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Nobel Prizes aren't without controversy, and I was wondering if a Nobel Peace laureate has ever been accused of war crimes.

For the purpose of this question, I will accept accusations of war crimes by countries or other international bodies including accusations dating before the peace prize was awarded.

When writing an answer, please mention at least the following points:

  • Who made the accusation? Note that the question is limited to countries or other international bodies. To get an idea of what constitutes an international body (or organisation), please consider the Wikipedia page on international organisations.

  • What is the accusation, which war crimes are alleged? Since there seems to be some confusion as to what war crimes are, please see this accessible article the BBC wrote on war crimes.

  • Who is being accused? Note that the question is limited to Nobel Peace laureates (all of whom are listed here). Should the accusation be against an organisation that won a Nobel Peace price, that will also be in scope, even though the term laureate is normally meant to refer to people only.

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  • 57
    What about asymmetrical conflicts, do you count them among wars? If so, Yassir Arafat (terrorism) and Barack Obama (drone strikes) come to mind.
    – chirlu
    Apr 22, 2019 at 20:10
  • I was just going to raise the question of Obama, and @chirlu beat me to it. Would this count? harvardpolitics.com/obama-war-criminal
    – BillOnne
    Sep 21 at 0:26
  • There's Menachem Begin ­bounty-on-head terrorist to Nobel-winning PM. Here's a list of such 'transformations' tni.org/es/node/13434
    – Raveesh
    Sep 21 at 2:29
  • @BillOnne It seems more like an op-ed to me. If any international body or country has made a clear accusation then I think it counts. If it's just based on an editorial, then it doesn't meet the criteria in the question.
    – JJJ
    Sep 21 at 2:36

6 Answers 6

70

The State Counsellor of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, has a Nobel peace prize and there are calls for some of her military leaders to be prosecuted for war crimes. She herself might also be complicit. According to Channel 4 reporting (Channel 4's interview with Professor Yanghee Lee, who is the UN Special Envoy, is available via that link):

The United Nations Special Envoy on Human Rights in Myanmar, also known as Burma, has claimed that Aung San Suu Kyi could be complicit in the systematic persecution of the Rohingya people, in what bears all the hallmarks of genocide.


Also: Henry Kissinger isn't an angel as already pointed out in a separate answer.

(Aside: Nobel himself was considered a merchant of death, according to his pre-released obituary, when journalists mistook his brother's death for his own. This incidentally led him to create the Nobel Prize.)

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  • @JJJ: Insofar as I'm aware investigations are still ongoing. I'll be happy to update the answer in a few years if you ping me when they're done. But she strikes me as the most likely candidate. Apr 22, 2019 at 20:37
  • 2
    Is Aung San Suu Kyi the president of Myanmar? Apr 23, 2019 at 9:57
62

I'm sure there's more, but here are the ones that I can remember:

Henry Kissinger

He served as the U.S. Secretary of State during both the Nixon and Ford administrations and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. He has been accused of committing the following war crime: Source

  • Violating Art. 25 of Hague IV for his role in the secret American bombings in Cambodia.

    The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended is prohibited.

Barack Obama

He was the 44th President of the United States and received the Nobel Peace Prize just 12 days after taking office. He is accused of committing the following war crimes: Source

  • Violating Art. 23 of Hague IV by killing Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Mamana Bibi without providing evidence of either militancy or criminality and without any form of due process.

    "[...] it is especially forbidden [...] To declare abolished, suspended, or inadmissible in a court of law the rights and actions of the nationals of the hostile party.

  • Violating Art. 25 of Hague IV by bombing Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Giovanni Lo Porto, and Warren Weinstein, all of whom were in undefended buildings.

    The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended is prohibited.

  • Violating common Art. 3 of the Geneva Conventions as defined by U.S. Code § 2441 (d)(1)(b) by keeping people, especially people in northern Pakistan, in perpetual fear of death leading to severe mental suffering through the constant presence of drones and the threat of drone strikes.

    Cruel or Inhuman Treatment - The act of a person who commits, or conspires or attempts to commit, an act intended to inflict severe or serious [...] mental pain or suffering [...] upon another within his custody or control.

  • Violating common Art. 3 of the Geneva Conventions as defined by 18 U.S. Code § 2441 (d)(1)(d) by intentionally killing Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Mamana Bibi, by inadvertently killing Giovanni Lo Porto and Warren Weinstein during an attack on an undefended building, and by inadvertently killing eight bystanders during the drone strike on Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.

    Murder - The act of a person who intentionally kills [...] or kills whether intentionally or unintentionally in the course of committing any other offense under this subsection, one or more persons taking no active part in the hostilities.

  • Violating common Art. 3 of the Geneva Conventions as defined by 18 U.S. Code § 2441 (d)(1)(e) by inadvertently injuring the grandchildren of Mamana Bibi who were near the drone strike.

    Mutilation or Maiming - The act of a person who [...] injures whether intentionally or unintentionally in the course of committing any other offense under this subsection, one or more persons taking no active part in the hostilities.

