On Friday last week this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) ‘for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons’, and for rendering the use of chemical weapons a taboo under international law. The use of chemical weapons is prohibited under international law since the 1925 Geneva Convention, however, only since the 1992-93 Chemical Weapons Convention is the production and storage of such weapons prohibited. This convention came into force in 1997 and since then the OPCW, ‘through inspections, destruction and by other means, sought the implementation of the convention.’ To date 189 states have acceded to the convention, but not all – notably the USA and Russia- have met the April 2012 deadline for destroying their respective chemical weapons capabilities.
The 2013 Nobel Peace Prize was the ninety-fourth of its kind. Considering that the award can be made to more than one person at a time the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to altogether 125 laureates, 100 individuals and 25 organizations. Past winners include Mother Theresa (1979), Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (1990), Desmond Mpilo Tutu (1984), Willy Brant (1971) and Jimmy Carter (2002). Over the course of this week I want to tell you a little more about the prize and about past winners and losers. Specifically I want to examine: What role does the Nobel Peace Prize play in today’s world politics? To do this we need to begin by covering some basic facts first. (All factual information relating to the prize is taken from the official website of the Nobel Prize).
The Nobel Peace Prize was established in the third and last will (signed on the 27 of November 1895) of Alfred Nobel a wealthy Swedish industrialist and inventor. An excerpt of the will dictates that his entire remaining estate should be used to endow “prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.” As specified in Nobel’s will the Peace Prize is awarded by the Norwegian Nobel Committee composed of five members of the Norwegian Parliament, assisted by specially selected expert advisors. Members are elected for a six-year term.
A nomination to the committee is valid only of it comes from an authoritative source including: members of national assemblies and governments of states; members of international courts, university rectors or professors of social sciences, history, philosophy, law and theology; directors of peace research institutes and foreign policy institutes; Persons who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; Board members of organizations that have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; Active and former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee; and Former advisers to the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Self-nominations even from people with this background are not taken into account.
The Nobel Committee keeps secret the names of nominees received for 50 years, but it does release how many nominations it received in any given year. In 2012 it received 231 names, this year they received a record 259 nominations. Almost all speculations on who would win listed Malala Yousafzai, the 16 year-old Pakistani Girl who stood up against the Taliban’s ban on education and was shot in the head; at least none of the speculative lists I saw featured this year’s winner as a favourite. Notwithstanding Yousafzai’s courage, I am happier with the choice of the OPCW, because I believe the award should be given for a sustained effort to building peace that eschews the ephemeral nature of our celebrity obsessed culture.
Dr Rita Floyd is a Lecturer and Birmingham Fellow in Conflict and Security at the University of Birmingham.
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