PRIO Network

Nobel Peace Prize 2012: PRIO Director's Speculations

Another Nobel Peace Prize announcement is nearing (Friday 12 October at 11:00AM), and PRIO Director Kristian Berg Harpviken once again speculates over who will win the prize. While the PRIO director may be well placed to speculate on this topic, his speculations do not confirm nor endorse any candidate. He has chosen not to nominate anyone himself. PRIO does not have any formal links to the Nobel Institute and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo; consequently, the speculation does not reflect their opinion.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee bases its assessment on valid nominations that they receive by 1 February each year. A number of people around the world, including all members of parliaments, have the right to nominate. The members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee can also nominate candidates in their first meeting following the deadline. The Nobel Committee announced late February that they had received 231 valid nominations, 43 of which are organizations.

As per usual, we also keep an unofficial list of confirmed and possible nominations (click or scroll down).

Kristian Berg Harpviken’s shortlist for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize

  • Gene Sharp
  • Memorial and Svetlana Gannushkina
  • Echo of Moscow and Aleksei Venediktov
  • John Onaiyekan and Mohamed Sa'ad Abubakar
  • Thein Sein

Harpviken’s favourite for 2012 is Gene Sharp, who has been a main analyst and inspirator on non-violent action, which has proven its strength in numerous uprisings over the past couple of years. The second favourite is Memorial, the Russian organization focusing on human rights, democracy, and reconciliation through historical documentation, alongside founding member Svetlana Gannushkina. Third on Harpviken’s list is Echo of Moscow, an independent media house, and its editor, Aleksei Venediktov. A fourth possible outcome in 2013, suggests Harpviken, is a shared prize to Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Mohamed Sa'ad Abubakar, both of Nigeria, for their contribution to interreligious dialogue. A fifth possible winner, within the always controversial peacemakers category, is Myanmar’s President Thein Sein.

About the Favourites

Non-violent resistance has been in the headlines in much of 2011, with Gene Sharp being a behind-the-scenes, yet apparent candidate. Now at 84 years of age, Sharp has devoted his entire life to deciphering non-violence, building a catalogue of some 200 non-violent techniques. His writings have been widely circulated and have inspired activists from Chinas Tiananmen square in 1989 to Egypt's Tahrir Square at the present. Sharp distinguishes himself by emphasizing the supreme qualities of non-violence (over violence) in the encounter with regimes that possess the capacity to act violently. Non-violent protests are more legitimate, allowing for broad alliances, preferably including people within the existing government and its security apparatus. Sharp's claim that non-violence is more likely to bring about lasting political change than violent action is even supported by new research. With the Libyan uprisings turning into a massive armed confrontation, and Syrian confrontations converting into a civil war, the qualities of non-violence deserve attention. Other candidates in the same category is the Serbian non-violent organization Otpor!, or the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) and its leader Srdja Popovic, which has been instrumental in disseminating knowledge of non-violence globally. A final possibility in this category would be to reward the monks in Burma for their 2007 protests which inspired the unfolding opening in the country: a prize to the All Burma Monks Alliance (ABMA), perhaps shared with Ashin Gambira, one of its founders, who was released by the Burmese government in early 2012.

The second favourite, Memorial, is a Russian organization which focuses on the documentation of historical injustice and violence, with the aim of promoting reconciliation, democracy and human rights. A Nobel peace prize to Memorial is likely to be shared with one or several of its most profiled activists, such as Svetlana Gannushkina, who is a founding member of the organization and now a member of Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights. The activities of Memorial include historical documentation, human rights advocacy and monitoring, and legal assistance. The organization's approach to historical documentation as a way of overcoming a conflictual past is particularly interesting, and represents a softer alternative to the legal approach pursued through a variety of transitional courts set up over the past two decades. The organization is also active in Chechnya, where conflict is still raging. Memorial has pursued its mission sometimes at great cost. Its archives have been searched and partially confiscated by the authorities. The Head of its Chechnya office, Natalia Estemirova, was abducted and later found killed in 2009. Memorial’s current leader, Oleg Orlov, faced legal charges for his statements regarding Ms Estemirova’s death, which were discharged by Moscow City Court on 20 January 2012. A prize to Memorial would also be a response to criticism levelled against the Nobel committee’s chair, Torbjørn Jagland, that his post as secretary-general at the Council of Europe effectively rules-out a prize to Russian civil society activists. Another possible candidate in the same category is Sima Simar, a former Harpviken favourite, whose work at the helm of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission is becoming only more critical as the international withdrawal from Afghanistan is getting closer. In the same category is Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a psychologist and a member of the South African Truth Commission who has launched the term ‘empathic repair’. Other candidates include Louise Arbour, chief prosecutor for the tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda and since 2009 the head of International Crisis Group, and Richard Goldstone, leader of the UNHCR investigation of human rights and humanitarian law violations in the 2008-09 Gaza war. Within the closely related area of transitional courts, the Special Tribunal for Cambodia, the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia are possible candidates, despite their somewhat disappointing track record.

