Nobel Peace Prize: PRIO Director's Shortlist

The Nobel Peace Prize is arguably the most prestigious prize in the world. It is awarded annually by the Norwegian Nobel Committee to persons or organizations for their efforts and actions for the promotion of peace. Although the committee itself is independent, the prize unavoidably has a political impact and as such is often met with controversy, both regarding the individual laureates and the committee’s interpretation of Alfred Nobel’s will.

Based on their professional assessments, PRIO Directors have made it a tradition to offer their personal shortlists for the Peace Prize. Current director Henrik Urdal presents here his fifth list since taking up the position of director in 2017.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee bases its decision on valid nominations received by the January 31 deadline. Anyone can be nominated (and history has indeed presented us with a few rather dubious nominees, including Hitler), but the right to nominate is reserved for members of national assemblies and governments, current and former members of the Committee, Peace Prize laureates, professors of certain disciplines, directors of peace research and foreign policy institutes, and members of international courts. The five committee members have until their first meeting after the deadline to add nominations of their own. Urdal abstains from using his right to nominate given his active role in commenting on the prize. He has no association with the Nobel Institute or the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

The laureate will be announced in October.

For questions, requests for further information or interviews, please contact the Director's Adviser or the Director.

Kristian Berg Harpviken's 2016 Nobel Peace Prize Speculations

  1. Svetlana Gannushkina
  2. Ernest Moniz and Ali Akbar Salehi
  3. The White Helmets
  4. Edward Snowden
  5. Jeanne Nacatche Banyere, Jeannette Kahindo Bindu and Dr. Denis Mukwege

Svetlana Gannushkina

Svetlana Gannushkina is standing up for the rights of migrants – including refugees and asylum-seekers – in Russia, and as such plays an important role in drawing attention to one of the most challenging issues of our time – in a year when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports an all-time-high figure of 65.3 million people displaced globally. Simultaneously, the debate on refugee hosting is becoming alarmingly contentious across the West (and, perhaps also in the rest of the world). In this situation, Gannushkina has initiated the Civic Assistance Committee, which offers legal aid and education to migrants. Gannushkina’s current engagement for refugees is simply an extension of her life-long commitment to justice, equality and historical reconciliation. She was, for example, a founding member of the Russian organization Memorial, emphasizing the importance of coming to terms with history as a key to present day rights, democracy and reconciliation. Gannushkina has also been a member of Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights. While a prize to Gannushkina would first and foremost be a prize for her remarkable contributions to upholding the rights of migrants – as well as for justice and reconciliation more broadly – it would also draw attention to the problematic record of the current Russian leadership, both domestically and internationally.

Ernest Moniz and Ali Akbar Salehi

Second to the above peace treaty only, perhaps, the most notable diplomatic achievement in recent time is the July 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). In January 2016, IAEA verified that Iran had completed its steps under the deal to ensure the nuclear program remains peaceful, and lifting of sanctions could be commenced. Half a year later, and we have seen a considerable ease of tensions, renewed diplomatic contact and – although slower than many had hoped – business and trade picking up. Many pundits speculated last year that the Nobel Peace Prize could well go to the likes of Mohammed Javad Zarif, John Kerry and Federica Mogherini. This year, I rather suggest that Ernest Moniz, the US Energy Secretary, and Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, are worthy and likely candidates. Serving as chief negotiators on behalf of the US and Iran, the two used their shared background from MIT to reach an agreement in spite of the differences and long-lasting grievances between their respective countries. They even made it onto Foreign Policy’s 2015 Global Thinkers list, and have received much of the credit for the (so far) considerable success of the Iran Nuclear Deal. A fine example of science diplomacy – the activation of scholarly competence to build bridges between people and nations, the Guardian referred to their collaboration as the physics of diplomacy – and the world will hope to reap the benefits for years to come.

