After 18 turbulent months spent tackling the global Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) is being broadly tipped as the frontrunner to take this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
The United Nations agency, which runs the vaccine-sharing program COVAX, is certainly the bookmakers’ pick for the prestigious accolade. British firms Betfair and William Hill both rank WHO as the odds-on favorite to win, with odds of 5/4 and 6/4 respectively.
Though also a favorite in 2020, WHO lost out last year to the World Food Program, another UN body which helped almost 100 million people in 88 countries in 2019.
Every year the Norwegian Nobel Committee recognizes a person or organization for their outstanding efforts and actions in the promotion of peace. Of this year’s 329 nominees, 234 are individuals, while 95 are organizations. Under the rules, their names are fiercely guarded and they cannot be identified until 50 years after the winner is announced.
This year’s winner will be announced on October 8 at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo.
When Swedish businessman Alfred Nobel died in 1896, he left behind one of the world’s largest private fortunes. According to his will, he wanted the money to fund “prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.”
These, according to his will, were to be awarded in physics, chemistry, medicine or physiology, literature and peace. The Nobel Peace Prize, the will stated, should be awarded “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.”
WHO ‘remains controversial’
Not everyone is in agreement that WHO will take the accolade, however. Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told CNN he would be “surprised” if the agency – which former US President Donald Trump accused of being too close to China – was chosen, “because its role remains controversial.” Neither does Smith expect the award to go to scientific teams engaged in vaccine research as there is a Nobel Prize for Medicine.
He said there are no “peacemakers and mediators who are obvious choices” as 2021 has “not been a good year for peace or peacemaking.”
Instead he listed three main issues “that might get this spotlight shone on them” – human rights, freedom of media and climate change.
“Freedom of media organizations or an utterly outstanding journalist (or both in combination) could be a good choice,” Smith told CNN. “But I would rank climate change ahead of that because of its topicality: another record year for floods, fires and polar ice-melt, plus the convening of COP26, starting three weeks after the prize announcement and ending two to three weeks before the prize ceremony.”
He added: “So I think the most likely and also highly desirable prospect is awarding the honor to young climate change activists (including Greta Thunberg but as one of a crowd of recipients) from all round the world.”
In his role as director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Henrik Urdal publishes an annual shortlist of who he believes would be the worthiest laureates.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) tops Urdal’s tips this year. Explaining his choice, Urdal writes on PRIO’s site that the Capitol riots of January 6 highlighted “the power and the danger of misinformation.”
He adds: “A prize emphasizing the importance of ensuring public access to reliable information would therefore be a prize for those working to protect a cornerstone of the peaceful resolution of conflict.
“A worthy recipient of such a prize would be Reporters Without Borders (RSF). An international watchdog based in France, RSF has done important work campaigning for better regulation of online platforms’ dissemination of journalistic content, urging platforms to take steps to promote trustworthy reporting,” he continued.
Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is Urdal’s second choice, “both for her concrete role in campaigning for democracy in Belarus and as a figurehead of the pro-democracy movement in Belarus.”
Also highlighting the climate crisis, Urdal flags up the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its executive secretary Patricia Espinosa.
B’Tselem & the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) are also highlighted by Urdal for their “important work documenting and disseminating information about human rights abuses in occupied Palestinian territory.”
Urdal’s final joint selection aims to “highlight pro-democracy efforts and human rights breaches in China and its claimed territories,” with the mention of jailed Uyghur activist Ilham Tohti and Nathan Law, a leading figure in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
The prize-giving ceremony will be held in December, with winners receiving their medals and diplomas in their home countries.