Letter: Nobel contribution

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Sir: Contrary to what you flippantly assert in your editorial on the award of this year's Nobel Peace Prize (17 October), peace prizes are in a different category altogether from beauty contests, literary awards, or lists of the century's greatest pop songs.

They alone concern matters of life and death, frequently in an immediate and tangible way. For instance, last year's award speeded up the signing of the Ottawa Treaty on the banning of new landmines. Also, numerous human rights activists across the world - from Aung San Suu Kyi to Rigoberta Menchu Tum, and from Lech Walesa to Desmond Tutu - have been fortified in their work and gained an extra measure of physical protection from their own governments as a result of having been awarded the distinction.

Since 1767, when the French Academy awarded a prize for the best treatise on the question of how to eliminate war and promote peace, such prizes have been widely used as a means of stimulating thought and eliciting practical proposals on this vital issue.

Moreover, to the extent that peace awards also involve substantial sums of money (as does the Nobel prize), the material resources available for peace and human rights work have been greatly increased. The accumulated uses to which the Nobel peace prize monies have been put over nearly a century have made an inestimable contribution to the development of the peace "infrastructure" of our time. The practical effects of peace prizes are demonstrable and wide-ranging.


Department of Peace Studies

University of Bradford