Why a Nobel Peace Prize for the UN?

In a statement issued on 12 October 2001 in Oslo, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said it had decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2001 in two equal portions - to the UN and to its Secretary-General, Kofi Annan - "for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world."

The Committee said the end of the cold war had at last made it possible for the UN to perform more fully the part it was originally intended to play. Today the organization is at the forefront of efforts to achieve peace and security in the world, and of the international mobilization aimed at meeting the world's economic, social and environmental challenges, the statement said.

As Secretary-General, Kofi Annan has been pre-eminent in bringing new life to the organization, according to the Nobel Committee. "While clearly underlining the UN's traditional responsibility for peace and security, he has also emphasized its obligations with regard to human rights," it said. "He has risen to such new challenges as HIV/AIDS and international terrorism, and brought about more efficient utilization of the UN's modest resources. In an organization that can hardly become more than its members permit, he has made clear that sovereignty can not be a shield behind which Member States conceal their violations."

The UN has in its history achieved many successes, and suffered many setbacks, the Committee said. By awarding today's first Peace Prize to the UN as such, the Nobel Committee aimed "in its centenary year to proclaim that the only negotiable route to global peace and cooperation goes by way of the United Nations."

Text of Nobel Committee Citation

Reasons for previous Nobel prizes to the UN

In his will, the benefactor of the awards, Alfred Nobel, stated that prizes should be given to those who, during the preceding year, "shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind," and that one of the prizes be 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."

In awarding the 1988 prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee stated that "the Peace-keeping Forces of the United Nations have, under extremely difficult conditions, contributed to reducing tensions where an armistice has been negotiated but a peace treaty has yet to be established. In situations of this kind, the UN forces represent the manifest will of the community of nations to achieve peace through negotiations, and the forces have, by their presence, made a decisive contribution towards the initiation of actual peace negotiations."

In the 1988 Peace Prize Nobel lecture, Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar said he hoped the award, and the attention it generated, would "not only strengthen our capacity to conduct the affairs of nations in a more peaceful and just manner. I hope it will also stimulate a wider effort to consider new means and the new institutions which we shall need if we are to assure our common future."

Awarding for the second time the prize to UNHCR in 1981, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said that the world was witnessing "tremendous and increasing numbers of refugees," adding that "we are face to face with a veritable flood of human catastrophe and suffering, both physical and psychological." In this context, UNHCR "has carried out work of major importance to assist refugees, despite the many political difficulties with which it has had to contend."

In awarding the 1969 prize to ILO on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary, the Chairman of the Nobel Committee, Mrs. Aase Lionaes, said that few organizations had succeeded to the extent that the ILO had, in translating into action the fundamental moral idea on which it was based -- "If you desire peace, cultivate justice." She added that the demand for social justice had received "a tremendous impetus when the ILO was founded fifty years ago."

UNICEF was awarded the prize in 1965. In her presentation speech, Mrs. Aase Lionaes said UNICEF was "a peace factor of great importance. UNICEF has realized that children provide the key to the future; the children of today make the history of the future. UNICEF is now forging a link of solidarity between the rich and the poor countries."

Dag Hammarskj÷ld was awarded the 1961 prize "in gratitude for all he did, for what he achieved, for what he fought for: to create peace and goodwill among nations and men", said the Chairman of the Nobel Committee, Gunnar Jahn, in his presentation speech. He said Hammarskj÷ld "never departed from the path he had chosen from the very first: the path that was to result in the UN's developing into an effective and constructive international organization, capable of giving life to the principles and aims expressed in the UN Charter, administered by a strong Secretariat served by men who both felt and acted internationally. The goal he always strove to attain was to make the UN Charter the one by which all countries regulated themselves."

And in 1950, Jeremy Ralph Bunche, the UN acting mediator in Palestine, received the prize for his mediation of the 1949 armistice between Israel and seven Arab States. At the time, Nobel Committee Chairman Gunnar Jahn said Mr. Bunche had carried out difficult negotiations, and "by exercising infinite patience, finally succeeded in persuading all parties to accept an armistice... The outcome was a victory for the ideas of the United Nations, it is true, but as is nearly always the case, it was one individual's efforts that made victory possible."

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