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When the Nobel Peace Prize winners meet

NOBEL PEACE SUMMIT / Are there any joke to such meetings, or are they just for a narrow circle?


It is twenty years since the first Nobel Summit was organized, initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev. Almost every year since, the Peace Prize winners have met to strengthen their peace engagement, discuss current issues and promote proposals for action. Strong statements have been negotiated, not least about the importance of non-violence, nuclear disarmament and the connection between environment and peace. The meetings also provide an opportunity for the Peace Prize winners to discuss projects they are working on and to promote understanding and collaboration.

19.-22. September this year was World Summit of Nobel Peace Laurates arranged in Mexico under the vignette Make your mark for peace. 30 award winners participated, 10 single-person diver and 20 organizations were represented. I was invited to talk about peace education, which was a top topic at the meeting, but ended up also representing the International Peace Bureau (Nobel Peace Prize in 1910), when my successor as co-president of IPB had to report due.

I have been fortunate enough to attend several of these high-level meetings, and often a question comes up later: Are there any joke to such meetings, or are they just for a narrower circle?

It is always legitimate to ask questions at big meetings, but if we try a comparison between meetings where people discuss what can be done for peace and justice in the world, and meetings that promote military «solutions» the answer must be that we need a number of meeting places to find peaceful solutions to various conflicts of interest and to resist a dominant belief in military means of power.

Military purposes

According to SIPRI's figures, the world now spends over $ 1800 billion a year for military purposes, which is equivalent to about 615 regular UN budgets. Both the academic and diplomatic conflict prevention work is being prioritized, with great danger to world peace and to the millions of people suffering from war, hunger and distress.

Since the Nobel Peace Prize has a high status, and since the Norwegian Nobel Committee is responsible for the selections and Norway thereby has great proximity to the processes, it is perhaps of extra interest to us to follow the work of the Nobel Peace Prize winners. Maybe there are some visions that can be inspiring?

The Nobel Summit 2019 was added to Mérida on the Yucatan Peninsula, and then it was natural that the situation of the indigenous people and what the rest of the world can learn from them, was high on the agenda. 60 percent of the inhabitants of the Yucatan are of Mayan Native American descent. And perhaps, in the midst of the environmental and climate crisis, we are ready to listen to the Mayan wisdom of the connection between Mother Earth and us; contexts we have for too long allowed ourselves to ignore. One of the great experiences for me was hearing Rigoberta Menchú Tum (Nobel Peace Prize in 1992) talk about the Mayan sacred land and see her swing among her own – with respect, care and encouragement.

We need a number of meeting places to find peaceful solutions to various conflicts of interest and
oppose a dominant belief in military means of power.

Mexico is a pioneer in nuclear disarmament. Diplomat Alfonso García Robles received Nobel Peace Prize together with Alva Myrdal for his work for disarmament. He was one of the initiators of the 1967 Tlatelolco Treaty Latin America og the Caribbean as a nuclear-weapon-free zone. Mexico also hosted the second meeting on the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons. The first meeting was in Oslo in 2013, and the last and decisive meeting, which led to the UN Treaty banning nuclear weapons in 2017, was held in Vienna.

nuclear weapons

The fight against nuclear weapons has been pervasive at the Nobel Summits. A separate statement was prepared as part of the Mérida Declaration. It is a shame that Norway, under the influence of NATO's nuclear weapons strategy, has become so slow in this area. The government should soon follow the Nobel laureates' call to sign the UN treaty.

The level of violence is lower in the state of Yucatán than elsewhere in Mexico, but still high – not least in the case of violence against women.

The region is struggling with poverty, large inequality, unemployment and a weak health system. The governor of the Yucatán, Mauricio Vila Dosal, undertook to follow up the peace work in his own region. The President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was also present and was reminded that he had promised to set up a commission to prevent violence. The meeting with the Minister of Education and the Minister of Women in Yucatán provided insight into what the schools are struggling with, including sexual violence and pregnancy among schoolgirls. Yucatán is now starting conflict management and peace education at various levels of the school system and was interested in UNESCO's work in the field and in the Global Campaign for Peace Education. It seemed that the Nobel Summit was of great importance to the local organizers.


It is considered increasingly important to involve young people in dialogue with the Nobel Prize winners. This year, 1200 students and university teachers from different parts of the world participated, half of them from Mexico. Their commitment and knowledge will hopefully have ripple effects in their respective environments. Norway was also invited, and maybe we will get it next time. The students were present during the plenary lectures and organized a number of peace laboratories. Both the Nobel Prize winners and the students were actively involved in supporting a school strike for the climate and for a livable, sustainable future.

The Nobel Summit Secretariat, and not least the leader, Ekaterina Zagladina, deserve praise for her work. I think we were many who went home with new knowledge and inspiration for further work against violence, war and the war machinery, no matter how hopeless it sometimes feels. The main posts can be streamed at any time. Both the final declaration and the urgent call to build a culture of peace will hopefully also benefit those who did not attend the meeting in Mérida.


Ingeborg Breines
Ingeborg Breines
Breines is an adviser, former President of the International PEACE Bureau and former UNESCO Director.

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