The Peoples of the World Foundation

Education for and about Indigenous Peoples

Op-Ed January, 2017: A Political Peace of the Prize
Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

It has been many years since Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize. That award propelled her, just over a year ago, to rise, in her own words, "above the president." She may now be regretting those words. Last month Time called one situation in her country "the world's newest Muslim insurgency" — and human rights observers accused the Burmese military of rape, torture, ethnic cleansing and genocide. She finally broke her silence regarding the country's indigenous Rohingya people a few days ago by calling an emergency meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers. Her action is too little too late. Only two days ago, eleven former Nobel Peace Prize winners were among a group asking the UN to intervene.

Nobel prizes cannot be revoked.

The most recent Nobel Peace Prize was accepted last month by Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos. Like in Burma, the indigenous peoples of Colombia have suffered tremendously from war. Unlike Suu Kyi, it is too soon to tell what Santos' legacy will be.

In the time between Suu Kyi and Santos the prize went to Liu Xiaobo. He is a dissident currently imprisoned in China. Following the announcement by the Norwegian Nobel Committee of Liu's award, Norwegian-Chinese relations froze. In a story that demonstrates the power of international politics over humanitarianism, those relations thawed a couple of weeks ago.

Esma Redžepova sang in more languages than probably any contemporary artist — including Romani, the language of the indigenous Roma people. She was Roma herself and over a long career advocated for her people and their causes. She had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. She died last month.

Nobel prizes cannot be awarded posthumously.

Perhaps more than at any other time in the history of the Nobel Institute, the world needs not just advocates, but implementers of peace. Nobel Peace Prizes have a history of controversy and last month's events only add to that history. We only know with certainty that there were 376 candidates for the 2016 Peace Prize. And that will be the case until 2066. But this did not stop many in the mainstream media reporting as "fact" the speculation that among them was the Syria Civil Defense — better known as the "White Helmets." Had that organization won, it might have been the most controversial decision in the history of Nobel prizes.

In Panama, the Ngäbe people are no strangers to political struggle. A few weeks ago I was in the Ngäbe-Bugle comarca in Panama. A marching band was parading through the village under heavy rain. This girl was among dozens of young musicians taking part. With the world the way it is, maybe that comarca will become the next place where peace is needed. Most Nobel prize winners are at least two generations older than this Ngäbe girl. She has plenty of time to collect her pieces of the prize.

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