Nobel Peace Prize Contenders

by Scott London

Nobel Peace Prize medallion

The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced in Oslo on October 9. In recent weeks, there has been a lot of speculation — as there is every year — about who will get the award. The Norwegian Nobel Committee will pick from a record 205 nominees this year (172 individuals and 33 organizations). While most of the names on the list are a well-kept secret, nominators sometimes make a point of publicizing their recommendations.

For example, we know that Íngrid Betancourt, the former Colombian senator and anti-corruption activist who was kidnapped and held by guerrillas for six years, was nominated by Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet. Similarly, Greg Mortenson, the American humanitarian and co-founder of the Central Asia Institute and Pennies for Peace, was nominated by several members of the U.S. Congress.

Unconfirmed nominees this year apparently include French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Do, Bolivian president Juan Evo Morales Ayma, Denis Mukwege and the Panzi Hospital of Bukavu, and the Israeli anti-nuclear activist and whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, among others.

As we move into the final week before the announcement, I’m inclined to favor a number of Chinese activists who have been pressing for basic human rights and expanded political freedoms in their homeland. Among the most prominent are:

Anyone of them, individually or in combination, would be eminently worthy of the award — especially this year. 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of the completion of China’s occupation of Tibet, and the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, two events which continue to cast a long shadow over China and raise troubling questions about its dismal commitment to political freedom and basic human rights.

A year has also passed since the Chinese abruptly broke off talks with the Tibetans following the Olympic Games last year, clearly showing that the discussions were little more than a publicity stunt on their part and that they had little intention of granting the Tibetans greater cultural and religious autonomy.

Just as it’s been 20 years since Tiananman Square, it’s also been 20 years since the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Dalai Lama. It’s worth noting that for the first time he has started to express his doubts about the effectiveness of his policy of nonviolence and open dialogue with the Chinese. That was most likely an important factor in his decision last December to enter into semi-retirement. As we know, he’s been embroiled in a complicated chess game with the Chinese for decades, but time seems to be running out and the Chinese are clearly well aware of that.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee could do worse than to call attention to the plight of those in China advocating basic human rights and cultural and religious tolerance. A prize to those advancing the cause of freedom in China might also lend much-needed support to the Tibetans and the Dalai Lama himself.

No Chinese person has ever been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize (although some Chinese might claim the Dalai Lama as one of their own, he hardly qualifies). That could change this year and I for one hope it does.