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Three Nobel Peace Prizes to three unworthy individuals

October 21, 2021 at 10:00 am

Nobel Peace Prize laureate, US President Barack Obama smiles on the podium with his diploma and gold medal during the Nobel ceremony at the City Hall in Oslo on 10 December 2009. [JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images]

When former United States president, Barack Obama, was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, he was in office less than a year. The Nobel Committee, in its statement, said that the first black president deserved it because, under him, “multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role of the United Nations”. Does that make him a peace maker? The Nobel Committee certainly thinks so.

Mr. Obama, the peace maker, went on to preside over the hegemonic US foreign policy, as a superpower, continually flexing its muscles around the globe. Under Obama, peacemaker, the US went to war in Libya in 2011, destroying a UN member state and setting it on a free fall course ever since. As Commander in Chief of the US armed forces, Mr. Obama authorised 1878 drone attacks on mainly Muslim countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. In many such attacks, always justified by the absurd claim that a terror target was hit, hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent women, men, children and animals were killed in what the US military usually describes as “collateral damage”. Mr. Obama appeared to have deceived many by his speech at the Cairo University in June 2009, when he spoke of “new beginnings” with the Muslim world.

1878 drone attacks in eight years is not much compared to the 2,243 attacks recorded by Donald Trump in the first two years of his presidency. But poor Trump did not win the Nobel!

When president Obama checked out of the White House, the US military was still on the ground as an occupation force in Iraq and Afghanistan, while covertly supporting the Saudi war on Yemen, and America’s “war on terror” never ended.

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Abiy Ahmed became a prime minister of Ethiopia in 2018 and, in 2019, the Nobel Committee found him entitled to its peace prize given his “efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation” noting his “decisive initiative”, to end the war with Eritrea. He won elections on an anti-corruption and accountability platform. Last year, the Nobel Laureate declared war inside his own country. Helped by Eritrean troops, Ethiopian forces are still attempting to root out Tigray fighters from the northern Tigray region. Since November 2020, thousands have been displaced while tens of thousands sought refuge in Sudan and hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine, reviving horrible memories of the 1980s famine that hit the country, particularly the Tigray region, killing over 1.2 million people.

For Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (former Burma), the Nobel Prize came in a more classical fashion. In 1991, the Committee managing the award said Ms Suu Kyi, deserved it for her “non-violent struggle” for democracy and human rights. In a fact sheet about her, the Committee said that Ms. Suu Kyi was “inspired by Mahatma Gandhi”, the Indian father of non-violent protests in the entire world. Yet, that Committee did not find Mahatma Gandhi eligible for its prize, despite being nominated five times between 1937 and 1948, but someone he inspired won!

A peace dove flies past a relief of Alfred Nobel after it was released in front of the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway, on 8 October 2021. [ALI ZARE/NTB/AFP via Getty Images]

A peace dove flies past a relief of Alfred Nobel after it was released in front of the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway, on 8 October 2021. [ALI ZARE/NTB/AFP via Getty Images]

Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won Myanmar’s two elections, first in 2015 and then in 2020, but the constitution barred her from becoming president because of her foreign national children. However, she became the de facto leader of the country, until the army deposed her last February. Under Ms. Suu Kyi’s watch, thousands of Muslim minority Rohingya fled the country into neighbouring Bangladesh, where they live in degrading conditions. The Rohingya have always been victims of brutal crackdowns, rape and displacement in Myanmar, but what started in 2017 under the leadership of the Nobel Laureate has never been seen before.

In all three cases, the winners have lost all moral ground to even qualify thanks to their own actions. Many see former president Obama as a war criminal. The same, to a lesser extent, can be said about current Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed. He could soon be entangled in war with Sudan or Egypt, if not over border disputes with the first, then over the Nile waters with the latter.

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For Ms. Suu Kyi, still in jail, being a Nobel Laureate is even more embarrassing, not only to herself but also more shaming for the Norwegian Committee that awarded her the prize. Unlike Abiy Ahmed and Barack Obama, she was given the award mainly for her struggle for human rights and democracy.

Never once has the Norwegian Committee withdrawn any peace prize after awarding it. In 2018, a UN report heavily criticised Ms. Suu Kyi for not speaking out against what her army did against the Rohingya civilians. When asked about the possibility of taking back the prize from Aung Suu Kyi, a representative of the Norwegian Committee said, “We don’t do it. It’s not our task to oversee or censure winners’ behaviour after they have won the prize.”

But this is wrong, given the privileges the prize brings to individuals in terms of money, prestige and reputation. On deciding who wins the award, the Norwegian Committee has clear criteria to assess winners in, say, physics, medicine or chemistry. Not for the peace prize, because the guidelines are blurred, at best. On top of that, some past worthy winners might not feel comfortable when someone less worthy is given the award. For example, by winning the Nobel in 2009, Barack Obama is now seen by many, to be on equal footing as the late Nelson Mandela, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, which is not fair. The only guideline for the Committee awarding the prize is a section of its founder, Alfred Nobel’s Will: it says someone deserves it if such person has “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses” Obama, Abiy Ahmed and Aung Suu Ky do not fit such a description. It is time Nobel’s Will is adapted to reflect modern day criteria, without actually changing it. Otherwise the award will continue to lose credibility, while becoming more politicised.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.