Nobel Peace Prize misused says Norwegian lawyer and activist

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Just three days before the announcement for Nobel's Peace Prize, Norwegian lawyer and activist Fredrik Heffermehl released a book Nobels vilje (Nobel's Will). The book is a critical assessment of the prize's history and the political committee and process which now awards the prize. Heffermehl compares the works of all the Peace Prize Laureates to date with his interpretation of the intentions and will of the prize's founder.

In the book, the author asserts that Stortinget (the Norwegian Parliament), has in effect broken Norwegian and Swedish law by failing to follow the intentions of Nobel's will. It is the Norwegian parliament which selects the five members of the committee which decide on the recipients of the Peace Prize.

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist and industrialist that built a fortune on dynamite after having invented it and patented the process. Alfred Nobel spent many years finalising his will, and had close contact with Bertha von Suttner, an upper-class peace activist, during parts of the process. While Swedish institutions were trusted with the choosing of recipients of prizes for chemistry, physics, medicine and literature, Nobel decided that a Norwegian institution should choose the recipient of the price for peace. Heffermehl claims that the reason was the anti-militaristic stance of leading forces in the Norwegian parliament. One year prior to his death, Nobel finalised his will in 1895.

The relevant portion of the will, stating the criteria for what has later become known as the Nobel Peace Prize is :

"och en del åt den som har verkat mest eller best för folkens förbrödrande och afskaffande eller minskning af stående armeer samt bildande och spridande af fredskongresser."Swedish
"and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."English translation
Alfred Nobel testament - as displayed at Villa Nobel in Sanremo

According to Heffermehl, prior to World War II about 85% of recipients were awarded in accordance with the will, but since the end of the war only 45% of the recipients fit the criteria. Recent recipients Al Gore and the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change do not suit the requirements, according to the author. Neither do Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank, nor Wangari Maathai.

"Disarmament and anti-militarism was what Nobel wanted to promote," says Heffermehl to Aftenposten.

Do you believe that the Nobel committee has respected Nobel's will?

Geir Lundestad, Director of the Nobel Institute and secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee has said he does not wish to enter into a debate with Heffermehl due to potential political and legal actions from Heffermehl.

Heffermehl denies having any plans for political or legal action: In Aftenposten he is quoted as saying to the newsagency NTB : "I have no idea what Lundestad is thinking of. I have no plans about taking action, legal or political, against the Committee. This is not an attack, but an exhortation to look at a number of questions".

Critical disputes and protests of Nobel Prize awards, especially of the Peace prize, are as predictable as the prize itself. Of particular note has been that Mahatma Gandhi never received the prize, but the committee tacitly admitted this error when in 1948, the year of Gandhi's death, they elected to not award the Peace Prize saying "there was no suitable living candidate", referring to an interpretation of Nobel's will, to the effect that the prizes be awarded to living persons. It should be noted, however, that Dag Hammarskjöld was given the award shortly after his death in 1961, having died in (peacemaking) action as it were.

The Danish newspaper "Information" has received further comments from the chairman of the Nobel Committee, Ole Danbolt Mjøs. His reply is in three parts: Firstly, the Committee has interpreted the three items in the portion of the will describing the scope of the price as three separate items, and they are confident that they can be interpreted separate from each other, each as a sufficient criteria for the prize. Heffermehl contends that they should primarily be seen as an integral whole. Secondly, the committee chairman points to the tradition that has evolved. Lastly he also says that deliberate re-interpretations and widening of the criteria for the prize has taken place during the latter years, in view of a modern understanding of the underpinnings of peace.