Number three on on Harpviken’s 2012 list is Echo of Moscow and Aleksei Venediktov, its chief editor. Independent reporting and free media is widely seen to positively contribute to peace, holding governments and others accountable. Despite of this, no peace prize has been awarded to the media. Echo of Moscow, set up as a radio station in 1990, is now one of the major independent sources of news and commentary in Russia and several of the CIS-countries. The station has expanded to include a TV-station and a website. Under continuous government pressure, yet able to operate relatively freely, there has been some criticism that the channel is overly submissive. A prize to honor independent reporting in Russia could combine Radio Echo Moscow with others, such as Novaya Gazeta newspaper (where the late Anna Politkovskaya worked), the Caucasian knot web-portal (a source of independent information on the Caucasus), or Yassen Nikolayevich Zassoursky, widely seen as the godfather of critical journalism, and founder of the Faculty of Journalism at Moscow State University. Another possible candidate and one of Harpviken’s earlier favourites is the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a diaspora-based news agency with a proven ability to conduct reporting under tight state controls. In 2011, many believed that Al Jazeera was a strong candidate, and depending on its role in covering continuing political upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East, it may have a case to make also this year. There is also Malahat Nasibova, a journalist and human rights activist operating in the Nakchivan enclave of Azerbaijan, and recipient of the 2009 Rafto Prize. A likely nominee also this year is Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange, who Harpviken always found unlikely, and the candidacy has been weakened by the posting of documents containing sensitive information on numerous individuals.

The fourth favourite for 2012 is a Nigerian duo: Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Mohamed Sa'ad Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto. As leaders of the Christian and Muslim communities in Nigeria, these two have spoken out against the misuse of religion in legitimating conflict and have contributed to preventing outbreaks of violence. They have taken issue with the view that religion is the root of the conflict, which they see much more as interest driven, stimulated by poverty and unemployment. Both men have served as co-presidents for the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC). Abubakar serves as head of the Nigerian National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and Onaiyekan is currently the head of the African Council of Religious Leaders. With Nigeria having experienced a massive escalation of violence justified by religion, a price to Onaiyekan and Abubakar would be a timely comment. A shared prize would in itself underline the potential of religious dialogue to foster peace. Another possible candidate in this area is Ghazi bin Muhammad, a professor in the Philosophy of Islamic Faith at Jordan University, as well as a member of the Jordanian Royal family. Ghazi bin Muhammad was the initiator of the 2005 Amman Message and the 2007 initiative known as ‘A Common Word’. There are a number of other candidates in the same area, including St. Egidio, a Catholic order which combines humanitarian work and peace mediation. A prize to the Burmese monks who protested peacefully in 2007 (see above) could be also justified primarily by the dialogue potential of religion.

Fifth and final is Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, for spearheading a gradually evolving peace process in the country. Peacemaking is certainly at the core of the Nobel mandate, and many prizes have been awarded to both mediators and lead representatives of conflict parties. After a long period with little progress towards resolving the world’s protracted conflicts, we have recently seen positive developments in several places, including Myanmar, Colombia and Somalia. A price to Thein Sein would stir controversy, rightly so, as the peace process is still fragile, and armed conflict prevails between the government and some of the ethnic minority parties. But the committee has often insisted that the prize is not to be for saints only, and has in recent years been particularly eager that it makes a difference in processes unfolding, even if that may carry high risk. A prize to Myanmar is complicated by the fact that the main opposition leader, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, has already received the prize (in 1991; while giving her lecture on 16 June 2012). Looking at other peace processes, there are few evident candidates. Colombia’s President Santos is a possible future candidate, if the talks slated to start in Oslo on 15 October prove constructive (if so, perhaps a shared prize with representatives of civil society).

