Suu Kyi and Nobel Laureates


Saudi Gazette – TRANSCEND Media Service

8 Oct 2018 – The Norwegian Nobel Committee and Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi were very much in the news last week for two reasons.


First, the committee announced this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners — Nadia Murad of Iraq and Denis Mukwege of Congo — in Oslo on Friday [5 Oct].

Second was the announcement by the Nobel Foundation that Suu Kyi’s Peace Prize will not be withdrawn as demanded by many people around the world including some Nobel Peace Laureates. They feel Suu Kyi’s silence at the relentless anti-Rohingya violence in Myanmar does not match her image as a fearless human rights activist that won her the peace prize.

However, Lars Heikensten, the head of the Nobel Foundation, would go only as far as describing some of Suu Kyi’s actions as the civilian leader of Myanmar as “regrettable” although, according to UN investigators, the “regrettable” actions included ignoring, if not condoning, mass killings of Rohingya and gang rapes of their women. It was for these reasons that Canada stripped Suu Kyi of her honorary citizenship on Tuesday.

But Heikensten was on more solid ground when he explained why Nobel awards could not be revoked in response to things that happen after a person is selected for the honor. It is impossible, he said, for the committee to monitor a Laureate’s actions and behavior. Most important, nobody raised any objections when Suu Kyi was chosen for the award in 1991. In fact, everybody hailed her as a principled human rights activist and as a courageous woman who spent long years in some form of detention for a cause she believed in.

The committee says they honor a person or institution for some prize-worthy effort or achievement of the past. Suu Kyi was recognized for her fight for democracy and freedom up until 1991, the year she was awarded the prize.

The same cannot be said of US President Barack Obama. He was given the prize in 2009 shortly after he became president with nothing to show that he had done anything to promote peace. In fact, he was chosen on the promise of what he was going to do in the name of peace. However, afterwards he stepped up two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and launched a massive drone campaign that killed many innocent civilians. If Obama had wanted, he could have closed Guantanamo Bay, where terrorism suspects are detained without process and interrogated without restraint, in the first months of his administration. He did not do so.

But Obama is not alone. Peace Laureates include a fair number of people whose activities would have made Alfred Nobel, who instituted the peace prize, turn in his grave. In 1973, Henry Kissinger was honored for his efforts in negotiating a ceasefire in the Vietnam War. While negotiating that ceasefire, Kissinger was secretly carpet-bombing Cambodia. Le Duc Tho, the Vietnamese Communist leader who was awarded the prize alongside Kissinger, did the honorable thing by declining it.

Israeli leader Shimon Peres was awarded the peace prize in 1994, although the fact that he was the architect of his country’s nuclear program was not a secret. Two years after the prize, Peres was responsible for a massacre that killed 106 people sheltering in a UN compound in the Lebanese town of Qana. Another Israeli leader, Menachem Begin, the co-recipient of the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize, attacked Lebanon in 1982 to oust the Palestine Liberation Organization.

But nobody can outdo Elie Wiesel when it comes to hypocrisy. Wiesel who won the peace prize for his efforts to keep the memories of Jewish suffering alive was blind to the suffering of Palestinians and supported every repressive Israeli measure against a people under occupation.

Gunnar Stalsett, a former member of the Nobel Committee, says that by choosing someone for the prize, the committee is not declaring him or her to be a saint. But it seems that in some cases, the committee could put more thought into its selections.

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