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.
Henrik Urdal's 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Shortlist
- Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
- Alaa Salah and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC)
- Alexei Navalny and the Anti-Corruption Foundation
- Ilham Tohti and Nathan Law Kwun-chung
- Hajer Sharief and Ilwad Elman
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
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 safety at risk to provide information from the most devastating conflicts and repressive regimes. A prize emphasizing the importance of providing reliable information from theaters of conflict around the world would be a prize for holding those engaged in conflict to account. It would also acknowledge the importance of independent information gathering in enabling governments to make good decisions in crises and conflicts. Misinformation in wars abounds and increasing concerns over “fake news” only make the need for reliable, quality reporting stronger.
A Nobel Peace Prize for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) would send a message to the international community about the critical importance of journalism and free speech. The CPJ is a watchdog group that compiles data on journalists who have been attacked or killed, and advocates for journalists in crisis. Other worthy candidates in this category are Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an international watchdog group based in France; Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper known for its relentless efforts to uncover corruption and human rights abuses in Russia, despite strong attempts at intimidation; Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, recognized for reporting on atrocities against the Rohingya in Myanmar; and Can Dündar, former editor of Turkey’s secular Cumhuriyet newspaper.
Alaa Salah and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC)
One of the most encouraging conflict transformation processes in 2019 was the popular revolution in Sudan, ousting the former authoritarian regime, replacing it with a transitional government promising fundamental reforms. Since the transitional government came to power, appointing a significant number of women to high office and gesturing at greater tolerance for Sudan’s religious minorities, it has signed a peace agreement with a number of rebel groups, moving a step closer towards the resolution of long-standing violent conflicts in Sudan.
At the forefront of the nonviolent civil society movement, known as the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), demanding change was a young student and activist, Alaa Salah, a member of the civil rights group Women of Sudanese Civic and Political Groups (MANSAM). While the peace process in Sudan is still fragile, and the civilian-military government faces major challenges, the transition from a highly repressive regime to one based on broad political participation is providing a great ray of hope for a country that has seen major armed conflicts in past decades. This is due in great part to the FFC, which brought together a wide range of groups to remove Omar al-Bashir.
Alaa Salah is regarded by many as a symbol of the importance of women in the Sudanese civil society movement. Although MANSAM is part of the FCC coalition that negotiated a power sharing settlement with the former Sudanese government, many peace activists, including Salah, have criticized the FFC for their poor effort to include women, both in the peace process and in the formation of the transitional government. For her efforts to unite diverse civil society actors in a nonviolent struggle for democracy and inclusive peace talks, Salah meets the Nobel criteria both for promoting “peace congresses” and for facilitating “fraternity between nations.” A Nobel Peace Prize for the peace process in Sudan could go to Salah and FFC, or be split between several individuals and civil society actors including FFC, prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, MANSAM and the Sudanese Professionals Organization (SPA) in recognition of the broad political cooperation that brought change to Sudan. Such a prize would mirror the 2015 award to the civil society organizations making up the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet.
Alexei Navalny and the Anti-Corruption Foundation
Democratic backsliding and nationalistic governments are increasingly viewed as major threats to peace and stability in Europe. In Russia, opposition leader Alexei Navalny (Алексей Навальный) established the Anti-Corruption Foundation (Фонд борьбы с коррупцией), investigating high-ranking government officials suspected of corruption. Alongside its investigative efforts, the Anti-Corruption Foundation serves as a platform for opposition groups to organize rallies throughout Russia. Navalny, an open challenger to Putin and the current government, has himself been arrested multiple times on dubious charges. The Anti-Corruption Foundation remains an important standard bearer, not only for the importance of regime accountability, but for the ongoing struggle for peaceful change of government in authoritarian countries. Other forces challenging autocratic tendencies in Russia are Memorial (Мемориа́л), an NGO dedicated to the case of political prisoners; and Rus Sidyashaya (Русь сидящая – Russia Behind Bars), an NGO dedicated to help of unjustly accused and condemned, and its leader, journalist Olga Romanova.
Ilham Tohti and Nathan Law Kwun-chung
The last year has brought pro-democracy efforts and human rights breaches in China to the fore once again. In the course of the last year we have seen increased reporting on human rights abuses perpetrated against Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region, including internment camps, forced sterilization, political indoctrination, and disappearances. Although foreign press has made a real contribution in bringing the issue to light, activists within China have also been making an invaluable effort to raise awareness and campaign for an end to the repression of the Uyghur population. A Nobel Peace Prize for a Chinese activist campaigning against the repression of the Uyghurs in China would help to further highlight the ongoing plight of this oppressed ethnic minority and send a signal to the Chinese authorities that the international community is watching.
One such activist is scholar Ilham Tohti, who was jailed for life in 2014 on charges of promoting separatism. Before his arrest, he worked to spread knowledge for and about Uyghurs, and to foster dialogue. Following Tohti’s arrest, his daughter Jewher Ilham has been advocating on her father’s behalf and speaking about Uyghur issues to the press. While Tohti has not been heard from directly for several years, his work and legacy, including the ongoing activism of his daughter, is still a powerful symbol and motivator for Uyghurs and those who advocate for them.
Awarding a Peace Prize to pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong would also be an apt gesture given the increasing erosion of the region’s semi-autonomous status, including the adoption of the Hong Kong national security law in June 2020. A worthy candidate would be Nathan Law Kwun-chung, a leader of what became known as the “Umbrella Revolution” in 2014, elected to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council in 2016 as its youngest ever lawmaker. Law and his fellow activists Agnes Chow Ting and Joshua Wong Chi-fung, were all prominent members of the pro-democracy organization Demosistō and its forerunner Scholarism, and have become leading figures in the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Hajer Sharief and Ilwad Elman
2019 was a year of youth activism, and UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security has firmly established the importance of youth inclusion in peace processes. Two young women have been particularly prominent in leading the way as youth peacebuilders, both globally and locally:
Libyan activist Hajer Sharief, winner of the 2017 Student Peace Prize, was the co-founder (at the age of 19) of Together We Build It, a civil society network working to support peaceful democratic transition in Libya. As part of the Youth Advocacy Team of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY Peacebuilders) – itself a possible prize recipient in this category – she has campaigned for the adoption and implementation of Security Council Resolution 2250. She has also worked with the implementation of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, co-organizing a network in Libya aimed at promoting the role of women in peacebuilding. In addition, Sharief is an advocate for the Kofi Annan Foundation’s Extremely Together initiative on countering violent extremism, an issue of particular relevance for a youth-focused Peace Prize given the importance of current discussions around youth radicalization.
Born in Somalia, Ilwad Elman spent her childhood in Canada before returning to Somalia in 2010, then in her early twenties. Together with her mother, Fartuun Adan, she co-founded and currently leads the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Mogadishu. Elman Peace engages in a number of peace-related agendas, ranging from youth activism and peace education to skills training and job creation, and to fighting gender-based violence. Winner of African Young Personality (Female) of the Year at the 2016 Africa Youth Awards, Elman is a member of the UN Peacebuilding Fund Advisory Group, as well as a number of other UN expert groups. Like Sharief, she is also associated with the Extremely Together initiative.