role promoting interfaith dialogue. A third candidate is Sima Samar, the Afghan woman at the helm of her country’s human rights commission, former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan, and who has a long background in human rights and humanitarian assistance.


Kristian Berg Harpviken's favourites for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize:


  • Piedad Córdoba
  • Ghazi bin Muhammad
  • Sima Samar

Piedad Córdoba is a senator for Colombia’s Liberal Party, and leads Colombians for Peace – Colombianas y Colombianos por la Paz - a civil society initiative that has been consistently arguing in favor of a negotiated solution to the conflict between Álvaro Uribe’s government and the FARC guerrillas. Since 2007, Cordoba has played a key role in negotiating the release of hostages held by FARC, at first in collaboration with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez. After Uribe objected to Chavez’s involvement, Cordoba has been spearheading the negotiations with some engagement from the Brazilian government and the International Red Cross. Given Cordoba’s efforts, there have now been four rounds where FARC has unilaterally released a total of sixteen hostages. Suspicious of other possible intermediaries, including the Red Cross, whose emblem has been used by Uribe to lure his soldiers into FARC heartlands, the movement expressed their confidence in Córdoba. The main concern now is with the remaining hostages, who are mostly ordinary Colombians, with no international prominence to draw attention and diplomatic pressure. While it is the hostage releases that have brought Córdoba and her organization the most attention, her role as a principal proponent of peace negotiations and of long term reconciliation is probably more important to her candidacy for the Nobel Peace Prize. Senator Córdoba has been nominated by Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Argentinian human rights activist and Nobel Laureate.

PRIO researcher Wenche Hauge published an op-ed on Piedad Córdoba: ‘Colombias fredskvinne’ [Colombia’s Woman of Peace] in Bergens Tidende, 12 September 2009. English version available here.

Ghazi bin Muhammad, a professor in the Philosophy of Islamic Faith at Jordan University, as well as a member of the Jordanian Royal family, is playing an increasingly central role as an advocate of interfaith dialogue. Prince Ghazi was the key actor in bringing about the 2005 Amman Initiative, in which 170 Islamic scholars, Shia and Sunni, from 40 countries met in Amman to work out what they referred to as a ‘theological counter-attack against terrorism’. The Amman Message was followed in 2007 by a new initiative – A Common Word Between Us and You – where a gathering of prominent Islamic scholars have formulated a letter to leaders of the Christian Faith, calling for mutual understanding and peace. The Common Word letter was in part a response to Pope Benedict XVI’s famous 2006 lecture at Regensburg, who many saw as an attack on Islam. In May 2009, Prince Ghazi gave a broadly accommodating welcome speech when the Pope visited Amman. The importance of Prince Ghazi’s initiatives to date lies first and foremost in the way he engages Islamic theology, institutions and leaders in a debate on the relationship between Islam and other faiths, thereby contributing a wider platform for interreligious dialogue for Muslims in general. A prize to Prince Ghazi would also be recognition of the longstanding efforts of the Jordanian Royal Family, including King Abdullah, who have been longstanding proponents of peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.

Sima Samar is an Afghan human rights activist who currently leads the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and who served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan from 2005 to 2009. Samar is a medical doctor by training, and has also been heavily engaged in humanitarian welfare work, establishing Shuhada, an organization that focuses on health care, particularly to female Afghans. In 2002, Samar was appointed as a Minister of Women’s Affairs in Hamid Karzai’s transitional administration. She has been under frequent attacks both from conservative religious leaders and from Islamist radicals, and she is a prominent voice for the rights of women. Samar was nominated for the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2008. In Afghanistan, the AIHRC has played an important role in monitoring human rights abuses, including bringing attention to the issue of civilian casualties. Yet, the commission’s effectiveness has been hampered by a cautious president who relies on deals with many of the country’s former warlords, by representatives of the international community who are equally cautious, and most importantly, by the amnesty on pre-2001 war crimes that was tabled by the country’s parliament in 2005. While controversial in many political quarters, Samar does invite respect by being a principled and outspoken proponent of human rights and the need for a true reconciliatory process.

