The Nobel academy does not always get it right – but this year’s peace prize recipients should be celebrated
Prize-winners have been predominantly politicians, presidents and international organisations – but too few campaigners
There could be no more worthy winners of the Nobel Peace Prize than Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege. In an age when rape has been used a systematic weapon of war, it is especially fitting that the honour has gone to two such indefatigable campaigners against rape in warfare.
Ms Murad is herself a victim of such barbarity, having been tortured as a sex slave by Isis for three months before she managed to escape, probably saving her life in the process. Such is her bravery and singular spirit that she volunteered to tell her story to the BBC without the cover of anonymity. She has nothing to be ashamed of in her ordeal, and now much to be proud of in accepting a prize on behalf of the many thousands of mostly female victims of rape in warfare, of all ages and in many countries. Her camping to liberate the Yazidi people, of whom she is one, is another worthy cause she had dedicated her life to.
Dr Mukwege is a Congolese gynaecologist who has also seen the effects of rape in warfare at first hand, and too many times. He has treated tens of thousands of victims and, sadly, will no doubt have to help many more recover from what is one of the most serious of war crimes. His work also deserves recognition.
Given that one alternative was to offer the prize to Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, it seems especially fitting to honour campaigners working so hard for this cause. Even if Mr Trump and Mr Kim do eventually sign a peace treaty and denuclearise the Korean peninsula – far form a foregone conclusion – they will, to an extent, only be making peace where they have done so much before to risk war. Mr Kim, of course, has oppressed and starved his own people, and will continue to do so. These two leaders’ credentials as peacemakers and champions of civilised behaviour are, at best, unproven.
Of course, there have been many recipients of the prize across history whose achievements have not stood the test of time. Some, such as Henry Kissinger (1973) have suffered a decline in their personal reputations. Others, such as the various founders of the League of Nations, saw their efforts turn to dust within their lifetimes. The list of 104 recipients since 1900 is replete with politicians, presidents and international organisations – but too few campaigners, people who set out to persuade and inspire form the ground up, and too few women. In more recent times there have been more – Wangari Muta Maathai (2004), a Kenyan environmental and political reformer; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman (2011) for women’s rights; and Malala Yousafzai (2014), for education.
The Nobel organisation has, with its choices for 2018, helped to redeem itself for the sexual harassment scandal that led to the cancellation of last year’s Nobel Prize in Literature. Ms Murad and Mr Mukwege won the award for their “efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war” and their “crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and combating, such war crimes”, according to Berit Reiss-Andersen, the Nobel committee chair. These two impressive personalities can only work on, and hope that their own achievements will stand the test of time.
Meantime, the Nobel Peace Prize committee could look again at the nomination of Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger, currently incarcerated at the pleasure of the government in Riyadh for the “crime” of free speech, or “insulting Islam through electronic channels”. Indeed, they might look towards some other way of recognising such heroes of freedom who do not win the famously prestigious award. That way the Nobel Peace Prize could make even more of a difference.
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