Alone among the Swedish-based Nobel Prizes, the Nobel Peace Prize is chosen by a five-member Norwegian committee selected by that nation’s parliament. According to Alfred Nobel’s will, it is bestowed on someone who has worked on the “fraternity” between nations, reducing armies and holding peace congresses. It has expanded to involve all manner of advocacies, from international organizations such as the World Food Program to doctors helping rape survivors.
The possible political motives of the award are always closely scrutinized to see what kind of message the committee is sending the world. The 2022 prize went to human rights activists from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, even though the nominations had closed before the invasion. In 2021, the award went to press freedom advocates, including one from Russia.
Here is a shortlist of candidates chosen by the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, which has picked winners in the past.
The Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan and the “Woman, life, freedom” uprising in Iran, following the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, in the custody of Iran’s morality police over an alleged violation of the country’s conservative dress code for women, have drawn attention to women fighting for rights in those countries and elsewhere.
Afghan activist Mahbouba Seraj did not shy away from speaking out when the Taliban’s August 2021 takeover brought with it new restrictions on women, especially their right to education.
“For God’s sake, please open the girls’ schools,” she told Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in an August documentary on Al Jazeera. “Unless you solve this, Mr. Mujahid, the whole world will stand against you.”
Unlike so many women’s activists in Afghanistan, Seraj has refused to flee and continues to operate several women’s projects in the country.
But with international aid drying up and the Taliban expanding restrictions further, Seraj has appeared to grow increasingly exasperated, telling a U.N. Human Rights Council session in September 2022: “How many times am I supposed to yell and scream and say: ‘World pay attention to us, we are dying?’”
Iranian activist and journalist Narges Mohammadi, who began her decades-long career promoting civil society and women’s rights, works from prison opposing the conditions in which she and her fellow female inmates are held.
Accused of “spreading propaganda,” the 51-year-old is serving 10 years in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. Last year, she published the book “White Torture” on Iran’s use of solitary confinement and sensory deprivation against her and fellow prisoners.
On the anniversary of Amini’s death, Mohammadi and others staged a protest from inside Evin prison, burning their headscarves, according to a post to one of her social media accounts.
A colleague of the activist, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns, said Mohammadi “is one of the very few who not only has stayed in Iran but remains active, whether she is out or imprisoned.”
Iran is carrying out waves of arrests targeting activists, journalists and intellectuals in an attempt to stamp out dissent and tighten social restrictions. After the protests erupted following Amini’s death last year, Iranian authorities arrested some 20,000 people.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a Kankanaey Igorot from the mountainous region of the northern Philippines, began her activism as a youth leader under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, protesting a controversial dam that would have flooded her people’s ancestral domain.
Decades later, she is best known as the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples from 2014 to 2020.
In 2018, the Philippine government under then-President Rodrigo Duterte included Tauli-Corpuz in a list of alleged terrorists. Human rights watchdogs say this act of “red-tagging” — linking people to communism and terrorism — is an intimidation tactic weaponized to target government critics. It also often precedes assault and even killings, prompting Tauli-Corpuz to leave the country.
She “has come to embody the very problem that she has been documenting as a special rapporteur: the criminalization of indigenous activists,” the New York Times wrote in 2018.
Human Rights Watch researcher Carlos Conde welcomed her inclusion in the Nobel Peace Prize shortlist, saying that harassment and enforced disappearances of Indigenous activists in the Philippines continues under Duterte’s successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. “Her nomination alone will highlight the severe plight they have been experiencing and should prompt action by the international community,” he said.
Juan Carlos Jintiach, from the Shuar people of Ecuador, has spent decades advocating on behalf of Indigenous communities protecting the Amazon rainforest and working to combat climate change. He is the executive secretary of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities, a platform of Indigenous organizations from tropical rainforests across 24 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The alliance works to protect the rights of Indigenous communities to access and protect their own land, and to do so safely, without criminalization or risk to their lives. Jintiach has helped lead a campaign for direct, sustainable financing that flows toward Indigenous communities defending their territories.
Jintiach cites studies showing that only a small fraction of global climate funding is allocated toward Indigenous environmental protectors. “The great promises that have circulated at the global level for Indigenous peoples are not reaching the territories,” Jintiach said in an interview.
A Nobel win for the International Court of Justice would highlight conflict resolution, a potentially attractive theme in a time of widespread clashes and war.
The court, established in the wake of World War II, is the main U.N. judicial body mandated to settle legal disputes between countries. While its rulings are not legally binding, they carry a great deal of moral authority.
The ICJ is tasked with addressing legal issues related to some of our era’s most intractable challenges, such as climate change, humanitarian disasters and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
In March 2022, the court made headlines for ordering Russia to stop its military operations in Ukraine. Last month, Russian lawyers told judges that Ukraine’s case against Moscow was an “abuse of process.” The case is pending.
A Nobel win for the court would call attention to work that is poorly understood and often confused with that of the International Criminal Court, or ICC. But there is some concern that a win for ICJ could wrongly give the impression that the court’s role is to support righteous causes, when it is meant to be impartial.
When Myanmar’s military deposed a democratically elected civilian government in February 2021, people responded in unprecedented, nationwide protests. Opposition to the military takeover has been more inclusive than ever before in Myanmar’s history, analysts say, bridging historical divisions.
Many of the country’s ethnic groups joined with exiled lawmakers to form the National Unity Consultative Council, an alliance that advocates for the formation of a federal democracy.
The NUCC has helped to sustain a multi-front armed resistance against the military, which has resorted to increasingly brutal tactics to squash the opposition, including razing entire villages and launching airstrikes on civilian targets.
Despite the military’s escalating violence, the situation in Myanmar, also known as Burma, has not been a top priority for many of the world’s most powerful countries. Kyaw Moe Tun has led efforts to keep Myanmar on the international agenda. Appointed as Myanmar’s permanent representative to the United Nations before the coup, he has held on to his position despite the junta’s multiple attempts to unseat him.
From the U.N. headquarters in New York, he has served as one of the most effective spokespeople for the resistance, lobbying world leaders to adopt ever-stricter sanctions against the military regime and provide aid for the country’s civilians.
Human rights number-crunching
The Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) is a U.S.-based nonprofit using data to uncover, quantify and analyze patterns of mass violence, or to put it more simply and cite their motto, they are “statisticians for human rights.”
Since 1991, HRDAG has turned to statistics, demography, and computer and social sciences to produce “unbiased, scientific results that bring clarity to human rights violence,” such as through estimates of the number of victims and crimes committed in conflicts, according to its website. In partnership with local and international organizations, HRDAG has published reports on violence in places including Syria, Guatemala, Liberia, Kosovo and East Timor, and on police violence in the United States.
HRDAG findings have been used in legal procedures, such as in the International Criminal Court case against former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic over his role in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. More recently, HRDAG and the Colombian Truth Commission published a massive, open-resource database on Colombia’s 50-year conflict, which ended in 2016.
Rick Noack in Islamabad, Pakistan; Susannah George in Dubai; Regine Cabato in Manila; Samantha Schmidt in Bogotá, Colombia; Emily Rauhala in Brussels; Rebecca Tan in Singapore; and Miriam Berger in Washington contributed to this report.