These are three candidates firmly grounded in a tradition of consistent peaceful conflict resolution and dialogue, two of them (Córdoba and Simar) with a strong human rights profile. Other types of candidates are not unlikely. One particular sector which has not been awarded a Peace Prize, but which very well could host the recipient of one, is journalism. Secretary of the Nobel Committee, Geir Lundestad, has repeatedly suggested that independent reporting would be a deserving purpose for the Peace Prize. The Rafto Prize for Human Rights went to Malahat Nasibova, a journalist and human rights activist operating in the Nakchivan enclave of Azerbaijan. Given that four recent Rafto Prize winners (Aung San Suu Kyi, Jose Ramos-Horta, Kim Dae-jung, Shirin Ebadi) have later been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it has been suggested that Nasibova may become this year’s Nobel laureate. Within this category, however, there are other candidates. Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist who fearlessly covered the Chechen conflict, would have been one, had it not been for the fact that she was killed in 2006 and that the prize is not awarded posthumously. Media institutions could also be awarded the prize, although many of the established heavyweights such as the BBC and New York Times have suffered reputational setbacks in recent years. Perhaps as likely are organizations committed to independent reporting or freedom of expression, for example the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) or Article 19.

There is also considerable speculation as to whether the 2009 Nobel Prize should go to a Chinese dissident. Last year, my predecessor, Stein Tønnesson, thought the most likely candidates were Gao Zhisheng and Hu Jia. The Olympic Games in Beijing were over, but had not led to the political opening up that many hoped for. Since then, there have been new uprisings in China, including in Tibet and Xinjiang; the clampdown on Tianmen square has its twentieth and the takeover of Tibet its fiftieth anniversary. Yet, I do not see Chinese dissident as a particularly likely recipient in 2009. A 2008 prize, following the Olympics, would have had a stronger signal effect. Also, I would be surprised if the committee, which at the time of making its decision includes two (outgoing) members of parliament, will want to confront China, who has made it clear that it would launch a vocal protest. I do think it is likely that the current Nobel Committee will take daring decisions. I also think that the most likely expression of the committee’s courage this year will be to award the prize either to an unconventional kind of candidate or to somebody whose work is likely to be directly helped by a prize award.




Because nominations are officially kept a secret, the list below is based on information leaked to the press/world wide web and could possibly be based on rumours and hearsay. It is by no means complete or assured, but represents the best possible list given the information present at the time of writing. For further information on the nomination process click here.


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.

  • Barack Obama, US President
  • Baruch Tenembaum, Founder of The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, interfaith proponent of Jewish background (IRWF)
  • Bulambo Lembelembe Josué, the Democratic Republic of Congo, 2008 Rafto Prize winner
  • Chen Guangcheng, Chinese human rights activist
  • Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC)
  • Daniel Barenboim, co-founder of the Peace Orchestra. [More...]
  • Denis Mukwege and the Panzi Hospital of Bukavu
  • European Union
  • Fidel Castro, former Cuban President
  • Gao Zhisheng, Chinese human rights activist
  • Ghana's Electoral Commission and its head Dr Kwadwo Afari Gyan
  • Hu Jia, Chinese human rights activist
  • Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan President
  • Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, former Chief Justice of Pakistan
  • International Crisis Group (ICG) and Gareth Evans
  • Juan Evo Morales Ayma, President of Bolivia
  • Leonard Peltier [More...]
  • Lidia Yusupova, Russian human rights lawyer
  • Liu Xiaobo, Chinese human rights activist
  • Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse, Norwegian doctors who reported from Gaza
  • Mordechai Vanunu
  • Mustafa Jemilev
  • Nicolas Sarkozy, French President, for peace efforts in the Russia-Georgia conflict and the Middle East
  • Pete Seeger, US musician
  • Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad and A Common Word Initiative, for its endeavours to bring about conciliation between Muslim denominations
  • Save the Children
  • Sun Wenguang
  • The Netherlands. A prize to The Netherlands has been put forward by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), “for its achievements in minimizing drug use in its citizens, while at the same time restricting imprisonment”, but it’s unclear if they have found an eligible nominator.
  • Thich Quang Do, Vietnamese Buddhist monk
  • Union of the Committee of Soldier’s Mothers of Russia
  • UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
  • World Food Programme (WFP)


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 publicise their choice anyway.

See here for last year's speculations (by Stein Tønnesson)