After last year’s announcement of President Obama as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, there was a number of questions raised, including here and here, on the validity of the choice. In contrast, this year there has been wide acclaim for the choice of winner. Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo is a worthy winner of the prize.
Liu Xiaobo is probably China’s most well known human rights activist. He was involved in the activism that led to the Tiananmen Square student protests after which he was jailed for the first time. He was also detained during the 90s and is currently serving a prison term after calling for democratic reforms in China. The Chinese Government have responded angrily to the announcement of the winner, stating that Liu Xiaobo violated Chinese law and was serving time as a criminal. Further the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that the award of the prize to a criminal undermined the entire value of the prize. Following the award announcement, it has been reported that Liu Xia, Liu Xiaobo’s wife has now been placed under house arrest.
The announcement of the winner was followed by an open letter from former senior members of the Communist Party in China calling for more freedom of speech in the state.
The choice of a human rights activist as the winner of a peace prize is an interesting choice. It makes the clear link between a commitment to human rights and democracy and promotion and maintenance of peace. The Nobel Committee stated that,
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has long believed that there is a close connection between human rights and peace. Such rights are a prerequisite for the “fraternity between nations” of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will.
This link between human rights, peace and democracy has come under attack, particularly with the rise of China. Claims that dictatorship and restraint on human rights are required to ensure economic development have been gaining ground of late. The speed of China’s economic rise as a dominant force is often used a prime example of the correctness of this assertion. However, other examples such as India and Brazil, two countries with large populations and historic economic deprivation, yet two thriving democracies are prime examples of the opposite claim, that democracy, human rights and economic development can go hand in hand.