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10 Past Nobel Peace Prize Winners Whose Names You Should Know

Joint-Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan waves as she arrives to speak on stage during the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

It’s Nobel Prize time again.

The Nobel committee has been announcing prize winners in fields like chemistry, physics, and medicine all week. But they’re saving the best, or at least the most well known, for last. 

The Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work” to facilitate international cooperation, reduce conflict, and promote international peace, will be announced on Oct. 6.

Among this year’s favorites to win are Angela Merkel, Pope Francis, and the group of volunteer humanitarian responders in Syria known as The White Helmets, Time reports.

In anticipation of Friday’s big reveal, Global Citizen took a retrospective view of past Nobel Peace Prize winners and their accomplishments.


Bertha von Suttner (1905)

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Suttner was the first woman to be awarded the Peace Prize, just four years after the award was established. She was a prominent figure of the Austrian peace movement, sometimes called the “generalissimo of the peace movement,” and a writer.

But perhaps more notably, Suttner inspired the creation of the Nobel Peace Prize itself.

The namesake and creator of the Prizes, Alfred Nobel, was a Swedish chemist who invented dynamite and owned multiple arms companies. And for a brief time, Suttner worked as his secretary in Paris. Suttner returned to Austria, but the two remained friends, and Suttner vowed to write Nobel about the peace movement’s progress and to convince him of its effectiveness. A year later, Nobel told Suttner of his hopes to establish a peace prize in a letter.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (1917, 1944, 1963)

The first Nobel Peace Prize ever given was awarded to the Henry Dunant, the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross. But the ICRC itself has been given the award three separate times in recognition of its impartial humanitarian responses to various conflicts.

It won its first Nobel Peace Prize 100 years ago, in 1917, for its response to WWI, and was given the award again following WWII.

When the organization was founded, it focused on providing impartial treatment to wounded soldiers, but today it treats wounded soldiers in as well as victims of armed conflict, regardless of the side for which they fight. Attacks on the ICRC during conflicts can be considered war crimes.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (1954, 1981)

"The idea of being an aid worker came from that moment when you give something away to a person that needs it. You see their face, the satisfaction. Since then I have always felt I should be a humanitarian worker." . Adam has been part of our team for over 10 years. He is currently in charge of providing protection and aid to internally displaced people in Yemen. Thank you Adem for helping men, women and children driven from their homes by wars and persecution. . For World #HumanitarianDay, we're sharing the experiences of UNHCR staff from around the world. Join us and take a closer look at what it means to stand and work #WithRefugees every day. Photo UNHCR/ Osman Ishaq #Humanitarian #Aid #NotATarget #UNHCR #Work #WithRefugees

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency, is the organization that delivers humanitarian aid to refugees, asylum-seekers, and forcibly displaced people.

In 1954, UNHCR was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its relief work in Europe after WWII. UNHCR continued its mission of protecting refugees and stateless people and providing humanitarian aid in the decades after winning the prize — and continues to do so today. Throughout the 1970s, the organization worked with Greek and Turkish refugees from Cyprus, asylum-seekers from Vietnam, and people fleeing the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and was ultimately given the Nobel Peace Prize for the second time in 1981.

Read more: These Are 5 Reasons Why People Become Refugees

Martin Luther King Jr. (1964)

American civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. was just 35 years old when he won the coveted prize — at the time he was the youngest-ever recipient of the award — for his nonviolent resistance movement against racial discrimination.

When King was given the award, he noted that his movement had "not yet won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize," but accepted the award as a recognition of nonviolence as the best approach to ending oppression and violent discrimination.

"I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice,” he said. “I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice."

Read more: MLK, Jr., Shot 49 Years Ago Today: ‘I Still Have Faith in the Future’

René Cassin (1968)

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French lawyer and judge René Cassin was far from a household name, but his contributions to human rights and international peace are nearly unparalleled. Cassin was the primary author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is widely considered the foundation of all international human rights laws and treaties.

Desmond Tutu (1984)

Desmond Tutu and the anti-apartheid movement to which he belonged had not achieved their goals when he was given the Nobel Peace Prize. But, as was the case in the year Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the prize, the committee wanted to draw attention to Tutu’s nonviolent approach to fighting apartheid.

Nearly a decade later, Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing apartheid in South Africa to an end.

Tutu has continued to use his platform as a Nobel laureate for good. Earlier this year, Tutu and nine other Nobel Peace Prize winners banded together, calling on the king of Saudi Arabia to stop the executions of 14 young people. And just last month, he urged fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to break her silence on Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis.

Aung San Suu Kyi (1991)

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Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her “nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights” under Myanmar’s oppressive military regime. She received the honor in 1991, at which point she had been under house arrest for two years. She would not be released for another four years, and even then her freedom was brief. Over the next 15 years, Suu Kyi was intermittently placed under house arrest.

Throughout her years under house arrest and the military’s watchful eye, Suu Kyi continued to advocate for democracy in her country.

Today, Suu Kyi is Myanmar’s de facto leader, and, until recently, was seen as a champion of democracy and human rights in the region. But her refusal to strongly condemn the ongoing violence against the Rohingya muslims in her country has invited international criticism.

Read more: Myanmar’s Rohingya Crisis: Everything You Need to Know

Her fellow Nobel laureates, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama have urged her to take action. Many people have also called for the revocation her Peace Prize, but the Nobel committee says there is no mechanism for revoking awards.

Liu Xiaobo (2010)

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After many decades of fighting for democracy in communist China, Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights." 

He died of cancer in July 2017, making him the second Peace Prize winner to die in the custody of his oppressors — the first was Carl von Ossietzky who died in the custody of the Gestapo.

Liu was a writer and a poet who was living in New York as a visiting scholar when the Tiananmen Square movement began in 1989, according to NPR. He flew back to Beijing to join the protests in the square, ultimately leading to his first arrest.

Liu was imprisoned intermittently over the next two and a half decades, including in 2010, when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. At the award ceremony, an empty chair stood in for Liu, and the statement he was not permitted to read at his trial in China became his Nobel lecture. 

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman (2011)

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These three powerful women jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 "for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peacebuilding work."

For Ellen Johnson Sirleaf — the president of Liberia and the first female African president in modern history – and activist Leymah Gbowee, the award was a recognition of their combined efforts to establish peace in their home country of Liberia and simultaneously fight for women’s rights.

“This whole process of three women receiving the Nobel Peace Prize is really overwhelming,” Gbowee told the New York Times. “It’s finally a recognition that we can’t ignore the other half of the world’s population. We cannot ignore their unique skills.”

For journalist and pro-democracy activist Tawakkol Karman, the award recognized her role as a champion of women’s rights, peace, and democracy in Yemen.

Malala Yousafzai (2014)

Malala was just 17 years old when she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education," making her the youngest recipient of the prize to date. She shared the honor with fellow children’s rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi.

The Pakistan native has been a vocal champion for girls education since she was shot by the Taliban in 2012, an attempt to silence her and prevent her, and girls like her, from getting an education.

“Why is it that countries which we call strong are so powerful in creating wars but are so weak in bringing peace?” she asked while accepting the award. “Why is it that giving guns is so easy, but giving books is so hard?”

Read more: Malala Fights for Education Rights at 2015 Global Citizen Festival