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 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Shortlist

  1. World Food Programme
  2. Dr. Denis Mukwege, Nadia Murad & Tarana Burke
  3. SOS Méditerranée, Doctors Without Borders & International Rescue Committee
  4. Oby Ezekwesili & The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative
  5. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

World Food Programme

Hunger is once more one of the big humanitarian challenges of our time, with various hunger crises emerging in the wake of armed conflicts. The World Food Programme is the leading humanitarian organization tackling the hunger issue worldwide. Whether food insecurity follows due to armed conflicts such as in Syria and Yemen (where over 18 million people are food insecure, and around 8 million depend on the WFP for survival each month, according to the organization’s own statistics) or displacement and ethnic tensions such as in Kenya and Myanmar (Somali and South-Sudanese refugees, and the Rohingya population, respectively), the WFP is ever-present.

While the evidence for an impact of food insecurity on violent conflict remains tenuous, it is well established that armed conflict severely affects food security. Indeed, the final report of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals rightfully identifies armed conflict as the main reason for failures to meet the MDG target of increased food security. Hence, while reducing food insecurity might not be the most important peacebuilding measure on its own, conflict prevention and food security remain intrinsically linked.

A Nobel Peace Prize to the WFP would highlight the crucial work the organization is doing for populations fleeing from conflict, while also ensuring continued commitment from its funders to keep up their endeavours to make sure victims of conflict, displacement and natural disasters are fed and cared for. Hopefully this will also pave the way for further conflict prevention measures. Hunger crises might not get the headlines that wars and armed conflicts do, but they are just as – if not more – deadly.

In a situation with increasing concerns over global polarization, a peace prize to the World Food program would also clearly signal the need for a strengthened commitment to multilateral solutions to the world’s most pressing issues. Finally, the topic of new technology and innovation in the humanitarian field could be an interesting Peace Prize theme. The WFP is clearly at the forefront here, exemplified through its Building Blocks programme utilising blockchain technology , as well as other innovative means of providing relief and aid.

Dr. Denis Mukwege, Nadia Murad & Tarana Burke

Another strong theme for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize should be sexual abuse and violence. 2018 marks the 10-year anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1820, which explicitly recognizes the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war and a war crime. At the same time, the #MeToo campaign has revealed the ubiquity of sexual abuse and violence which had been quelled and hidden previously, putting the issue front and centre in many countries.

Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad have both been leading figures in bringing attention to sexual violence in armed conflict. Although their experiences and practices differ greatly, there can be no doubt about the potency of their global advocacy work against sexual violence in conflict. Denis Mukwege has provided treatment for thousands of women and is a world-renowned expert on repairing the physical damage from rape and sexual violence. Through the work done at his Panzi Hospital in Bakuvu, Democratic Republic of Congo, he has been instrumental in drawing the world’s attention to these kinds of crimes. In addition to Mukwege, who has featured on both mine and my predecessor’s shortlists earlier, the work of Nadia Murad as an international advocate against sexual violence in conflict deserves recognition. Murad, one of the thousands of Yazidi women and girls who were abducted and held by the Islamic State as slaves, has worked relentlessly to bring attention to victims of sexual violence in wars. While there is increased focus and criminal prosecution of sexual violence in armed conflicts, we see that groups use it in new and systematic ways. Therefore, highlighting Murad’s case, and her fight for prosecution of Islamic State members, takes on a new dimension of importance.

Rising up against the pervasiveness and social stigma of sexual violence and abuse, the #MeToo campaign went viral in the fall of 2017. Initiated already in 2006 by US civil rights activist and community organizer Tarana Burke, the campaign has succeeded in putting sexual violence in its many forms on the agenda globally. Recognizing the work of Burke in the form of a Nobel Peace Prize emphasizes the major threat to human security posed by sexual violence everywhere, also in non-conflict countries.

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

SOS Méditerranée, Doctors Without Borders & International Rescue Committee

Despite declining public attention, the migration crisis in the Mediterranean region is still very much a reality. While there are currently fewer sea crossings to Southern Europe than during the peak in 2015-2016, the death rate is higher, estimated by the UNHCR to be one death per 18 people making the crossing in the first half of 2018. This is a drastic increase compared to the same period the year before, when the death rate was one in 42. A UN report attributes the higher death rate to there being fewer search and rescue vessels operating in the area. The decline in refugees crossing the sea is first and foremost a result of migrants being prevented from leaving Africa for Europe by the Libyan coastguard. As a result, migrants are being held back in Libyan camps under harsh conditions.

