In 1901, the first Nobel Peace Prizes were granted to Henry Dunant of Switzerland and Frédéric Passy of France. Dunant was awarded for his role in founding the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Passy for being a founder of the Inter-Parliamentary Union as well as the Universal Peace Congress. The most recent prize winners, Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India were both commemorated for their struggle against the suppression of children and their right to an education. While each of these four recipients seem like ideal candidates, there have been some winners that have been met with much opposition for myriad reasons.
Alfred Nobel’s will contains a section with instructions to award a prize in his name to people who “have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”. To many critics, it seems as though Nobel's qualifications for Peace Prize winners have at times gone unfulfilled. People are beginning to wonder just how valid the Nobel Peace Prize is anymore, and if Nobel would approve of the winners.
In 1936, Carl von Ossietzky, a German pacifist and journalist, was the recipient of the Peace Prize, and has been considered one of the most controversial recipients in the award's history. He was convicted of both treason and espionage against the German rearmament, exposing the nation's various violations against the Treaty of Versailles. For this, Ossietzky was awarded the Prize and received it at Esterwegen, a German concentration camp; he was not permitted to travel to Oslo to receive his award. His acceptance of the award prompted Adolf Hitler to issue a law which banned Germans from accepting the Prize in the future. This law prevented three Germans citizens from receiving the award until after the end of World War II.
More recently, Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were given the Prize “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”. This 2007 decision was met with immediate opposition, many claiming that this was a purely political movement and that Gore and the IPCC's work did not directly end conflict or promote international peace.
One of the biggest complaints voiced against the Nobel Peace Prize is that Mohandas Gandhi, despite being nominated five times, was never given the honor of receiving a Prize. Gier Lundestad, a member of the prize committee said, “The greatest omission in our 106 year history is undoubtedly that Mahatma Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace prize. Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace prize, whether Nobel Committee can do without Gandhi is the question”. In 1948, a year after Gandhi’s death, no Prize was awarded, due to the fact that there was no suitable living candidate. But in 1961, the Prize went to a deceased nominee by the name of Dag Hammarskjöld. Many critics feel that Ghandi’s lifelong work toward international peace warranted a prize, no matter how late it came, but so far no Prize has been awarded to him.
Whether or not the Nobel Peace Prize is still awarded according to Nobel’s will seemingly always up for contentious debate. The criteria for prize winners has always been subject to much discrepancy. While winners like Malala Yousafzai, Mother Theresa, and Henry Dunant appear to fit Nobel’s ideal, there have been many whose victories have befuddled the world (such as Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State, who was accused of war crimes in Cambodia, yet received the 1973 Prize). Recently the Prize committee has even taken steps to distance itself from Alfred Nobel’s original intent as listed in his will, because if people do not realize what the Prize candidates are doing to change the world, changes for peace may not be actually taking place.
Despite mounting controversy over the candidates and winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, most critics agree that there no longer seems to be an emphasis on the Prize. The spread of social media has not bolstered the Prize's reputation; many people remain unaware of Nobel Peace Prize nominees and winners. When names such as Jody Williams or Shimon Peres are mentioned, people often simply shrug. It is becoming increasingly apparent that peace may not be able to be promoted in the way that Alfred Nobel had intended more than 100 years ago.