Every year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awards the Nobel Peace Prize to individuals or organizations who have fought for causes that take strides towards world peace.
Many times, the awards have been given to those who embody traditional ideas of peace – such as the prevention of war and conflict. But the Peace Prize laureates have shown that peace encompasses the fight for human rights and the pillars of freedom in oppressive conditions.
In Asia, there have been at least 78 laureates or winners of Nobel Prizes, 21 of whom got the Peace Prize. In Southeast Asia, there are five Nobel Peace Prize winners, as of 2021.
Rappler CEO Maria Ressa is the latest addition to the Southeast Asian list, recognized for her efforts in championing press freedom in the Philippines.
Here are the stories of the Southeast Asian Nobel Peace Prize laureates:
Filipino journalist Maria Ressa, together with Russian journalist Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov, were awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”
Rappler CEO Ressa has been the target of attacks for her media organization’s critical coverage of strongman President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. She is also a key leader in the global fight against disinformation.
In June 2020, Ressa was convicted of cyber libel together with former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. This is one of at least seven active cases pending in court against Rappler, as of August 10, 2021. Ressa and Santos are out on bail, and have filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals.
Ressa is the first Filipino to win a Nobel Prize. (In the past, there were organizations based abroad that won the Nobel and which had Filipinos on their team.)
“The journalists will continue doing our jobs, but there are always repercussions if you do a story someone doesn’t like. I think what our public has realized is that Rappler will keep doing those stories,” Ressa said in a Rappler interview after she and Muratov won.
Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo and José Ramos-Horta, both from Timor-Leste, shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996. The two won “for their work towards a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in East Timor,” according to the Nobel Prize website.
Belo was elected head of his country's Catholic church in 1983 and openly denounced the Indonesian occupation, which led to him being placed under strict surveillance. He demanded in 1989 for the United Nations (UN) to arrange a plebiscite on Timor-Leste.
Following a massacre two years later, he helped smuggle to Geneva two witnesses who testified before the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Ramos-Horta was one of the leaders of the resistance when Timor-Leste was occupied by Indonesia in 1975. He left the country as a foreign minister in the government set up by the liberation movement Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, and spent the next 20 years pleading the cause of Timor-Leste around the world.
He advocated for dialogue with Indonesia in the 1980s and presented a peace plan in 1992. The objectives in his peace plan were reached in 1992.
Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of liberation leader Aung San, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her “non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights” in Myanmar.
In 1988, Suu Kyi emerged as the leader of a democratic movement that opposed the country’s military rule. Her party was poised to win in a general election in May 1990, but the regime nullified the result. Suu Kyi refused to leave the country and was kept under house arrest.
“Suu Kyi’s struggle is one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades. She has become an important symbol in the struggle against oppression,” the write-up for Suu Kyi, dated October 1991, says on the Nobel Prize website.
Then, history repeated itself three decades later. Suu Kyi’s landslide victory under the National League for Democracy party in the 2021 election also prompted the military to swiftly seize control of the government and detain Suu Kyi.
Lê Đức Thọ was a communist revolutionary who became North Vietnam’s chief negotiator in 1968. He confronted former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and negotiated for an armistice in Vietnam between 1969 and 1973.
He was the first Asian to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. According to the Norwegian Nobel Institute, he was awarded jointly with Kissinger “for jointly having negotiated a ceasefire in Vietnam in 1973.” Lê declined the award because Kissinger violated the truce.
Lê was also a renowned politician and a military leader who fought the French colonial rule in Vietnam. He died in 1990.
– Michelle Abad, Vernise Tantuco, Pauline Macaraeg/Rappler.com