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Mother Theresa
Mother Teresa won the 1979 Nobel Peace PrizeImage: AP

Nobel's Will

DW staff (cat)
October 9, 2008

The Nobel Peace Prizes awarded to Mother Teresa and Al Gore violated the terms of Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel's will that created the awards, the author of a book on the subject has said.


In his 1895 last will and testament, Alfred Nobel, the Swedish industrialist and philanthropist who invented dynamite, decreed that part of his vast fortune be used to create the awards that now carry his name, including the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Peace Prize, the only one awarded by a Norwegian committee, was to be presented each year 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."

Only 45 percent of the Nobel Peace Prizes awarded since World War II are in line with the spirit and terms of Nobel's will, according to Norwegian lawyer Fredrik Heffermehl, author of the book "Nobels vilje" ("Nobel's Will").

"Disarmament and anti-militarism was what Nobel wanted to promote," Heffermehl told Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten's English desk.

Over half of recent awards don't meet the grade

Undated black and white photo of man in 3-piece suit sitting at writing desk
Alfred Nobel's will created a prize for the promotion of demilitarizationImage: AP

In his book, Heffermehl analyzes all of the 118 Peace Prizes awarded from 1901 until 2007. In the years before 1940, nearly 85 percent of the prizes awarded were in accordance with Nobel's wishes. Since the Second World War the original aims have been particularly misinterpreted, with a mere 45 percent making the grade, he said.

That figure drops to 13 percent for the past seven laureates, he added.

He attributed this to the rising influence of Norway's political parties on the Nobel committee and "private commercial interests."

"Nobel didn't start a peace prize but a prize for promoting peace in particular areas and ways," Heffermehl told the Aftenposten. "Nobel wanted the Prize to be given for promoting peaceful coexistence by reducing militarism and by building a framework of international law through peace congresses."

In an interview with news agency AFP Heffermehl said: "From a legal point of view, Mother Theresa was very far from the idea that Alfred Nobel had of a champion of peace."

She won the prize in 1979.

Many recipients not "champions of peace"

Man in suit standing beside gold plaque
Al Gore's climate change work was not worthy of the peace prize, says HeffermehlImage: AP

Among other laureates who do not meet the criteria, according to the lawyer, are former US vice president and climate campaigner Al Gore, who won last year, and joint winners of the 1994 prize Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.

The Middle East trio, he said, were not the kinds of "champions of peace" who dedicated their lives to preventing conflicts, that Nobel had intended.

But the secretary of the Nobel Committee, Geir Lundestad, rejected the criticism.

"We would have violated the terms of Nobel's testament? In that case, it's the original sin," he told AFP, recalling that the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901 went to the Swiss founder of the Red Cross, Jean Henry Dunant.

The 2008 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday. Chinese and Russian human rights advocates are among the top contenders.

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