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Last Updated: Friday, 10 October, 2003, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
Nobel choices prompt joy and anger
The selection of a female Iranian human rights campaigner as this year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize may have come as a surprise to those bookmakers who had her down at 21/1.

Kissinger was one of the most controversial choices
But had we listened more carefully to recent remarks by members of the Norwegian selection committee - which has come under fire for its failure to recognise less prominent individuals, and particularly women - the announcement might not have been so unexpected.

Since the prize started in 1901, women have received just 11 of the 111 awards, through which Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel wanted to reward those who do the most for the "promotion of peace and fraternity".

"We will keep looking for women candidates," Geir Lundestad, secretary of the secretive committee that awards the prize, had vowed recently.

"I would suggest that at least some of these women will be found in parts of the world where women are particularly exploited."

This year's winner, Shirin Ebadi, is a woman who fights for the rights of fellow women in Iran. She had been the country's first female judge, but was forced to resign following the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Kissinger controversy

Recipients of the prize have tended to fall into two distinct categories.

In the first category are those individuals and organisations which have sought to resolve conflicts.

One such example is former US President Theodore Roosevelt, who in 1905 took the prize for drawing up the peace treaty between Russia and Japan, as is the 1994 joint award to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and the then foreign minister Shimon Peres, for the now defunct Oslo peace accords.

For me it is a big mistake, a bad mistake, an unfortunate mistake
Lech Walesa
Former winner

In the second are those who have sought to promote a different kind of peace, many of whom are campaigners for political freedom or those who have tried to bring humanitarian relief to others.

Ms Ebadi falls into this category, as does another prominent female winner, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the prize while under house arrest in 1991. The Red Cross has been awarded the prize on several occasions in the course of the last century.

The five members of the committee, which is appointed by the Norwegian parliament but independent of it, do not shy away from making political statements through their selections.

Last year's choice of former US President Jimmy Carter for "decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts" was designed to be "a kick in the leg" to George W Bush, as he threatened Iraq with the prospect of military action.

"The award can and must be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken on Iraq," said committee chairman Gunnar Berge as the prize was given.

Shirin Ebadi
Ebadi said she hoped the award would highlight human rights in Iran
Perhaps therefore unsurprisingly, their choices often draw widespread condemnation.

The decision in 1973 to present the then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger with the award for his role in ending the Vietnam War still raises hackles 30 years on.

While Mr Kissinger came to office in 1968 promising a quick end to the war - and was instrumental in ultimately securing the withdrawal of US troops from South Vietnam - the intervening years saw an escalation in the conflict.

Mr Kissinger was complicit in the illegal carpet-bombing of neutral Cambodia in 1969 and 1970. Estimates vary drastically on how many innocent Cambodians died in the bombing, with numbers ranging from 100,000 to 800,000.

Rights and wrongs

While the kudos of the award - which also carries prize money of nearly $1m - is beyond dispute, pundits frequently ponder whether it has any impact in promoting peace.

It has not stopped wars, they argue, nor guaranteed the future success and the continued accomplishments of its recipients.

Indeed many of those who have been rewarded are already past their best, they argue.

Nonetheless, that the Nobel tag has retained its prestige down the decades despite its controversial choices is seen by some as a clear sign that the committee is doing something right.

This year's choice has met the rage and joy that has accompanied many other announcements.

"A big mistake," was the verdict of former Polish president and Nobel laureate Lech Walesa, while in Iran reformists celebrated the choice of Ms Ebadi, only the third Muslim to receive the prize.

The Nobel Committee announcement
"She [Shirin Ebadi] favours enlightenment and dialogue as the best path to changing attitudes and resolving conflict"

Peace award divides Iran
10 Oct 03  |  Middle East
Shirin Ebadi's peace prize citation
10 Oct 03  |  Middle East
Bookies tip Pope for prize
09 Oct 03  |  Europe
The Nobel Peace Prize
12 Oct 01  |  Europe

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