This December 10, 2013, four significant and interrelated world events happen to coincide: in Oslo, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awards the Nobel Peace Prize, in honor of Alfred Nobel who died December 10, 1896; the human community writ large celebrates “Human Rights Day,” in honor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted December 10, 1948; South Africans and people from all over the globe convene in Johannesburg for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service; and, at UN Headquarters, in a five-year cycle, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights awards the “United Nations Human Rights Prize.”
Today, the Nobel Peace Prize goes to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), while Malala Yousafzai is among those receiving the Human Rights Prize. As the world mourns Mandela this same day, let the record show he deservedly won both the Nobel Peace Prize and the United Nations Human Rights Prize.
Many advocates, especially among young people, had been hoping Malala Yousafzai would go to Oslo for the Peace Prize—though heading to New York City for the Human Rights Prize is also a terrific accomplishment—in recognition of her bravery for speaking up for the human right of every child, including every girl child, to an education, even at the cost of her own health and possible future. It is worth noting why the Nobel Committee may have chosen to go in another direction.
What is OPCW?
Its website stipulates “The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force in 1997. As of today the OPCW has 190 Member States, who are working together to achieve a world free from chemical weapons,” with a budget, in 2010, of 75 million Euros.
The Nobel Peace Process
The Norwegian Nobel Committee comprises five members plus a Secretary whose key deliberations are taken in secret and not recorded. Moreover, the Nobel Institute does not release the names of those nominated for fifty years; out of the applications received, only the Committee decides and knows which nominations even qualify. Thus, even when the media highlights “front-runners,” or when an individual is described as having been “nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize,” we are well-advised to take such claims with a grain of salt.
According to Nobel’s will, the Nobel Peace Prize is intended for “the person who—[during the preceding year] shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.”
While Nobel specified his prizes should go to individuals, the Nobel Foundation that administers the prizes also authorizes institutions as potential recipients.
For the Peace Prize, in any given year, all nominations must be submitted by February 1. The prize can only go to living recipients. Between February and October, the Committee whittles the list, researches nominees, and comes to its confidential decision behind closed doors.
So we cannot know which nominees were seriously in contention this past October. However, we are free to imagine which factors may have influenced the Committee to choose OPCW.
Why might the Norwegian Nobel Committee have selected OPCW over Yousafzai?
On the one hand, Malala Yousafzai, only sixteen years old, is still recovering from a nearly fatal gunshot wound to her head, as she and her family try to adapt to life in asylum in Birmingham, England, keenly aware the Taliban have renewed their pledge to kill her. Influential Pakistanis deem her a traitor and a pawn of the United States during a period of heightened conflict and tension between the two countries over the U.S. use of drones in Pakistani airspace and U.S. suspicions of close collaboration between Pakistani Secret Intelligence and Al-Qaeda/Taliban forces. Moreover, in her autobiography, I am Malala, Ms. Yousafzai herself states that the real hero for education and human rights in her family is her father, not herself. The Norwegian Nobel Committee might well agree. Technically, being shot at is not the equivalent of “doing the most or the best work” for fraternity among nations, though Malala’s generous and non-violent attitudes toward her assassins, her bravery in fighting to survive and recover her health, and her extraordinary dedication to continue to work for universal education constitute stellar contributions to our human family.
On the other hand, as the Norwegian Nobel Committee surveyed international politics in decision-time in mid-October, they would be critically aware of the recent negotiations among Russia, the Assad Regime in Syria, the United States, and the United Nations Security Council in a Putin-led effort to head off a U.S. military strike against Syria as punishment for using chemical weapons on August 21, 2013.
Perhaps the Nobel Committee saw, and jumped at, a chance to reinforce the Chemical Weapons Convention? Perhaps the Committee acted to bolster the credibility, moral authority, and budget of OPCW at a critical juncture? Certainly, the Committee could point to disarmament and destruction of chemical weapons as integral element of Nobel’s peace goals. Perhaps, looking a year down the road, they anticipated that Putin would likely be nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for his effort to prevent a U.S. military strike. If so, a 2013 award to OPCW would also serve to finesse that unpleasant possibility.
In any case, if the Committee were indeed deciding between OPCW and Malala Yousafzai, they would realize awarding OPCW would help diminish confrontation between Russia and the United States over Assad’s use of chemical weapons, while an award to Yousafzai would increase tension between Pakistan and the United States—and perhaps between Muslim countries and “the West.” Finally, might the Committee have wondered whether a prize for Malala would only increase the threat to her life or that of her father? Who can know?
Here is one last angle to consider in imagining the Committee’s process: was the OPCW actually nominated for the 2013 Peace Prize? By February 1, 2013? The Nobel Foundation Statute stipulates: “Each year the prize adjudication shall embrace such nominations as have been submitted during the preceding twelve months up to February 1.” Is it possible some nominator faithfully submits OPCW year in year out? Or did the Committee give itself discretion to add the OPCW after the Chemical Weapons strike this past August? In fifty years, we can find out.
This article was solicited and edited by Faith & Freedom Section Editor Matthew Eible.