The tragedy of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar presents a blatant example not only of international inaction in the face of the suffering of a people who have been, since 2012, subjected to displacement, annihilation, deprivation of citizenship, human rights violation and many other crimes against humanity, but it also demonstrates the resounding moral freefall of an “idol” that the world has for many years praised and viewed as an embodiment of the highest standards of truth, integrity, and human values. An “idol” that and no one would dare criticise or raise a doubt about the Nobel Peace Prize that has, for many years, been awarded to some personalities who do not deserve it and who have made no real contribution to peace. The prize has also been awarded to other figures who have committed crimes, whether prior to or after receiving the prize, making them way too far from the philosophy and objectives of the prize. On the other hand, the prize has been withheld from some other personalities who have sincerely worked for world peace and done humanity great and unprecedented services.
The Nobel Peace Prize was conferred on Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor of Myanmar, in 1991 in recognition of her struggle for democracy and freedom in her country and the persecution she had endured during her endeavours. Nobody raised any objection then. On the contrary, the decision of the Nobel committee was met with acceptance and praise. However, a puzzling question arises: How can Suu Kyi still keep this prize that stands for peace, love, tolerance and rejection of intolerance and discrimination among human beings regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or colour after the Rohingya Muslim minority in her country is exposed to horrific racial crimes against humanity documented by the United Nations itself, aside from the countless human rights organisations? Such crimes have been committed not only by Buddhist extremists, but with the participation of the army and have resulted in the killing, burning, raping and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. These atrocities were met with silence, blessing and attempts for justification from Suu Kyi, whose name is associated with a global peace award. What has been happening in Myanmar is a flagrant contradiction of all values of tolerance, coexistence and human rights. They are values without which there can be no talk about peace anywhere in the world, and in their absence, the Nobel Peace Prize, or any other similar prizes, would be meaningless. It is bewildering that Europe, which always raises its voice advocating human rights, suggesting that they represent a priority, and never falls short of preaching to other countries about human rights, has stood incompetent in the face of what has been happening in Myanmar and has failed to stop or mitigate it. When Europe finally stepped in, it was too late. The actions were limited to imposing sanctions on some military officials while the real responsibility rests with Suu Kyi who has enjoyed immunity. The same applies to the Office of the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Human Rights, which did not touch Myanmar’s leader with regard to her stance on the tragedy of the Rohingya minority. After several years of killing, displacement, rape and burning of the members of this minority community, the UN Higher Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, finally intervened this month, demanding the formation of an international mechanism for the collecting, storing and analysing of evidence on the crimes committed in Myanmar.
Many voices around the world have demanded withdrawing the Myanmar leader’s Nobel Peace Prize because she does not deserve it anymore. While this is an undeniable fact, the Nobel Prize committee refuses to withdraw the prize awarded to her under the strange and ironic pretext that the committee’s regulations do not allow such a step, and that the committee has nothing to do with the person’s behaviour after their awarding of the prize. What concerns the committee is the person’s vision, effort and role in promoting peace that led them to award the prize in the first place.
Such justification means that the Nobel Peace Prize can be associated with the name of a terrorist, assassin or anyone who has committed crimes against humanity, whether before or after receiving the prize. This has been the case on more than one occasion. In fact, there are many examples. Yemeni Tawaqul Karman, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, still retains the prize although she is affiliated with a terrorist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, which encourages chaos, killings and destruction in Yemen. Moreover, Karman even abuses the fame that came with the prize to serve the designs of terrorist powers. Shimon Peres, the former prime minister of Israel, also retained the Nobel Peace Prize, which he had received with the former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin after signing the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, although the “Qana” massacre in Lebanon in 1996 was of his design and resulted in the death of dozens of civilians among which were children. Additionally, conferring the Nobel Peace Prize on Peres and Rabin, in 1994, was ironic because both were members of Zionist terrorist organisations before the creation of Israel in 1948. Those organisations carried out horrific killings, displacement, intimidations and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians and Arabs. Both Peres and Rabin committed serious crimes that are not subject to any statute of limitations. The same applies to Menachem Begin, the former prime minister of Israel, who received the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1978, with Anwar Al Sadat, the late Egyptian president, after the signing of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty despite the fact that Begin’s name was associated with the most dangerous Zionist terrorist organisations that committed infamous crimes and massacres, namely the 1948 massacre of Deir Yasin where more than 250 victims had lost their lives. Begin himself used to say that without the massacre of Deir Yasin, there would have been no state of Israel. Furthermore, he retained the Nobel Peace Prize despite the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
In addition to the above, the Nobel Prize committee awarded the former American president, Barack Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2009. The justification was “his extraordinary efforts in supporting the international diplomacy and cooperation among nations in addition to his vision and efforts for a world free from nuclear weapons”, although he officially took office in January 2009. This means that he received such a prestigious award as the Nobel Peace Prize after being in office for only a few months during which he had actually done nothing in practice to support international peace. He was awarded the prize based on the “vision” he announced, and it was not clear at the time if it was going to be implemented or not.
Therefore, in 2015, the former secretary of the committee, Geir Lundestad, said that the committee did not achieve its goal by conferring the Nobel Peace Prize on Obama. After few years from awarding Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, some people called for withdrawing it from him because he had not performed any influential role in achieving international peace.
On the other hand, many people may be surprised or shocked to know that famous international celebrities were not awarded Nobel Peace Prize, including the Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi, who had inspired the whole world by his call for tolerance, peace and non-violence — despite being nominated for the prize several times. Also, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan had not been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize despite his great humanitarian efforts, recognised by organisations around the world, including the United Nations. Shaikh Zayed’s efforts had covered the whole world with no discrimination between people based on religion, race, colour or geographical origin, in addition to his role in advocating peace — both regionally and internationally. This was acknowledged by the Swedish thinker, Claes Nobel, the patriarch of the Nobel family and the grandnephew of Alfred Nobel — who had established the Nobel Prize — in a lecture at Zayed University, in the UAE in 2015, when he said that the world should emulate the UAE and follow in the steps of its Founding Father, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, whose thoughts were finely tuned with Nobel’s thoughts in terms of enlightening souls with love.
In addition to Shaikh Zayed and Gandhi, there are several personalities in the world. There is no room to mention all of those who deserve being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Those personalities have not been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for political, ideological or maybe for racial reasons. A quick look at the list of Nobel laureates shows that the majority of the winners of this prize is from the West.
The arguments above do not suggest that, in many cases, the Nobel Peace Prize was not awarded to people who deserved it. However, awarding the prize to people who do not deserve it and associating it with names of criminals or terrorists undermines the great ethical and moral values it enjoys. Therefore, the Nobel Prize committee is requested to correct its course and change the rules that govern its work in order to withdraw the prize from those who contradict its philosophy — even after being awarded the prize. The committee also needs to award the Nobel Peace Prize to those who deserve it, irrespective of any other considerations, which may cause it to deviate from the noble objectives set by Alfred Nobel, who had established the prize more than a century ago. This is essential to maintain the significance of the prize and its higher values, which totally contradict with the fact that Suu Kyi still retains the Nobel Peace Prize while her country has become synonymous with crimes against peace.
Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi is a UAE author and Director-General of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research.