Viewpoint by Somar Wijayadasa*
NEW YORK (IDN) – “Commiserations, Mr. President” in the Sunday Times of October 8 noted that President Maithripala Sirisena was “nominated and short listed” but missed the coveted Nobel peace prize.
The article provided an impressive historical perspective of our democracy – a must read by all who love our country. Bravo! to the writer. It is unfortunate that we, Sri Lankans, lost a jubilant moment.
Though no small feat to hit the short list, we are unable to know the details and opinions related to the award as the statutes of the Nobel Foundation restrict disclosure of information about the nominees for 50 years.
The column, however, noted the citation that Sirisena “has initiated a comprehensive set of reconciliatory initiatives to heal the wounds of the civil war which culminated in a military onslaught by the state military on the Tamil Tigers in 2009” and that “Sirisena’s insistence on inclusive reconciliation, therefore, stands out as an example to be followed, especially in a situation where support of the International Criminal Court and other transitional justice mechanisms is deteriorating”. Sounds great but not so fast.
President Sirisena need not despair
According to Alfred Nobel’s will, “the peace prize shall be awarded to the person who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind”.
Therefore, I leave it up to my educated compatriots of all shades and colours (Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims, leftists, rightists, and intellectual politicians – if any) as well as our brave soldiers who defeated the Tamil Tigers ending the 30-year war to judge Sirisena’s service to our country.
Sirisena missed the boat but may stand a chance when he accomplishes his long list of promises (abolish the Executive Presidency, form a Cabinet of thirty ministers, establish good governance, jail politicians of the previous regime who looted country’s wealth and murdered people, renounce nepotism and cronyism, etc.) which are yet to see the light of day.
Sri Lanka oblivious to the nuclear threat
Since the Nobel Committee painstakingly scrutinises the words and deeds of all nominees, I am confident that it was cognizant of his failure to sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
A recent Sunday Times editorial on “Lanka’s nuclear policy unclear” rightfully expressed its bewilderment that Sirisena addressing the UN General Assembly, “spoke of Sri Lanka being a good UN member-state abiding by its treaties and obligations. And yet, while in the city all week, neither he nor his Government signed the nuclear treaty that the country voted for”.
The importance of the treaty, and the urgency to have an international legal document prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons was highlighted in my article in the Sunday Times: Treaty banning the bomb takes UN closer to its prime goal.
Finally, a well-deserved choice
More than 70 years after the United States (U.S.) dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and at a time of nuclear sabre-rattling between the U.S. and North Korea that may trigger a nuclear war, it is not surprising that Nobel Committee awarded its peace prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
ICAN is dedicated to eliminating nuclear weapons, and is a staunch supporter of the UN treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
The chairwoman of the Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, said that it recognized ICAN for “its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”.
The Executive Director of ICAN, Beatrice Fihn, said: “The risk of nuclear war has grown exceptionally in the last few years, and that’s why it makes this treaty and us receiving this award so important.”
A statement issued by ICAN said: “This prize is a tribute to the tireless efforts of many millions of campaigners and concerned citizens worldwide who, ever since the dawn of the atomic age, have loudly protested nuclear weapons, insisting that they can serve no legitimate purpose and must be forever banished from the face of our earth.”
Controversial gaffes in Nobel peace awards
It is perhaps easier for the Nobel Committee to select preeminent scientists in medicine, chemistry, physics, etc., but its decisions on some of the peace prizewinners have been controversial. For example:
The 1973 Peace Prize awarded jointly to Henry Kissinger and North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho for ending the Vietnam War has been contentious. Kissinger accepted his half but Tho who succeeded Ho Chi Minh declined the prize.
Many believe that no American deserves credit as the devastating war killed an estimated two million Vietnamese civilians, 1.1 million North Vietnamese troops, 200,000 South Vietnamese troops, injured over five million people, and destroyed most of the country.
The 1994 Award was shared by Yasser Arafat, Yitzak Rabin and Shimon Perez for their work on Oslo Peace Accords “to create peace in the Middle East” but the Israeli-Palestine conflict remains unsolved to date, and Israel continues to build settlements in occupied territories.
The 2009 Award to Barack Obama too has been criticized. In a 2009 Prague speech, Obama vowed “concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons”.
Since those lofty words, the United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to upgrade its nuclear weapons. Alice Slater of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation wrote: “President Obama, before he left office was planning to spend one trillion dollars over the next 30 years for two new bomb factories, new warheads and delivery systems.”
India’s Mahatma Gandhi, who led India’s non-violent movement for independence in 1947, was short listed five times in the 1940’s but he was never given the award.
The 2012 Award to European Union was another gaffe because some European States produce large quantities of lethal weapons, and the EU is not a champion of peace.
Detach the monetary award from the peace prize
I wish to reiterate here a suggestion I made to the Nobel Committee: “When you award the Nobel peace prize to a politician, grant the monetary value of the award to the cause that the politician espouses.”
To elucidate my point, the award money from Kissinger/Tho prize should have gone to a fund to rehabilitate millions of Vietnamese who are born sick and deformed even 50 years after America poisoned that country; the Arafat/Rabin/Perez award money to the Israeli-Palestine cause that remains unsettled to date; and the Obama award money to an organisation that promotes denuclearisation.
Accordingly, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons is a justification of my point – where the prize and the money go to a legitimate cause.
*The writer was a UNESCO delegate to the UN General Assembly and a Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations. This article is being reproduced courtesy of The Sunday Times of Sri Lanka where it first appeared. [IDN-InDepthNews – 15 October 2017]
Photo: Since the Nobel Committee painstakingly scrutinizes the words and deeds of all nominees, it was cognizant of President Sirisena’s failure to sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. UN Photo/Cia Pak.
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