Controversial Nobel Peace prizes were still a human rights victory

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THE NOBEL PEACE Prize Committee once again recognised the dedication of individuals in standing up for peace and human rights, after two years of celebrating institutions. This year’s focus was on children’s rights. Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai were jointly awarded the Prize “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

Kailash Satyarthi has been leading the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save Children Movement) in India since 1980. Together with a group of 80,000 volunteers, he liberated more than 78,000 children from labour exploitation, as he denounced than many more – tens of millions –  are still used in some form of labour or almost slavery.

Malala Yousafzai is a campaigner for girls’ education. At 11 years of age, she was contributing to the BBC Urdu language service, describing life in her home region of Swat, Pakistan, which was under the Taliban’s control. She documented the Taliban’s crackdown on music, culture and education for girls. She became known worldwide in 2012, when the Taliban attempted to murder her by shooting her in the head. She has since received medical care in the UK, where she presently resides with her family after having received asylum. At 17, she is the youngest ever Nobel laureate, and became the fourteenth woman to win the Peace Prize since 1901.

While this year’s victory is not as extravagant as Al Gore’s in 2007 or Barack Obama’s in 2009, not everyone agreed with the Nobel Committee decisions. Supporters of other nominees, notably Edward Snowden, were disappointed. Others are not fully convinced by Malala’s victory because it is not about “peace” or because she is seen as an opportunity for the West to reiterate the narrative of the evil savages while remaining silent about the damaged caused by their wars and drone strikes.

Despite Western media focusing on some of the things Malala says, while understating her Muslim and Socialist convictions, Malala remains a remarkable, deserving Peace Prize winner. Whatever the West’s depiction, she does and says what she believes is right – not what she thinks will please people’s ears. When she opposed the Taliban’s regime, it was her own initiative: there was no “West” to protect her. She proved herself to be an inspirational young woman, taking charge of her own destiny and standing up to those who tried to silenced her. Her honesty, bravery and compassion, in spite of what she’s suffered, is worthy of respect and recognition.

Most importantly, this year’s Peace Prize has to be understood as a union of both Malala and Mr. Satyarthi. Focusing on Malala only not only diminishes the impressive work that Mr. Satyarthi has carried out, but also is missing the point of the award. The Committee specifically selected a man and a woman, a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, a younger and an older person. This was to send the powerful message: that anyone can do something to improve people’s lives, and promote peace and development.  The education of children is a fundamental step in building peace in and across nations: “The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism,” read the motivation.

Is this a Western narrative? Is it too political? The Nobel is a Western institution, it will most certainly look at the world from a Western perspective, especially when choosing prizes for their less scientific categories like Literature and Peace. These prizes are very often politically motivated, and mostly tend to “pander to their audience and honour worldwide harmony” as the satirical website The Onion mockingly described it. This year, the political motivation was to bring closer two activists involved in similar struggles in two neighbouring countries facing tensions and a not-so-frozen border conflict. It was a message of unity in face of divisions.

Many more years will have to go by before an institution like the Nobel Committee will acknowledge the noble efforts of those who have tried to make the US accountable for their actions. That time will come, one day. For now, let us celebrate and be inspired by two people who also fight against powerful forces exploiting the innocents. The recognition of those who are standing up to oppressors and improving the lives of others is always a cause for celebration.


Written by Sofia Lotto Persio

Image: screenshot from The Nobel Prize’s Twitter account

One response to “Controversial Nobel Peace prizes were still a human rights victory

  1. Pingback: Controversial Nobel Peace prizes were still a human rights victory | Just Words

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