The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize will be announced Friday. The Nobel Committee does not reveal the identities of any of the nominees, and information about them is sealed for 50 years. But the committee did report a record number of candidates this year: 259, of which 50 are organizations. The previous record was in 2011, when there were 241 candidates. The deadline for submitting nominations was Feb. 1.
Despite the secrecy, rumors and speculation always produce a list of favorites — though the choice of last year’s winner, the European Union, raised eyebrows around the world.
For 2013, the names being mentioned include:
DENIS MUKWEGE, Congo
The Congolese gynecologist has dedicated his life to treating women raped by militias and soldiers in Congo. In 1999, he helped found the Panzi Hospital, a facility in the eastern city of Bukavu that has been a refuge for thousands of women. He was the target of an assassination attempt last year, forcing him to flee into exile in Europe. But the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to two Africans in 2011: Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee, along with Yemeni journalist Tawakkol Karman. All three were recognized for their struggle for the “safety of women and for women’s rights.” The committee could decide to honor someone working in a different field.
HU JIA, China
The dissident and human rights activist became involved in environmental protection while in college, then rose to prominence as an AIDS activist, helping expose a coverup of an AIDS epidemic caused by unmonitored blood transfusions in Henan province. Since then, he has taken on even more sensitive subjects, including appealing for the release of other dissidents as well as members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, and advocating for the rights of the Tibetan people. He was sentenced to 31 / 2 years in prison for subversion on April 3, 2008, and released in June 2011. But his chances of winning this year seem slight, because another famous Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo, won the prize three years ago.
MALALA YOUSAFZAI, Pakistan
The teenage girl defied a Taliban campaign to close schools in Pakistan’s Swat Valley; in retaliation, gunmen shot her Oct. 9, 2012. Since her recovery, she has traveled the world advocating for girls’ education. In the past year, she has been honored by dozens of organizations, has spoken at the United Nations, had a New York-based charity for girls named after her and was a runner-up for Time magazine’s 2012 Person of the Year. She would be, by far, the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
MARY ROBINSON, Ireland
The former president of Ireland — the first woman elected to the presidency, serving from 1990 to 1997 — has been praised for her work on gender equality, gay rights and climate change. In her rousing presidential acceptance speech, Robinson famously thanked the women of Ireland who “instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.” Her campaigns have included lifting Ireland’s constitutional ban on divorce and drawing international attention to famine in Somalia. She ended her presidency a few months early to become the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, a post she held until 2002. She has been rumored to be a top contender for the prize before.
HELMUT KOHL, Germany
A titan of Cold War-era diplomacy, the German leader presided over the reunification of East and West Germany and made the deals that led to the creation of the common European currency, the euro. Now 83, he is in poor health. He might be a long shot: The European Union won the prize last year, giving the committee’s imprimatur to many of the same ideals for which Kohl fought during his 16 years in office.
JUAN MANUEL SANTOS, Colombia
Colombia’s president has embarked on a peace process to end a half-century of conflict, the last guerrilla war in Latin America. But unlike negotiations in the past with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the talks that began in November in Havana are built around a streamlined and realistic framework agenda. Santos has also pushed through measures to compensate victims of political violence, moves that the FARC leadership has viewed favorably. But his peace talks with the FARC have become bogged down, partly because of mixed signals from his government that have prompted guerrilla commanders to delay negotiations.
LYUDMILA ALEXEYEVA, Russia
The chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group has been fighting for human rights for nearly 50 years, first as a dissident in the Soviet Union and now as an activist in an authoritarian Russia. The Moscow Helsinki Group is Russia’s oldest human rights group. It was founded in 1976 during the Soviet era and was soon after closed until 1982, with its members either in jail or sent to exile. Today, Alexeyeva has become the moral voice of Russia, monitoring and publicizing human rights violations. A few years ago, at age 82, she was pushed into a police van at a demonstration supporting freedom of assembly. The sight of roughhewn police towering over a small elderly woman proved intensely embarrassing to officials, who soon released her.
SVETLANA GANNUSHKINA, Russia
Gannushkina founded Memorial, dedicated to remembering Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s victims so that such history would not be repeated. She set up the Migrant Rights Network at Memorial, which protects workers all over Russia and brought humanitarian aid and legal help to Chechens during two wars with Russia. Gannushkina and Alexeyeva have been Nobel favorites in previous years, and this time they are considered overshadowed by Yousafzai. Alexeyeva brushed aside suggestions that this might be her year. “I am fully aware of the fact that there are many people in the world who deserve this prize more than I do,” she said.
LILIA SHIBANOVA, Russia
Shibanova is the director of Golos, Russia’s only independent voting monitor, which promotes democracy through fair elections. Russian officials have accused the organization of setting off the political protests that began in December 2011, and have been harassing it with fines in an effort to shut it down. Last year, Golos and Shibanova won the Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award presented by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
POPE FRANCIS, Argentina
Since he became the first Latin American pontiff in March, Pope Francis has rocked the Catholic Church with his public calls to shift the faith’s stress away opposition to issues, including gay marriage. He has also sought to mend fences with other faiths while blasting the Vatican’s “top-down” bureaucracy, all the while becoming increasingly viewed as the revolutionary on the throne of Saint Peter. But he wasn’t elected pope until mid-March — after the Feb. 1 deadline for Nobel nominations. It might also have been difficult for the socially progressive committee to bestow its highest honor on the leader of a faith that bars the ordination of female priests and technically still opposes a number of commonly held ideals in the region, including birth control.
Contributors: Kathy Lally, Sudarsan Raghavan, Simon Denyer, Michael Birnbaum, Mary Beth Sheridan, Juan Forero, Karla Adam and Anthony Faiola