“It is obvious that the routines around risk assessments failed during the awarding to Abiy Ahmed,” the op-ed author writes. The picture is from the award in 2019. Members Thorbjorn Jagland and Henrik Syse have since left the committee. Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen

May 28, 2021

[Rough translation of an article by Professor Kjetil Tronvoll published on Norway’s VG newspaper]

The members of the Nobel Committee are all individually responsible for the award of the Peace Prize to Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The committee should thus be aware of this responsibility and collectively resign its positions and ask the parliament to appoint a completely new committee.

KJETIL TRONVOLL, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, Bjørknes University College

KJETIL TRONVOLL, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, Bjørknes University College

The war in Tigray in northern Ethiopia has been going on for over six months. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed, injured and raped by military forces, and over two million displaced. At the same time, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed states that a nation on its way to “prosperity” will experience some “bumpy terrain” that will cause “blisters”; so rationalizes the Nobel Peace Prize laureate what is probably an ongoing genocide.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee justified awarding the Peace Prize to Ahmed in 2019 “for his efforts for peace and intergovernmental cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea.” Today, Eritrean military forces, along with Ethiopia’s federal army and regional forces from Amhara province, are accused of massive war crimes and crimes against humanity, in what authorities refer to as a “police operation” in Tigray.

The war began last November when federal armies seized Tigray along with Eritrean forces with an alleged aim of arresting the elected state government and the leadership of the Tigray People’s Liberation Army (TPLF) party. But the political leadership pulled out of the state capital, Mekelle, and into the mountains, along with tens of thousands of combat-ready soldiers. It was clear from the outset that this would develop into a protracted war, when the Tigray people would not be subjected to the new centralizing policy of Abiy Ahmed that they believe undermines the constitutional regional political autonomy.

As the war drags on, it has also become more and more cruel. The United States has strongly criticized Abiy Ahmed for ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans, multiple massacres of hundreds of civilians have been uncovered, and mass rape of girls and women is systematized to cleanse the “bloodline” and to break down the will to fight of the population. From being one of Ethiopia’s most developed states, the region today is laid to rest. Civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals, water supplies, schools and universities, have been direct targets of bombing and looting – to make it impossible for an administrative and economic capacity to exercise political autonomy.

Even more precarious is the humanitarian consequence of the war. Today, 5.2 million Tigrayans depend on humanitarian assistance to survive, that is almost the entire population of 6 million, but only a fraction of these receive help. Food supplies and emergency aid from the UN and the international humanitarian organizations are being blocked by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers on the ground, probably to starve out the population. Areas of Tigray are now experiencing increasing levels of starvation deaths, and hundreds of thousands are at risk of dying from a man-made famine over the summer. We may soon see similar images of mass deaths in Tigray that inspired the Band Aid concerts in the mid-1980s.

Human rights experts but is now that there is evidence to say that there is an ongoing genocide in Tigray, when analyzing the political intent and systematic and widespread war crimes, mass killings of civilians, rape of girls and women, politically created hunger disaster, and more.Even the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has stated that the authorities are exercising genocide.However, the final legal conclusion to this must provide a future international legal process.

So what kind of responsibility does the Nobel Committee have for awarding the Peace Prize to a person who uses the prize to give legitimacy to a genocide-fueled war against his own people? Did the committee take too high a risk of awarding the prize to a sitting prime minister who is not democratically elected in a country that has always been an authoritarian state? Or is this the analysis of hindsight, and something the Nobel Committee could not have predicted?

I would say that this is not hindsight, as it was already pointed out in early 2019 that the reforms in Ethiopia and the peace process with Eritrea had lost momentum. It was also warned that the Peace Prize itself could be destabilizing rather than peace-promoting.

After the outbreak of war, I received a call from a senior Ethiopian official, who must remain anonymous to protect him from reprisals, who in a weeping voice said: “I will always hold the Nobel Committee responsible for destroying our country. After Abiy received the Peace Prize, he took it as an acknowledgment of his policies and would no longer listen to objections and the dangers of a re-centralization of power in Ethiopia.”

There is growing international criticism of the Nobel Committee’s handling of Abiy Ahmed’s candidacy, awarding the prize and, not least, the committee’s official “non-attitude” to the war crimes and crime against humanity carried out in Ethiopia today by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The committee remains silent and hides behind a centuries-old tradition of not releasing any information regarding the assessments made prior to the award, nor to comment on a subsequent development that affects the prize’s rationale. The committee reads Nobel’s will as a Salafist reads the Quran, not a provision can be reinterpreted in today’s political reality. Thus, the prize cannot be withdrawn.

There are initiatives by Ethiopian organizations in the diaspora to try to hold the Nobel Committee legally responsible for the consequences of the award. There is probably no legal basis for this, but it will lead to an even stronger weakening of the reputation of the Nobel Prize.

There are initiatives by Ethiopian organizations in the diaspora to try to hold the Nobel Committee legally responsible for the consequences of the award. There is probably no legal basis for this, but it will lead to an even stronger weakening of the Reputation of the Nobel Prize.

So what is the room for maneuver of the Nobel Committee to show disgust with the war and the genocide-seeking policies of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (given that they want to do this)?The members of the committee all have an individual responsibility for the award (it is not publicly known that anyone voted against).

They should thus be aware of this responsibility and collectively resign their positions and ask the parliament to appoint a completely new committee.

A resignation does not need to be justified – if this is a collective act, it will be understood as the responsibility for the fatal misjudgment it was by awarding the award to Abiy Ahmed.

At the same time, the Nobel Institute should upgrade the academic competence and routines around both the assessment of individual candidates and analysis of the relevant conflict and political contexts that form the basis for the award. It is obvious that the routines around risk assessments failed during the awarding to Abiy Ahmed, which has also happened in previous controversial awards.

When appointing a new committee, the parties in the parliament should also know their visiting time and nominate candidates, often international ones, who actually have expertise in what the prize is about.

Former members of parliament do not belong to such a committee, both to create distance from the political Norway and to recruit those who actually have knowledge of war, humanitarian law, human rights, and international relations.

Published: 28 May 2019 08:44