World Summit of Peace Laureates Begins Amidst Controversy

Matt Bellassai

Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on April 21, 2009. Maguire announced last week she would boycott the 12th annual World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Chicago. (Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Nine Nobel Peace Prize recipients—including the Dalai Lamai, President Jimmy Carter and Mikhail Gorbachev—are gathering in Chicago today for the start of the annual World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. But one prominent laureate, noting the close connections between the pro-peace summit and war-making institutions, will be missing from the group. Mairead Maguire, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on Ireland, was scheduled to attend the 12th annual gathering, but released a statement last week notifying organizers and fellow Nobel Prize Laureates she would not participate because of the event’s collaboration with the State Department.
In a video statement earlier this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced, “The U.S. Department of State is proud to be an active partner in this event” and gave details on how the State Department would help manage the summit. Citing the video, Maguire wrote, “I have now decided, with some sadness, not to be associated in this partnership, as I do not agree with many of the policies of the U.S. State Department:” Indeed I have, as a Nobel Peace Laureate, (and in the spirit of Alfred Nobel) often called for disbandment of NATO, end of militarism and war, and for disarmament and demilitarization. I cannot therefore, in good conscience, be part of a partnership with the U.S. State Government (NATO). I also believe that my participation in such a partnership would compromise my position and put in jeopardy my work in the Middle East and other countries. In light of Maguire’s announcement, a number of scholars came out in support of her decision, drawing connections between the Nobel Peace Prize and NATO. Fredrik Heffermehl, author of “The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted,” commended Maguire for her stand:  I take the Mairead Maguire boycott of the Chicago event as a rising awareness of how far the Peace Prize has wandered from the original peace vision of Alfred Nobel, a world peace order based on global law and disarmament. Nobel wished to help a development in the direct opposite direction of what the U.S. and NATO are pursuing and it is particularly pertinent to abstain from participation in a Nobel event hosted by the U.S. State Department. Others used the announcement as a way of drawing a connection between NATO and the Nobel Peace Prize, which critics say is no longer a celebration of peace. (The upcoming NATO summit, however, has no explicit connection with this week’s Nobel summit.) Francis Boyle, a University of Illinois College of Law professor, said the State Department was using the Nobel Peace Prize as a tool in the upcoming “NATO warfest” in Chicago: It is well known that the so-called Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by Norwegian politicians and that Norway is a member of NATO. In other words, the Nobel Peace prize is awarded by NATO politicians in order to further their own political interests. And now we have the Nobel Prizers finally come out of the NATO closet. The Nobel summit will nonetheless continue without Maguire. This year’s gathering will turn attention to bridging cultural gaps between young people across the globe. The three-day event will bring high-profile laureates and other dignitaries to the city, including the Dalai Lama, former world leaders President Jimmy Carter, Frederik Willem de Klerk of South Africa, Lech Walesa of Poland, Oscar Arias of Costa Rica and Mikhail Gorbachev of the former Soviet Union, as well as activist laureates Shirin Ebadi, Jody Williams, and Muhummad Yunus. President Bill Clinton will give the keynote address at the sold out opening night dinner at the Chicago Field Museum.  In the statement announcing her boycott, Maguire lauded the goals of the summit, but expressed sadness over the connection with the State Department. I am very disappointed that what is a great opportunity for young people, the Nobel Laureates and organizations to listen, learn and exchange friendships and experiences, has been, I believe, compromised in such a partnership. However, I hope it will be an enjoyable and educational summit, particularly for all the young people, and I am deeply saddened not to be with you all.
Matt Bellassai is a spring 2012 In These Times editorial intern.
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