When the Nobel Peace Prize Committee gets it right

When the Nobel Peace Prize Committee gets it right

By Ellen Ratner   
2018 Nobel Peace Prize winners Denis Mukwege [1] and Nadia Murad [2]. [1] UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe, [2] UN Photo/Evan Schneider.
2018 Nobel Peace Prize winners Denis Mukwege [1] and Nadia Murad [2]. [1] UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe, [2] UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

NEW YORK — Not all people granted the Nobel Peace Prize turn out the way we hope. There have certainly been some questionable characters who have been awarded the prize.

One of these was Henry Kissinger, who was awarded the prize in 1973 for the Paris Agreement to bring about a ceasefire in Vietnam. Two members of the Nobel Committee resigned in protest. There are some who think the Nobel was awarded to help the Vietnam War end, but it did not conclude until 1975. There are those of us old bats who remember the time and could not believe that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Kissinger!

On to 1994, when Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin were awarded the prize. There was the famous handshake on the White House lawn, and many of us thought there would be peace. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres also got the prize.

I interviewed him in January of 1997 and found him to be a man of peace, as he said you must negotiate with your enemies. It is interesting that many Palestinians considered Yasser Arafat to be the Nelson Mandela of the area.

Newly elected President Barack Obama won in 2009. Even he was surprised, as he had not accomplished anything. Those of us in the White House Press Corps were also very surprised, to say the least. He was awarded the Peace Prize for “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

At the time, most people who followed the Peace Prize process agreed with Professor Fred Greenstein of Princeton University, who said giving President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize is a “premature canonization” and an “embarrassment to the Nobel process.”

Then there is the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991. She was a voice for people who had been denied rights by the government of what is now Myanmar. She had spent many many years in house arrest. Now, because she is not allowed to be president, she is the “power behind the throne” and her official title is “state counselor” of the government. She is not speaking out about the systematized torture and uprooting of the Muslim Rohingya. The government has not been welcoming to many journalists either. Many people have asked the Nobel Committee about taking away her prize.

If the Nobel committee’s intention is to promote peace by giving away the prize, then they have a long way to go. However, they have had some positive hits. For instance, in 2014 they gave the prize to Malala Yousafzai, then still a teenager and, according to Wikipedia, “the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.” Banned from attending school, “She is known for human rights advocacy, especially the education of women and children in her native Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school. Her advocacy has grown into an international movement, and according to Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, she has become ‘the most prominent citizen’ of the country.”

This week, the Nobel committee wisely decided not to give the prize to a politician; but, like Malala, they gave it to two activists in women’s health.

The first is Ms. Murad, whom the BBC describes as an “Iraqi Yazidi who was tortured and raped by Islamic State militants and later became the face of a campaign to free the Yazidi people.”

The other awardee is Dr. Mukwege. He is a Congolese gynecologist who, along with his colleagues, has treated tens of thousands of women.

Dr. Mukwege told the BBC: “I was in the operating room so when they started to make noise around [it] I wasn’t really thinking about what was going on, and suddenly some people came in and told me the news.”

He dedicated his award to all women affected by sexual violence, telling reporters gathered outside his clinic: “This Nobel prize is a recognition of the suffering and the failure to adequately compensate women who are victims of rape and sexual violence in all countries around the world.”

There are very few services in Africa and South Sudan, where I work part-time. South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world. There are very few ob-gyns for a country of 12 million people.

We need more types like Dr. Mukwege. The Nobel committee hit it out of the park this year … even if they didn’t quite even make it into the park in other years.

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