[ANALYSIS] Leila de Lima and the Nobel Peace Prize

Dean Tony La Viña

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[ANALYSIS] Leila de Lima and the Nobel Peace Prize
It's just a matter of time before Senator De Lima starts getting considered for the ultimate global award of all


On October 5, 2018, the Norwegian Nobel Committee, a 5-member committee appointed by the Parliament of Norway, awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize to campaigners against rape in warfare, Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege. These individuals truly deserve the award, and the cause they are fighting for is certainly one of the most important and urgent challenges our world faces today. 

With the global trend in the rise of populist right-wing movements and leaders, next year’s theme for the Nobel Prize might as well be the pushback against this trend, as led by organizations and individuals fighting for human rights, immigration rights, indigenous peoples and other minorities, women’s rights, and, in general, anti-racism and anti-discrimination.

In this field, several Filipinos would shine, but perhaps there is no one who will shine brighter than human rights defender and political prisoner Senator Leila M. de Lima.

Nobel Peace Prize: Its history

The Nobel Peace Prize is an annual award given “to the person who shall 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.”

Its prestige is based on the international recognition bestowed on the winner by the mere fact of being the recipient of the prize, regardless of the awardee’s actual fame, or whether he was previously known all over the world. The awardee need not be an internationally prominent figure, a world leader, or a powerful individual.

In 2014, the award was given to a 17-year old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, for her advocacy on the education of young girls in her native Swat Valley in Pakistan, for which she caught the ire and was almost murdered by the Taliban.

Nadia Murad, this year’s co-awardee, is herself a victim of rape perpetrated by the ISIS but has risen from that to tell her story for the whole world to listen and act on.

The closest an individual Filipino got to the Nobel Peace Prize was through the nomination of Carlos P. Romulo in 1952, “for his contribution in international cooperation, in particular on questions on undeveloped areas, and as president for the UN’s 4th General Assembly.”

Romulo was the only Filipino ever nominated individually for a Nobel Peace Prize, although Cory Aquino was mentioned several times.

As part of a group, 27 Filipinas including Dinky Soliman, Haydee Yorac, and Teresita Ang-See were among 1,000 women from 150 countries engaged in the cause of peace and human dignity nominated in 2005 by Swisspeace, an NGO based in Bern, Switzerland.

Another Filipino, Franz Ontal, was also head inspector for training of the Organization for the Protection of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) when the intergovernmental organization won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 “for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.”  

Throughout the years, there have been several controversial Nobel Peace awardees.

The likes of Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat come to mind, but the latest awardee to be questioned, albeit years after the award in 1991, is Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, who has just been recently stripped of her honorary Canadian citizenship for her role in the genocide of the Rohingya ethnic minority in her country. There are now similar calls for her to be likewise stripped of her Nobel Peace award.

On the other hand, the most well-known non-awardee, despite history’s recognition of his philosophy of non-violence, was Mahatma Gandhi. Although nominated five times, Gandhi was never awarded the prize.

Of course, this did not in any way make his historic contribution to human civilization any less significant. Perhaps by not receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, the Father of Non-violence got a more valuable recognition, the unanimous global vote that there is no human on the planet more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize than him. 

Dissidents and activists as awardees

On several occasions, the award was given to dissidents, political activists, and anti-establishment leaders pursuing liberation struggles against the authoritarian government of their countries.

South Africa had 3, the more famous being Nelson Mandela, awarded the Prize in 1993 with Frederik Willem de Klerk, for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime. Another is Bishop Desmond Tutu, anti-apartheid and human rights activist.

The less famous one is Albert John Lutuli, a teacher, activist, and president of the African National Congress. Lutuli was awarded the Peace Prize in 1960 for his role in the non-violent struggle against apartheid.

Just 4 years later, Martin Luther King, Jr. was recognized with the award for leading the non-violent civil rights struggle in the United States. Aside from Gandhi, King is probably the only other epic dissident leader of global renown to actually practice non-violence, both as a means to a liberation struggle and as the very core of a political movement.

The next famous dissident to be awarded the Nobel Prize was Russian nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov, for his struggle for human rights and civil liberties in the Soviet Union, for which he became the victim of State persecution. The Sakharov Prize awarded also annually by the European Parliament for people dedicated to human rights and freedoms is named after him.

Several other dissidents who were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize are Adolfo Esquivel (1980, founder non-violent human rights organizations against Argentina’s military junta); Lech Walesa (1983, founder of Solidarnosc against the communist regime in Poland); Tenzin Gyatso (the Dalai Lama, 1989, for his peaceful struggle for the liberation of Tibet); Aung San Suu Kyi (1991, for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma); and Liu Xiaobo (2010, “China’s Nelson Mandela,” for his long and non-violent struggle for human rights).

The case for De Lima

De Lima is already internationally recognized for her struggle for human rights under Duterte’s rule, for which reason she was imprisoned and continue to be persecuted using fake charges.

Definitely, this persecution for her single-handed challenge against Duterte’s drug war and EJK campaign as early as July of 2016, especially her subsequent incarceration, has put the world spotlight on the former Chairperson of the CHR and Secretary of Justice.

The world took notice of her plight. But helpless in having any real influence on Duterte’s plans to keep her in detention, the international community nevertheless gave her several awards and recognitions for her sacrifice. 

De Lima has already been awarded twice by the Washington DC-based Foreign Policy magazine as one of its Top 100 Leading Global Thinkers, in 2016 and 2017. Time magazine then included her in their 100 Most Influential People in 2017, as an icon for speaking truth to power. Amnesty International chose her as a Global Human Rights Defender, adopting her as a “prisoner of conscience”.

De Lima was also named as one of the world’s “50 Greatest Leaders” in 2018 by the New York-based Fortune magazine. She was awarded the Liberal International’s Prize for Freedom Award, also in 2018. She is listed as one of the “Women to Watch” in Southeast Asia by the Asia-Pacific regional magazine The Diplomat. She is counted as one of only 5 “Power Women” of Southeast Asia by the regional newspaper Asian Correspondent, dubbing her as “the flagbearer of human rights in the Philippines and beyond.”

Finally, De Lima is the first-ever recipient of the Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender award of Amnesty International-Philippines in its 2017 Ignite for Human Rights Awards.

With these awards and recognitions already tacked to her name, De Lima would definitely be a strong contender for the Nobel Prize. Never since Cory Aquino and the peaceful revolution of EDSA did the Filipinos have a more prominent chance at clinching the prestigious world prize than now, in the person of De Lima.  

Most of the Nobel Peace Prize awardees who were dissidents and political activists persecuted by the regime they were fighting were, at one time or another, sent to prison under repressive conditions.

Although imprisonment certainly is not a qualification for dissidents to be considered for the Nobel Prize, it is still an indication of the great sacrifice for freedom and human rights that they had to endure, while fighting an almost impossible struggle against a powerful oppressor.   

So long as De Lima continues to be persecuted and imprisoned in Duterte’s jails, she would certainly continue to garner international recognition and awards for her human rights struggle and for challenging the imposition of strongman rule in the Philippines.

It is therefore just a matter of time before she starts getting considered for the ultimate global award of all, the Nobel Peace Prize. And whenever she may be nominated, whether for next year or the year after, it is not so impossible that for the first time in more than a century, the Nobel Peace Prize will finally be awarded to a Philippine citizen: the first Filipino Nobel Laureate. – Rappler.com

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