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Tuesday, October 13, 2020, 17:07
Nobel Peace Prize recognizes merit while avoiding politics
By Grenville Cross
Tuesday, October 13, 2020, 17:07 By Grenville Cross

The Nobel Prizes were established in 1895 by the will of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish philanthropist. They are awarded annually to individuals and organizations who make outstanding contributions in the areas of chemistry, physics, literature, physiology or medicine, peace, and, since 1968, economic sciences. Highly prestigious, they have been awarded in most years since 1901.

The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, as Nobel wanted, by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, comprising five members appointed by the Norwegian Parliament. It is awarded to those who have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between states, for the abolition of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace conferences”. Over the years, it has been awarded to some very worthy people, including Mother Teresa in 1979, Kofi Annan in 2001 and the education activist Malala Yousafzai in 2014.

More recently, the prize was awarded in 2017 to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. In 2018 it went jointly to Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi human rights activist, and Denis Mukwege, a Congolese doctor specializing in rape victims, for their respective efforts “to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict”. In 2019, it was awarded to the Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, for achieving a peace deal with Eritrea which brought to an end a 20-year postwar stalemate. 

On Friday, it was announced that the Nobel Peace Prize 2020 had been awarded to the World Food Program, for “its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict”. The award was widely welcomed, with, for example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel commenting that “if there is a deserving organization then this is certainly one of them”. 

As for the World Food Program, which is now the 101st winner of a prize worth $1.1 million, it said it was “deeply humbled” to have won, and the competition was very keen. In 2020, there were altogether 318 candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize, comprising 211 individuals and 107 organizations. However, neither the names of the nominators nor the nominees may be divulged for at least 50 years, although this year some nominees were, for political reasons, publicly announced. Indeed, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has faced problems of this sort for many years, with unscrupulous politicians, often from the United States, periodically attempting to subvert Nobel’s lofty ideals for their own political ends.

On Jan 31, 2018, for example, US Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Chris Smith, the co-chairs of the Congressional Executive Committee on China, which prioritizes confrontation with China and churns out falsehoods about Hong Kong, wrote to Berit Reiss-Andersen, the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s chair, to nominate several protesters involved in the street disorders of 2014 for the Nobel Peace Prize 2018. They told her that the prize should go to Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwan-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang, “in recognition of their peaceful efforts to bring political reform and self-determination to Hong Kong”, describing the trio as champions of “peace and freedom”.  

Their letter, however, was no more than a cynical attempt by the CECC to mislead the committee, as there was nothing “peaceful” about the nominees. Indeed, Rubio and Smith failed to inform Reiss-Andersen that their three nominees were all convicted criminals, having been involved in offenses which resulted in injuries. In 2016, they had been convicted of complicity in a serious case of unlawful assembly, which occurred at the East Wing Forecourt of the Central Government Offices in Admiralty, a restricted area, on Sept 26, 2014. The evidence presented at their trial showed how they orchestrated a mass invasion of the forecourt, with several hundred people trying to smash their way in, and several dozen succeeding. 

By forcing the gate, overturning barriers and scaling the fence, their followers, as instructed, battled their way into the forecourt, injuring 10 security guards who were protecting the area in the process. Of the injured staff, five had to take sick leave of four to six days, while one, Chan Kei-lun, who sustained bruises, swelling and a fracture, was off work for 39 days. Despite the injuries, none of the CECC’s nominees has ever apologized to the victims, let alone paid them compensation. In 2017, moreover, the Court of Appeal, having examined their behavior, described their crime as “a large-scale, unlawful assembly, involving violence”, none of which was disclosed to Reiss-Andersen.

However, although all this was concealed, the Norwegian Nobel Committee was not as naive as the CECC supposed, and they ascertained what was afoot. Even if, moreover, the committee had not got wind of the nominees’ crimes, their nominations would inevitably have failed on the merits, as there was nothing peaceful or laudable about the activities to which they were party. Quite clearly, there was no way these three delinquents could have competed with iconic figures like Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege, the ultimate winners, whose humanitarian achievements were truly awe-inspiring.    

However, even though the Norwegian Nobel Committee saw through it in 2018, the CECC decided to try its luck again in 2020. On Jan 31, Rubio and Smith again wrote to the long-suffering Berit Reiss-Andersen, this time urging that the entire protest movement be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Again, this was a con-job, with the CECC imagining it could somehow pull the wool over the committee’s eyes, or perhaps even that it could intimidate it. Its letter was, frankly, embarrassing, little more than a crude, partisan rant, designed to place the authorities in Hong Kong in the worst possible light, and to whitewash the violence and destruction of the protest movement. Indeed, it even described as “reasonable” the various demands of the protesters, including the dropping of charges against “all arrested protesters”, the reclassification of the violent protests as “non-riots”, and an inquiry into “police brutality”, which, if nothing else, highlighted the CECC’s intent to use its nomination to propagandize. 

Once again, however, the Nobel Prize Committee has seen through the CECC’s machinations, which is reassuring. In recent times, there have been concerns that the prize is being politicized, and, in 2001, Michael Nobel, Alfred’s descendant, said the committee was not always acting in accordance with his great-uncle’s will. However, by awarding the Nobel Peace Prize 2020 to the World Food Program, the committee has not only recognized a truly meritorious candidate, but also shown its resolve to protect Alfred Nobel’s legacy. It must, however, remain vigilant, as there will always be those, like the CECC, who will try to corrupt Nobel’s ideals for political advantage, and they must not be allowed to succeed.  

The author is a senior counsel, law professor and criminal justice analyst, and was previously the director of public prosecutions of the Hong Kong SAR.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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