Devnet – Behind the Scenes at the Nobel Peace Prize

Masahiro Tauchi, Advisor, DEVNET JAPAN – Former Ambassador of Japan to Norway

On October 7, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize at the Nobel Institute near the Royal Palace in Oslo, Norway. According to the announcement by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which selects the laureates, a total of 343 candidates (251 persons, 92 organizations) were nominated this year, the second highest number ever. Those eligible for nomination include past Nobel laureates, members of parliament, cabinet ministers, and university professors from around the world. In principle, nominations close at the end of January, but the five members of the Nobel Committee may add more names to the list at the first meeting after the nomination process is completed. In 2022, the first meeting of the committee was held on February 28, so nominations related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine (February 24) were narrowly possible.

Urdal, the Director of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO), which annually predicts the winners, said that Chikhanovskaya, who stood up to the authoritarian Lukashenko regime in Belarus, and Nawariny, who was imprisoned in Russia, were the most likely winners. The awards to both activists who are “vocal critics of the Russian invasion of Ukraine” is seen as “a clear protest of the Russian aggression and the assistance by Belarus”.  As a result, however, neither of them was selected. This may have been because the Peace Prize requires a cautious approach to support political activists who are running for the presidency, lest it be called interference in internal affairs. President Zelensky’s name was also mentioned, but as he was one of the parties to the war, he was not chosen. Describing the invasion as “a war that could escalate into a nuclear war between two states, including nuclear power,” Urdal said, “It is difficult for the Nobel Committee to ignore the ongoing conflict in Europe. They will try to find candidates who reflect the current situation and can speak about it through the award. ” [1]       

Appearing at 11:00 a.m. at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, Commission Chair Reiss-Andersen said, “This year’s Peace Prize will be awarded to Alesi Bialyatski, a human rights activist from Belarus, the Russian human rights organization Memorial, and the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties (CCL).”  The Chairperson then explained the reasons for awarding the prizes to one individual and two organizations: “They have for many years promoted the right to criticize power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens. They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power. Together they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy.”

The reasons for the award, as revealed by the chairperson, are as follows:

(1) Alesi Bialyatski is a Belarusian human rights activist and the founder of the democratic movement of the mid-1980s who has dedicated his life to the democratization and peaceful development of his country. In 1996, he founded the organization “Byasna (Spring)” to support people imprisoned during demonstrations and their families. He was imprisoned from 2011 to 2014, but in 2020 he was arrested again after the outbreak of mass demonstrations against the regime and is still being held without trial.

(2) The Russian human rights organization Memorial was founded in 1987 by activists from the former Soviet Union, including Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov. In addition to establishing an archive on victims of the dictator Stalin’s era, the organization systematized information on political repression and human rights violations in Russia. It has been at the forefront of efforts to combat militarism and promote human rights and a government based on the rule of law. During the Chechen conflict, the Memorial collected and verified information on human rights abuses and war crimes committed against civilians by the Russian military and others. In December 2021, the Russian authorities ordered the Memorial to be disbanded.

(3) The Civil Liberties Center of Ukraine (CCL) was established in Kiev in 2007 to promote human rights and democracy in Ukraine. It actively advocated for Ukraine’s accession to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in order to move Ukraine toward governance based on the rule of law. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of this year, it has been engaged in efforts to identify and document Russian war crimes against Ukrainian civilians. It has played a pioneering role in holding those who committed war crimes accountable. 

In reading the above reasons for the award, the only part that refers to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine since February of this year is that the Center for Civil Liberties (CCL) of Ukraine was engaged in efforts to identify and document Russian war crimes. If so, do the reasons raised for the award of the Belarusian Alesi Bialyatski and the Russian human rights organization Memorial reflect the circumstances of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? 

In a response to reporters following the announcement of the winners, Chair Reiss-Andersen said, “The invasion of Ukraine is a global threat that raises the specter of the use of nuclear weapons.” She then added, “We are talking about two authoritarian states and one nation in the midst of war and fighting a war. We want to emphasize the importance of civil society in all countries promoting values other than aggression and war.” She clarified that the two authoritarian states at issue in the Peace Prize are Russia, which is waging a war of aggression, and Belarus, which is supporting Russia. She added, “In order to prevent authoritarian states from starting wars, it is necessary to instill the ideals of democracy and human rights in society, and the activities of the laureates of this prize are contributing to the consolidation of these ideals.” 

A journalist also commented, “Today (October 7), Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated his 70th birthday. Is it a timely birthday present or a political protest against a dictator and oppressor leader?  Chair Reiss-Andersen responded to the question, “This year’s Peace Prize is not directed at President Putin, in the sense of a birthday or otherwise. But President Putin’s government and the government of Belarus are authoritarian states that oppress human rights activists, and President Putin is in the spotlight because of the oppression of civil society and human rights activists in both countries. That is what we wanted to address with this award. We are giving the award to those who have contributed to peace in recognition of their contributions, not in condemnation of anyone. We always give a prize for something and to somebody and not against anyone.”

Certainly, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to “the person or organization that has made the greatest and best contribution to friendly relations among nations, to the reduction or abolition of armaments, and to the promotion of peace conferences” in accordance with Nobel’s will, not to “condemn and award to anyone“. However, honoring those who have tried to defend human rights, democracy, and peace with the Peace Prize is a strong indictment of Russia and its supporter Belarus, both of which have been named as authoritarian states that violate human rights and launch wars of aggression. In concluding her reasons for awarding the Nobel Prize, Chair Reiss-Andersen concluded, “I would like to commend the defenders of human rights, democracy, and peaceful coexistence in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.” In recent years, the polarization of the world has been progressing, and the confrontation between Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran against Japan, the West, and other countries has become clearer. It can be said that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in honor of civil society and human rights activists who defend the values of human rights, democracy, and peaceful coexistence.

[1] Jiji News October 2, 2022