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  • 20
    Can you elaborate on who made the accusations? I also found that source on Obama but I'm not sure to what extent the accusation is made by a country or international body / organisation. Please try to expand on that.
    – JJJ
    Apr 23, 2019 at 4:01
  • 42
    "Kissinger is so afraid of being arrested for war crimes that he does not travel outside of the United States." Any sources to back up this claim? He attended a football game of his old hometown Fürth in June 2012, and gave a speech at Helmut Schmidt's funeral in Hamburg on November 23, 2015. (In one of the first sentences of which he mentions that even in their later years, Schmidt and he often met "all around the world"). Apr 23, 2019 at 4:31
  • 8
    The War Crimes Project source that you linked to doesn't seem to be very high profile at all, but since the question was vague about what counted as an international organization, I think it still counts. However, that site also accuses Bill Clinton and George Bush of war crimes. If we take that source to be noteworthy, why didn't you mention them?
    – Obie 2.0
    Apr 23, 2019 at 16:51
  • 7
    It's also strange that the site doesn't mention Trump, so far as I can tell, even though it mentions the previous three living US presidents. By the criteria seemingly used by the website, I'd think some actions under his administration would qualify. I can find plenty of other sites with a larger presence accusing him of war crimes, in any case.
    – Obie 2.0
    Apr 23, 2019 at 17:27
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    @Obie2.0: Because the question is about nobel peace laureates, which neither Bush or Trump are
    – Selkie
    Apr 23, 2019 at 21:59
25

The closest I can think of is Henry Kissinger. He has accused by many of war crimes, with a judge in Argentina considering him a 'defendant or suspect'.

0
6

To add to the list, Yasser Arafat was jointly awarded the Noble Peace Prize with two others in 1994, and has been later accused formally and informally of war crimes, terrorism, etc. For example:

Seven French relatives of Israelis killed by Palestinian suicide bombers filed a complaint against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in a French court. They accused Arafat of genocide, crimes against humanity, murder, and criminal conspiracy, saying he personally masterminded a strategy of terrorism against Israelis.

Under a controversial Belgian law that was later amended to apply only to Belgians thereby dropping many cases including ones against Arafat, Arafat was generically charged with creating an environment of terrorism.

The case against Mr Arafat does not relate to one single incident but seeks to hold him personally responsible for the death of "thousands of terror victims" since he "began operations in 1966", and accuses him of murder, genocide and crimes against humanity.

If you search for them, you will find no shortage of such opinions and charges against Yasser Arafat. To my knowledge, no "guilty" verdict has ever been passed by any internationally recognized court.

In light of this list, it would seem peace is a dirty business.

1

Ethiopia's Abli Ahmed won the Peace Prize in 2019 for making peace with Eritrea.

However, since the start of the Tigray rebellion, there have been accusations of war crimes committed by forces under his control.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Tigrayan civilians had been targeted in "a relentless campaign of ethnic cleansing" in the long-contested western Tigray region since the outbreak of Ethiopia's war in November 2020.

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Nelson Mandela won the peace prize in 1993. He was taken of the terrorist watch-list of the USA in 2008. This is fifteen years later after every other natuon had decoded Mandela was a secular saint.

The US State Department put the ANC (the African National Congress - and pretty much moribund until Mandela joined it) on its terrorist watch list the first time in 1988. This was soon after the aparthied regime in Praetoria had declared the ANC a terrorist organisation. They were simply following what Aparthied South Africa wanted. Well, once a slavery-owning, segragationist Jim Crow nation - always one it seems. Five months later, they declared the ANC amongst the 52 most dangerous in the world and stated that they "targetted civilians". A bit rich coming from a nation that visited a nuclear holocaust on 170, 000 men, women, childten and babies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What was it that Martin Luthor King said?

[The USA government] is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.

Anyway, we all know the history. South Africa dismantled its apartheid system and Nelson Mandela walked free. But the USA officially had him listed as a terrorist for fifteen more years. That nation sure knows how to bear a grudge.

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    But did the USA level a specific accusation of war crimes against Mandela? Please try to make it explicit, see also the second bullet point in my question.
    – JJJ
    Sep 20 at 6:44
  • @JJJ: Well, you have heard of the "war on terrorism"? I'm sure they would have loved to thrown the entire war crimes book at Mandela if they could. But if done in an objective manner, it would be mostly the USA up in the dock which is why they are not party to the Rome Statute on the ICC. And in fact, Trump's regime attempted to stymie its efforts. Sep 20 at 6:51
  • 3
    This isn't much of an answer to the question. It seems like it's mainly saying "Isn't it ridiculous that the United States kept the ANC on a terrorist watch list after Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize?" Well yes, it seems pretty ridiculous. But I doubt that the United States ever accused Mandela of a war crime. Note that George H. W. Bush invited him to the White House and described him in glowing terms as early as 1990: despite the Defense Department's stubbornness, most of the federal government had little interest in describing Mandela as a terrorist after 1990.
    – Obie 2.0
    Sep 20 at 7:40
  • 1
    There's also the problem that the US government never referred to the struggle against apartheid as a war, so it's fairly unlikely that they would have talked about war crimes. If you go to e.g. the FBI page for even Osama bin Laden, they don't characterize his actions as such. Now, if you can find just one person in the US federal government—maybe from the Department of Defense, for instance—who accused Mandela of committing war crimes, that would make this an answer to the question. But "there had to be someone who thought that way" isn't really.
    – Obie 2.0
    Sep 20 at 7:45
  • 1
    "The war on terror" was a term of political propaganda used by George W. Bush and other people in his orbit, like Trump talking about the war against COVID-19. As you correctly point out, it was not a meaningful term, and it certainly did not equate to a blanket accusation of war crimes against every person belonging to any organization a terrorist watch list. It may seem logical to you that if there is a war on terror, then any crime committed by a terrorist is a war crime, but that is trying to apply logic to something that you admit is not logical.
    – Obie 2.0
    Sep 20 at 7:52

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