Amid controversy over Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s treatment of Myanmar’s Muslim minority, Katie O’ Dea considers the purpose of the Nobel Peace prize today.
Myanmar’s de facto head of government and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, has received much criticism in recent weeks due to her apparent indifference to the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state in Myanmar. People are even suggesting that her Nobel Prize should be revoked.
A report released in February of this year, by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documents mass gang-rape, murder, and the burning of houses and villages by Myanmar’s army and police forces. It is estimated that half a million Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh in the last month alone. The violence which started in October 2016, has received widespread international criticism, but Suu Kyi held her silence on the persecution of Myanmar’s Muslim minority for nearly a year. Malala Yousafzai and Desmond Tutu, both Nobel Peace Prize winners themselves, are among those criticising her for ignoring these crimes against humanity and have implored her to act.
Suu Kyi finally acknowledged the situation on the 19th of September, condemning the rights abuses and saying that violators would be punished. While this is welcome progress, is it too little too late? The renowned human rights campaigner was a victim of human rights violations herself for over two decades and has dedicated her life to non-violent campaigning for democracy. However, it took her almost a year to even acknowledge the sickening anti-Rohingya violence perpetrated by her own security forces, and she has yet to take action. Amid this controversy, many have called for the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to her in 1991 to be revoked. The Burmese State Counsellor is not the first Nobel Peace Prize laureate whose moral integrity has been called into question and is unlikely to be the last.
Just under nine months into his first term in office former U.S. President Barack Obama was awarded the prize for his creation of a new climate where “dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.” During Obama’s tenure, the U.S. bombed seven different countries, dropping 26,171 bombs in 2016 alone. Over his two terms in office, Obama approved 563 drone strikes, ten times as many as were approved under the previous Bush administration.
Whether the recipients deserved the prize in the first place is another question, but to suggest that the prize be revoked based on subsequent actions of the individual seems unnecessary. Nobel laureates are honoured based on specific commendable actions and achievements. They are not awarded based on an evaluation of a person’s morals and actions over a lifetime. An individual’s subsequent actions are irrelevant; what is relevant is the impact that these inspirational people have.
According to the Global Peace Index 2017, violence costs 12.6% of the world’s GDP or equivalent to $5.40 per person per day globally and there are only ten countries in the world today that are considered completely free from conflict. That is 185 countries engaged in some form of conflict or another. Recognition of the pursuit of peace and those who achieve it, even if only in a small way, is important regardless of the situation, but especially so considering these figures.
Suu Kyi was awarded the prize for “her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.” Her admirable actions cannot be changed. What she does stand to lose is the near universal admiration and hope that she used to command. The hope that Nobel Peace Prize winners bring is invaluable in the struggle against violence and that is what makes the awards so important and so relevant today. Without hope, we can have no aspirations for a better future or motivation to affect change. Hope is such an important part of human resilience. It shows us that regardless of what is going on in our lives, we can always have the belief that it will get better. While this is universally relevant, it is vital to ordinary people in countries engaged in conflict or struggling with terrorism.
Without hope, we have fear. Terrorist groups and those engaged in conflict use fear as a political weapon and the best way to counteract terror is with hope and kindness. That is what Suu Kyi represented when she won the prize in 1991 and that is what we turn to when terror strikes. Media outlets no longer profile terror attack suspects or consider their motives. The emphasis is very much on the victims; the kindness shown between strangers in times of need and the process of rebuilding whatever was damaged in the attack.
On Friday October 6th this year, it was announced that the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
The Nobel Peace Prize has the exposure to propel that feeling of hope to a larger audience and highlights the actions of inspirational individuals. They are a beacon of hope and humanity, and showcase those with a commitment to their ideals, inspiring the rest of us. It gives us that thing without which we could not live: hope.