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.

Henrik Urdal's 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Shortlist

  1. Mohammad Javad Zarif and Federica Mogherini
  2. UNHCR and High Commissioner Filippo Grandi
  3. Cumhuriyet and Can Dündar
  4. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
  5. The White Helmets and Raed al Saleh

Mohammad Javad Zarif and Federica Mogherini

The Iran Nuclear Deal, formally the 'Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action' (JCPOA), is a landmark agreement resolving a 12 year long international conundrum. This was the first (and thus far only) time that a country subject to Chapter VII of the UN Charter has seen its case resolved by diplomacy (rather than as compelled by armed force or by full implementation of Chapter VII demands). Reached in 2015 between Iran and the E3 (Britain, France, Germany) + 3 (China, Russia, United States), the arduous negotiations leading up to the agreement took place over a period of twenty months. The JCPOA provided the impetus for the first sustained interaction at the ministerial level between two states that have not enjoyed diplomatic relations since 1979 – Iran and the USA.

The bulk of the credit for the successful outcome must go to the two organizers of the negotiations, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mogherini’s achievement was not only a breakthrough for this specific case, but also represents the first major conflict successfully mediated by the EU since the ministerial position of High Representative was created in 2009. As symbolic of their role in organizing the negotiations that concluded with JCPOA, the agreement was jointly announced by Mogherini and Zarif in Vienna on 14 July 2015.

The peaceful and successful resolution of the Iran nuclear dispute – the Trump administration confirmed earlier this year that Iran is complying with the framework – would be a worthy and notable winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

UNHCR and High Commissioner Filippo Grandi

Few issues have dominated the political agenda in Europe like the so-called European refugee crisis in recent years. Yet it is not a new problem, nor is it restricted to the European context. According to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also known as the UN Refugee Agency), we are witnessing unprecedented levels of displacement, and a near doubling in less than 20 years. Over 65 million people are now forcibly displaced worldwide. Over 22 million of these are refugees, and 10 million are stateless.

The global community has struggled to come up with a coherent way of dealing with the issue whenever large groups of refugees are on the move. European states have responded by tightening access, and the current US administration has drastically reduced the US refugee program and introduced a travel ban for citizens of certain countries.

In this situation, the Office of the UNHCR has shown its capacity and integrity in standing up for refugees’ rights and needs time and time again. They are working tirelessly to mend the consequences of war in major conflict theatres like Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan. Filippo Grandi, who has decades of experience of working with refugees including as the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), has recently been speaking out for the Rohingyas in the Rakhine province in Myanmar, urging the de-facto head of state in Myanmar, Aung-San Suu Kyi, to act on the situation.

Refugees need a voice in the world, and there are no better suited to provide it than Filippo Grandi and the office of the UNHCR. Although the office has already received two Nobel Peace Prizes (in 1954 and again in 1981), it should be considered a strong and viable candidate once more.

Cumhuriyet and Can Dündar

A living embodiment of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on the freedom of the press in Turkey, former Cumhuriyet editor and columnist Can Dündar has faced charges of disclosing state secrets and aiding a terrorist group. Found guilty and sentenced along with his colleague Erdem Gül, Dündar later moved to Germany in self-imposed exile. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) awarded him the International Press Freedom Award in 2016.

Dündar and the newspaper where he served as a columnist and later editor-in-chief, Cumhuriyet, are disheartening examples of how far freedom of the press has declined in Turkey. One of Turkey’s oldest newspapers and a steadfast secular and republican-leaning publication, Cumhuriyet, has been renowned for its impartial reporting and fearlessness in criticizing the authorities – underscored by it being awarded the 2015 Freedom of the Press Prize by Reporters without Borders in 2015 for its stand against mounting government pressure. This September, no fewer than 17 of Cumhuriyet’s employees stand trial for various charges of being complicit in terrorism. The acts for which they are indicted amount to no more than doing their jobs as journalists by pursuing independent and critical reporting.

A Nobel Peace Prize to Can Dündar and Cumhuriyet would be a welcome boost for press freedom and civil society in a country where such liberties are becoming rarer and rarer. It would also underline the unacceptable dismantling of Turkey’s secular democracy by the Erdogan regime.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

ECOWAS also featured on the previous director's shortlist, on the basis of their success in combining diplomatic efforts with the prospective use of armed force, with the securing of the political transition in Gambia as a recent and tangible demonstration – hailed as a victory for African democracy. The organisation also exemplifies how increased political and economic interaction contributes to ensuring long term regional stability. After the end of the Cold War, there has been ever more emphasis on regional organizations in resolving conflict and keeping peace. Particularly in peacekeeping, ECOWAS has long experience, starting with its operation to restore stability in Liberia, ECOMOG, from 1990 to 1998. The organization has been at the forefront of the increasingly assertive use of force to restore peace, often referred to as peace enforcement. The outright threat of a military intervention in the 2017 Gambia transition fits that trend. Concerns have been raised as to whether Gambia also represents a different trend, namely impunity for past misdeeds, a concern countered by the UN. The Gambian situation was a particular one, with former President Yahya Jammeh refusing to leave office after having lost to Adama Barrow in the elections. ECOWAS action was backed by a UN Security Council resolution. After the success, calls are heard for similar action to be taken by the African Union to safeguard transitions elsewhere on the continent, such as in Burundi, South Sudan or Zimbabwe.

The White Helmets and Raed al Saleh

The Syrian Civil Defense – better known as the ‘White Helmets’ – and its leader Raed al Saleh could be an ideal Nobel candidate for their work saving lives, ameliorating human suffering, and maintaining a ray of hope in the Syrian civil war, now in its sixth year. 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 and even documented in a Netflix movie in 2016. This has inspired a campaign for the Nobel Prize but also accusations of being 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.

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.

An error has occurred. This application may no longer respond until reloaded. Reload 🗙