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Explainer: How does someone win the Nobel Peace Prize?

You can’t nominate yourself, in case you were wondering.

nobel Ican's Beatrice Fihn pictured at a press conference at the group's headquarters in Geneva today Source: Martial Trezzini/AP/Press Association Images

THE INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN to Abolish Nuclear Weapons was announced as the Nobel Peace Prize winner earlier today.

“The organisation is receiving the award for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons,” Norway’s Nobel Committee president Berit Reiss-Andersen said.

The Geneva-based organisation, known by the acronym Ican, has for the past decade been sounding the alarm over the massive dangers posed by nuclear weapons and campaigning for a global ban.

The prize is said to be awarded to the person or organisation who has “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”, as set out in the will of inventor and philanthropist Alfred Nobel.

There were 318 candidates for this year’s prize – 215 individuals and 103 organisations. This is the second highest number of candidates ever. The record of 376 candidates was set in 2016.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee is responsible for selecting eligible candidates and choosing the winner. The committee is composed of five members appointed by the Norwegian parliament.

The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway, not in Stockholm, Sweden – where the Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Economics are awarded.

The committee bases its decision on valid nominations received by 31 January each year. The five-member group has until its first meeting after the deadline to add nominations of their own.


The committee draws up a shortlist typically containing 20 to 30 candidates.

These nominees are then considered by the Nobel Institute’s permanent advisers. In addition to the institute’s director and research director, the body of advisers generally consists of a small group of Norwegian university professors with broad expertise in subject areas with a bearing on the Peace Prize.

The advisers usually have a couple of months to compose reports on the nominees. Reports are also occasionally requested from other Norwegian and foreign experts.

When the advisers’ reports have been presented, the Nobel Committee starts to discuss who the most likely candidates will be. Additional information about candidates from experts is often sought before a decision is made.

A timeline of this process can be read here.

MALALA Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 Source: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images

As a rule, the committee picks a winner at its very last meeting before the announcement of the prize at the beginning of October. The group usually makes a unanimous decision but, if this doesn’t happen, the winner is decided by a majority vote.

The committee doesn’t release the names of any candidates and keeps records sealed for 50 years. However, people or organisations often announce who they’ve nominated.

How does a person get nominated?

A person or organisation can’t nominate themselves.

According to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation, a nomination is considered valid if it is submitted by a person who falls within one of the following categories:

  • Members of national assemblies and national governments (cabinet members/ministers) of sovereign states as well as current heads of states
  • Members of the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague
  • Members of the Institute of International Law
  • University professors, professors emeriti and associate professors of history, social sciences, law, philosophy, theology, religion; university rectors and university directors (or their equivalents); directors of peace research institutes and foreign policy institutes
  • Previous Nobel Peace Prize winners
  • Members of the main board of directors or its equivalent for organisations that have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
  • Current and former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee
  • Former advisers to the Norwegian Nobel Committee

Unlikely candidates

Recent winners of the prize include former US President Barack Obama, Pakistani education campaigner Malala Yousafzai and the European Union.

Among this year’s favourites were:

  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and High Commissioner Filippo Grandi for their response to the refugee crisis
  • The Syria Civil Defence – a group of first responders also known as the White Helmets that has been credited with saving tens of thousands of lives in war-ravaged Syria
  • Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini for leading the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programme

The People’s Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance Foundation (Preda) organisation, founded by Irish priest Fr Shay Cullen, was also nominated this year. The Filipino-based foundation helps children and women who have been trafficked in the sex industry.

Some of the more unlikely candidates this year included US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Contains reporting from © AFP 2017

Read: Anti-nuclear weapons campaign wins Nobel Peace Prize for ‘groundbreaking’ work

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Órla Ryan

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