The White Helmets

The Syrian Civil Defense – better known as the ‘White Helmets’ – could be an ideal candidate for saving lives, ameliorating human suffering, and maintaining a ray of hope in Syria’s all-encompassing war. A prize to the White Helmets would not be a prize only for humanitarian efforts, it would also draw attention to the remarkable – yet rarely celebrated – resilient forces of societies hit by armed conflict. Equally important, the White Helmets carry the tradition of the non-violent protest movements whose political call for change was caught between President Assad’s military onslaught and the violent response of a wide array of resistance groups, including many adopting extreme worldviews and terror tactics. The commitment and sacrifice of the White Helmets have been widely noted (even with a recent Netflix movie). This has inspired a campaign for the Nobel (not necessarily an advantage), but also widespread accusations that the White Helmets are a Western creation operating in sync with extremist groups (most certainly a misrepresentation), their “real” mission being the ousting of Assad rather than the saving of lives by digging survivors out of the rubble of bombed buildings. Composed of regular citizens – mostly young men – the Helmets have increasingly had access to skills training supported by a variety of external donors, offered mainly in Turkey.

Edward Snowden

Could 2016 be Edward Snowden’s year? His role in alerting citizens across the globe about the extent – and the dangers – of electronic surveillance is undisputable. Even in the US, Snowden’s revelations have led to political and legal reforms that increasingly makes the official view that he is a traitor seem untenable. In October last year, the EU parliament passed a vote where it called on its members to "drop any criminal charges”, to grant Snowden protection and to prevent extradition, “in recognition of his status as a whistle-blower and international human rights defender". Snowden was a contractor for the US National Security Agency (NSA) when he leaked enormous volumes of documentation to the press in the summer of 2013. Others, including Julian Assange and Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, have reportedly been nominated earlier, but Snowden’s candidacy is stronger, given both his recognition that leaking needs to be balanced with a concern for the security of individuals, and his principled reflections on the debate on surveillance and security. Yet, the Snowden leaks remain controversial , also in Norway, where speculations about his candidacy triggered a debate about whether or not the Nobel prize’s host state would allow him to come and receive the award without being arrested.

Jeanne Nacatche Banyere, Jeannette Kahindo Bindu and Dr. Denis Mukwege

With armed conflict and war, sexual violence very often follows, both during and after actual battle action. Three individuals with a long-standing engagement against sexual violence are Mama Jeanne, Mama Jeannette and Dr. Mukwege from DR Congo. Through their church network, the two women have been involved since the early 2000s, leading the work of seeking out survivors of sexual violence all across the country, providing support and ensuring that they receive treatment and help. Gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, on the other hand, set up the Panzi Hospital in Bakuvu, dedicated to providing treatment to these women. Mukwege has personally treated thousands of women and is today a leading expert on repairing the physical damage from rape and sexual violence, and has been instrumental in drawing the world's attention to the brutality and consequences of these kinds of crimes. By awarding the trio’s local, grassroots and on-the-ground actions with a Nobel Prize, the Nobel committee has a chance to strengthen the visibility of sexual violence in war as a global problem.

For the sake of transparency, it should be noted that PRIO researchers are collaborating with Mukwege and the Panzi Hospital for a research project on female empowerment.

About the Shortlist

Each year, PRIO’s Director presents his own shortlist for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Director offers his opinion on the most worthy potential laureates, based on his independent assessment. The PRIO Director’s view on the most worthy potential Nobel Peace Prize laureates is widely covered by international media, and it has been offered since 2002.

While PRIO’s Director is undoubtedly a relevant commentator on the issue, his shortlist neither confirms nor formally endorses any candidate, and is not in any way based on privileged access to the decision-making of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Neither the Director, nor the Institute he leads, have any form of association with the Nobel Institute or the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

The Nobel Committee selects each year's laureate from a list of valid nominations received by 1st February that year. Anyone can be nominated, but only individuals holding certain positions, as laid out in the statutes of the Nobel Foundation, are eligible to nominate candidates. As the director of a peace research institute, the Director of PRIO holds one such position, and is therefore eligible to nominate candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, it is an accepted convention at PRIO that the Director refrain from making nominations given his active role as a commentator on the Peace Prize.

The PRIO Director’s shortlist generates considerable international interest. The debate about what peace is, and how our understandings of what contributes to peace changes over time, is at the core of the institute’s mission (see former Director Kristian Berg Harpviken's ‘Why Speculate on the Nobel Peace Prize’ blog post). This also includes opinions on possible laureates, and assessment of the criteria for the Nobel Peace Prize and the committee’s work on the interpretation of those (for more on the latter, you may also have a look at In the PRIO Director’s opinion, this can only serve to further strengthen the world’s most prestigious prize.

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