A prize for mending the human suffering of the migration crisis should go to the SOS Méditerranée and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), co-operating to run the Aquarius, one of the few ships still running rescue operations in the Mediterranean. While SOS Méditerranée operate the ship, MSF provides the medical assistance. In a crisis that has no end in sight, SOS Méditerranée and MSF are consistently providing aid to migrants in need. MSF has also been one of the most outspoken advocates for migrant rights, reporting relentlessly on the dangerous conditions in the Mediterranean and highlighting the desperate need for more assistance. The organization also serves new migrants at arrival in Europe by providing health care and psychological support.

On the ground in Libya, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) deserves recognition for their work to provide emergency health care and reproductive services to an increasingly vulnerable and growing migrant population, including those in detention centers. Their possibility to provide health care assistance has been drastically reduced lately, however, as a result of the worsening situation in Tripoli, Misrata, and Sirte, where detention centers had to be evacuated. The IRC also works with migrants in Greek camps, providing much-needed mental health care.

A three-part prize to these organizations would highlight the need for continued engagement in the ongoing crisis and recognize the long-term humanitarian assistance provided.

Oby Ezekwesili & The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative

Corruption is a main driver of social upheavals around the globe, underpinning recent major developments like the Arab Spring. Corruption also thrives during and after war, and many conflict-affected countries are among the most corrupt in the world. Oby Ezekwesili, former Minister of Education in Nigeria and Vice President for Africa in the World Bank and one of the founders of Transparency International, has been an international champion in the fight against corruption. Ezekwesili was also the Federal Minister of Solid Minerals and the Chairperson of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), leading the first ever national implementation of the global EITI standards.

Ezekwesili and EITI are worthy candidates because of their efforts in making the world more transparent and less corrupt. The link between armed conflict and high-value natural resources is strong: EITI was established in 2003 as a direct response to the mounting evidence showing that poor governance of natural resources may lead to an economic ‘resource curse’ and increased conflict. Increased transparency over extraction processes and financial results has led to a more sober and nuanced debate about the extractive industries and their output, and has the potential to help defuse conflicts and reducing tensions before they even happen. EITI’s efforts to create multi-stakeholder groups in which civil society is involved is a model case for inclusiveness in such a politically and economically important issue.

Anti-corruption and transparency champions have not traditionally been considered as obvious candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet, natural resources, transparency, corruption and conflict are intrinsically linked. This important work by individuals and organizations like Ezekwesili and EITI is deserving of attention, and a Nobel Peace Prize to the field of anti-corruption and transparency would be a welcome boost now that key actors such as the U.S. have abandoned the EITI by the wayside.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Independent reporting and press freedom have not yet been the focus of the Nobel Peace Prize. Reporters all over the world are putting their own health and safety at risk to provide information from the most devastating conflicts and repressing regimes. A prize emphasizing the importance of providing reliable information from the conflict theaters of the world, would be a prize for holding conflict actors accountable. It would also acknowledge the importance of independent information gathering for enabling governments to make good decisions in crises and conflicts. Misinformation in wars is abound, and increasing concerns over ‘fake news’ only make the need for reliable quality reporting stronger.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is an international watchdog group based in France whose goal is to preserve media freedom and freedom of expression by protecting journalists and highlighting injustices and threats toward them. The organization has recently spoken out against the sentencing of Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo following their reporting of atrocities against the Rohingyas in Myanmar. A win for RSF would be well-deserved and represent the work of journalists everywhere who dedicate their lives to report on such important cases.

Other worthy candidates in this category are Can Dündar and the Cumhuriyet newspaper, which were both on the 2017 PRIO shortlist. Dündar was the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet until mid-2016, when he was forced to go into exile. One of Turkey’s oldest newspapers and a steadfast secular and republican-leaning publication, Cumhuriyet has been renowned for its independent reporting and fearlessness in criticizing the authorities – underscored by it being awarded the 2015 Freedom of the Press Prize by RSF for its stand against mounting government pressure.

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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