Published:  01:47 AM, 09 September 2017

Ethics and the Nobel Prize

Demands have been made in recent days, and are still being made, for the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi to be revoked or withdrawn. These demands are being made by protesters outraged at her silence on the persecution of Rohingyas in her country. There are also leading figures in such areas as journalism who have made it clear that Suu Kyi does not deserve to keep the prize or be permitted to keep it. A leading columnist in Britain's influential Guardian newspaper has made it clear that the Myanmar leader should be stripped of the prize.

The issue is important as it raises an ethical question. If a winner of such a prestigious prize as the Nobel subsequently turns out to be a figure who militates against the very principles she or he once held dear, it is the prize that gets tainted. Since Suu Kyi has not spoken in defence of the Rohingyas yet, indeed since she appears to be condoning the action of the Myanmar army in killing, raping and driving out the Rohingyas from their ancestral land, her prize has lost value and will henceforth be sneered at. Should she then keep it? On her own, should she return it to the Nobel Committee? Will the Nobel Committee now move to seize back the award?

The Nobel Committee has of course made it known that it does not take back the prizes it has already given to individuals, for these awards relate to their achievements or performance during the time in which they were given. There is a point here, to be sure. But the Committee should at the same time be seized of the other reality, which is that one who has won the prize for peace is now presiding over a breakdown of peace in her country. Ethics comes in again. Bring in here the Nobel for Peace given to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho in 1973.

It was wise on Le Duc Tho's part to decline the prize, for Vietnam was still at war. Kissinger went ahead with accepting it. The question is not why Kissinger accepted it. It is one of what prompted the Nobel Committee to award it to these two individuals when it knew full well that peace was yet far away. The Nobel Committee needs to reflect on these matters. 

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