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The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) has been tipped as a “top three” contender for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, which will be formally announced in Oslo tomorrow.
Kristian Berg Harpviken, head of the Oslo-based Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), made the prediction, arguing that, “The case for a peace prize to independent reporting is strong, and the DVB, with its innovative approaches to reporting under tight state controls, may be the first to win a prize in this category”.
The PRIO website says however that Harpviken’s “speculation does not confirm or endorse nominations. Nor does it reflect the opinion of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee”, although the organisation traditionally makes predictions prior to the awarding.
It would be only the second recognition of a Burmese person or institution by the Nobel committee, the first going to the detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the award in 1991.
DVB’s executive director, Aye Chan Naing, said: “We don’t have high expectations of winning the Nobel peace prize but just being considered for this most prestigious award makes us very proud of all our journalists, especially those who are in prisons, and all the brave people of Burma.”
He confirmed that 17 DVB journalists are currently behind bars for their work. Aye Min Soe, who shot footage for the Oscar-nominated documentary, Burma VJ, said that the prize would be a testimony to people like his friend and colleague, Ko Shwe, who is in jail in Arakan state. He was arrested in November 2007 after filming the Saffron Revolution protests and jailed for 17 years.
Aye Min Soe added however that there were many like himself who found themselves in exile and stateless, with the UNHCR failing to grant them refugee status something that he is “very worried about”, given indications from the Thai government that it plans to deport all Burmese refugees after the 7 November elections in Burma.
Harpviken has also tipped Sima Samar, chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, for the award, as well as the Special Court of Sierra Leone, which was set up by the UN and the Sierra Leone government to seek justice for serious breaches of international law committed in the country during the war there in the 1990s.
Last year US President Barack Obama controversially won the award, with many surprised that he was honoured so early on in his tenure as president. The PRIO’s “top three” for this year however seem to have more history and accomplishment: the efforts to seek justice for perpetrators of war crimes in Sierra Leone has stood out as exemplary where other post-conflict environments have not delivered.
Moreover, the issue of human rights, particularly women’s rights, is a challenge of huge proportions in war-torn Afghanistan, where Sima Simar has been active since the Soviet invasion in the 1980s which forced her and her family into exile.
DVB’s profile has been boosted already this year by an Oscar nomination for Burma VJ, which used the organisation as a medium through which to explore independent media in Burma around the time of the September 2007 uprising.
That was Burma’s first exposure at the film awards, and is no mean feat in a country where no free media exists as a result of the country’s draconian repression of the press.
The Nobel selectors will likely look to the everyday activities of DVB and the risks its journalists take to provide information to a media hungry population. PRIO notes that “It is this ability to contribute regular reporting from a tightly controlled regime that distinguishes the DVB”.
Another strong contender is jailed Chinese democracy activist and scholar, Liu Xiaobo who famously penned ‘Charter 08’, a call for democratic reforms in China. His actions led to his arrest last year, which followed his detention on 8 December 2008 for collecting signatures for the Charter. His formal detention began in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power”.
Chinese fears of a Xiaobo victory tomorrow led China’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Fu Jing, to tell Geir Lundestard, head of the Nobel committee, that awarding him would be “an unfriendly action that would have negative consequences for the relationship between Norway and China.”
The prize is named after the Swedish industrialist and investor, Alfred Nobel, who bequeathed a sum of money to be awarded to outstanding contributors in five categories: chemistry, physics, economics, peace and literature, which will be awarded today.