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 2021 Nobel Peace Prize Shortlist
- Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
- Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya
- UNFCCC & Patricia Espinosa
- B'Tselem & the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR)
- Ilham Tohti & Nathan Law Kwun-chung
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
One of the lessons of the recent violence following Trump’s attempt to overturn the outcome of the presidential elections in the US is the power and the danger of misinformation. Factfulness in the reporting that helps us stay informed and form a picture of current affairs as they unfold is key to the proper functioning of open public discourse and democratic institutions. A prize emphasizing the importance of ensuring public access to reliable information would therefore be a prize for those working to protect a cornerstone of the peaceful resolution of conflict.
A worthy recipient of such a prize would be Reporters Without Borders (RSF). An international watchdog based in France, RSF has done important work campaigning for better regulation of online platforms’ dissemination of journalistic content, urging platforms to take steps to promote trustworthy reporting. Another possible candidate for a prize relating to this theme would be the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), an alliance of fact-checkers around the world aimed at supporting best practice and exchange.
RSF is also doing important work monitoring killings and harassment of reporters, and would consequently be a worthy recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize focused on the importance of independent reporting and press freedom in the face of the dire risks under which reporters all over the world are working to provide information from the most devastating conflicts and repressive regimes. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a watchdog group that compiles data on journalists who have been attacked or killed, and advocates for journalists in crisis, would also be a worthy candidate in this area.
Non-violent pro-democracy mass mobilizations and protest movements can play an important role in overturning despotic regimes. In the summer of 2020, protesters poured onto the streets of Minsk to protest the announcement of allegedly rigged election results that propelled Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to a sixth five-year term in office. The protests were met with brutal repression, including reports of wide-spread torture of detained protesters.
In the midst of this clash, opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (Святлана Ціханоўская) has played a leading role in non-violently challenging Lukashenko and the Belarusian authorities, calling both for fair elections and an end to violence against those demonstrating against the abuses of the current regime. Launching her presidential candidacy after her husband, activist Sergei Tikhanovsky, was arrested just days after declaring his own intention to run, Tsikhanouskaya became the candidate of a united opposition, and has subsequently spearheaded the Coordination Council, an initiative aimed at securing a democratic and peaceful transition of power in Belarus. Both for her concrete role in campaigning for democracy in Belarus and as a figurehead of the pro-democracy movement in Belarus, Tsikhanouskaya would be a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
The other two figures that make up the so-called “women’s triumvirate” of the Belarusian pro-democracy movement who also would be apt alternative recipients of a prize in this area: Maria Kalesnikava (Мария Калеснікава), an activist and member of the presidium of the Coordination Council, currently detained; and Veranika Tsapkala (Вераніка Цапкала), an activist and prominent member of the Tsikhanouskaya presidential campaign.
UNFCCC & Patricia Espinosa
In recent years, climate change has come to occupy the attention of the international community with renewed urgency. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, launched in August 2021, has undoubtedly contributed to this growing sense of the need for globally coordinated action, underscoring that there is negligible doubt among experts that warming is indeed occurring and that human action is a driver of these changes.
Research is inconclusive on any direct link between climate change and violent conflict. However, climate change poses fundamental risks to human society; some of the more extreme possible scenarios should we fail to act may pose a potentially catastrophic threat to human security. As such, bodies working to promote and facilitate the global collaboration and solidarity needed to tackle the climate crisis effectively would be worthy recipients of a Nobel Peace Prize.
A fitting candidate for such a prize would be the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa. UNFCCC is the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and 2015 Paris Agreement, and it has near universal membership with over 190 parties. Its secretariat plays an essential role in coordinating the global response to climate change by overseeing and organizing the work of the UN bodies tasked with implementing various important international climate agreements. In this way, UNFCCC is making an invaluable contribution to building “fraternity among nations” in the face of a pressing global threat.
B'Tselem & the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR)
The situation in the occupied Palestinian territories continues to be deeply troubling, with the Israeli occupation becoming ever more entrenched under the Netanyahu government. Political dialogue between the two sides has effectively collapsed. With popular opposition to the occupation fading from view in Israel and the international spotlight directed elsewhere, a Nobel Peace Prize for organizations campaigning to hold the Israeli regime accountable and promote a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict would send a signal about the continued importance of international opposition to human rights violations and illegal occupation in the region.
Two such organizations that would be worthy joint winners of the prize are B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR). Both these organizations have done important work documenting and disseminating information about human rights abuses in occupied Palestinian territory, contributing to raising awareness in Israel and elsewhere of the need for the Israeli regime to change course if the conflict is to have any chance of reaching a peaceful and just resolution.
Ilham Tohti & Nathan Law Kwun-chung
As a peace research institute, it is important for PRIO to contribute to an informed public discourse on the ramifications of autocratic regimes and ethnic injustice for peace and conflict. As China continues to assert itself as a rising superpower in an emerging multipolar world, it continues to be important to highlight pro-democracy efforts and human rights breaches in China and its claimed territories.
In the course of the last year we have continued to see reports of 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 (ئىلھام توختى), 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 (جەۋھەر ئىلھام) 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 rapid 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 (羅冠聰), 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, and currently in exile in the UK. Law and his fellow activists Agnes Chow Ting (周庭) and Joshua Wong Chi-fung (黃之鋒) 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.