Alternative directions

Independent reporting and free media is widely seen to positively contribute to peace, holding governments and others accountable. Despite of this, no peace prize has been awarded to the media. A possible candidate and one of Harpviken’s earlier favourites is the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a diaspora-based news agency with a proven ability to conduct reporting under tight state controls. In 2011, many believed that Al Jazeera was a strong candidate, and depending on its role in covering continuing political upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East, it may have a case to make also this year. There is also Malahat Nasibova, a journalist and human rights activist operating in the Nakchivan enclave of Azerbaijan, and recipient of the 2009 Rafto Prize. In Russia, there is Yassen Nikolayevich Zassoursky, widely seen as the godfather of critical journalism, and founder of the Faculty of Journalism at Moscow State University. A likely nominee also this year is Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange, who Harpviken always found unlikely, but whose candidacy has been further weakened by the posting of documents containing sensitive information on numerous individuals.

There are also strong arguments for a prize to peace research. Steven Pinker, the celebrated Harvard psychologist who published The Better Angels of our Nature, has argued firmly that never has the world been more peaceful than it is now. Pinker’s strong attempt at myth-busting has been met with widespread recognition. Other potential candidates within peace research are Paul Collier, Oxford University Professor of Economics and one of the world’s most influential analysts of the causes and consequences of war; Michael Doyle and Bruce Russett, proponents of the Democratic Peace theory; and the Human Security Report Project (RSRP) and its founder, Andy Mack, who have persistently been arguing and documenting the post-1995 decline of wars, battle-deaths and genocides. Gene Sharp (presented above) also sits well in the peace research category with his work on non-violence.

There are a number of other topics that would merit a Nobel Peace Prize. This year, one such topic is the fight against corruption and for redistribution of wealth, which has manifested itself in major cities across the world (one possible name would be John Githongo, Kenyan activist). A topic of considerable current relevance is multicultural understanding, which is high on the Norwegian agenda in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Oslo and Utøya on 22 July 2011, but also an important concern in large parts of the world. The importance of elections to sustainable democracy, as well as the risks that elections may escalate violence, could justify a prize to election monitoring (the 2002 prize to Carter implied a nod in this direction). There are many international actors, but at a national level, the Russian organization Golos, perhaps with Lilia Shibanova, is an interesting candidate. Indisputably in line with the core intent expressed in Nobel’s will is disarmament, but despite a number of processes and instruments, addressing anything from light arms to nuclear weapons, as well as a genuine risk of war over Iran’s nuclear program, it is hard to see any that merits a Nobel Peace Prize at this stage.

The committee's composition

There has been considerable debate on the composition of the committee (for more on this, see the 2011 speculations). With effect from 1 January 2012, there were two appointments. The existing practice was continued, whereby the parties distribute the committee seats among the parties in the parliament according to their relative representation. The Labour Party nominated Berit Reiss-Andersen as a new member of the committee. Reiss-Andersen is first and foremost known as a lawyer and serves currently as president of the Norwegian Bar Association. She served as state secretary for the Minister of Justice and Police from 1996 to 1997. The Progress Party chose to reappoint Inger Marie Ytterhorn for her third 6 year period (following a row with former party leader Carl I. Hagen, who publicly expressed his strong dismay over not being selected). The next appointment of committee members will be in autumn of 2014, when three of the committee’s seats will be open for appointment (the new committe active as of 2015).

NOBEL PEACE PRIZE NOMINEES 2012

Below is a list of confirmed and possible nominations based on information leaked to the press/web, possibly based on rumours and hearsay. It is by no means complete or assured, but represents a best possible list given the information present at the time of writing. In some cases it is unclear whether the nominator is indeed eligible for nominating. For further information on the nomination process click here. The full list of nominations is kept secret for 50 years.

Campaigns and rumours

The names below are mentioned in connection with this year's Nobel Peace Prize but without reports that they are actually nominated. In some cases the only source is a campaign to get them nominated.

  • Julian Assange and Wikileaks
  • Wikipedia
  • Anna Hazare
  • Sultan Qaboos Bin Said
  • Sheikh Ul Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir Ul Qadri
  • Bill Gates
  • Willie Nelson
  • John Githongo
  • Imran Khan
  • Free the Slaves Foundation
  • Pax Christi International
  • Tim Berners-Lee
  • Sonia Gandhi

Contact details:

Kristian Berg Harpviken, PRIO Director. Contact.
Halvor Berggrav, Adviser to the Director. Contact.
Agnete Schjønsby, Information Director. Contact.