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A Doctor Whose Mission Is Peace and Prizes

By Nora Boustany
Friday, February 18, 2005; Page A26

When Ole Danbolt Mjoes, a professor of medicine who specializes in the heart, is not in a lecture auditorium or his lab, he devotes his time to the topic of peace, his "other interest," as he calls it.

Mjoes, 65, is chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, a team of five individuals who select the peace laureate each year. The committee's work is largely secret: Names of the candidates are not released, although some are made public or are leaked by people nominating them. But during a stop in Washington last week on his way to the Nobel Peace Prize Forum at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Mjoes divulged a few hints about the process.


Ole Danbolt Mjoes leads the selection of the Nobel winner.

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Feb. 1 was the deadline for submitting nominations for this year's peace prize, and 166 candidates' names were submitted. When the committee, which is based in Oslo, Norway, meets next week, members can put forward additional names for consideration. The recipient is usually announced in October, and an award ceremony takes place in December.

Mjoes said that new trends had emerged in the selection process. For example, out of 112 peace laureates, 12 have been women, not a large percentage, but an irreversible trend, he said.

In 2003, Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and activist, became the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to win the prize. Mjoes said her writings showed there was "no contradiction between the understanding of Islam and the notion of human rights."

Last year's laureate, Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist, received the honor for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace. By selecting Maathai, Mjoes said the committee established an opening for those "who improve living conditions on the earth, on the road to peace."

It was "our way of signaling a new criterion had been introduced," he explained. "It is about how we live together, share resources . . . about preserving the Earth."

According to Mjoes, the three classic criteria in the past were: "doing excellent things for brotherhood . . . and, I say, sisterhood"; work on the reduction of arms and arms control; and arranging peace conferences, which, Mjoes acknowledged, is now "out of style."

The nominations of organizations, instead of just individuals, was established early on. The International Committee of the Red Cross received the prize in 1917, 1944 and 1963. Doctors Without Borders won in 1999. In Oslo yesterday, Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, told the Reuters news agency that 29 organizations had been nominated for 2005.

The prize plays different roles in the lives of the recipients. In the case of Ebadi and other human rights or democracy activists, the international platform often has provided protection. For South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who at the time was trying unsuccessfully to be granted a meeting with President Ronald Reagan, receiving the prize in 1984 opened doors. The morning after the announcement was made, Tutu received his long-awaited call from the White House, Mjoes said.

There has been speculation that tsunami relief work is high on the agenda this year. But former secretary of state Colin L. Powell, rock star Bono and Pope John Paul II have also been mentioned as nominees.

Mjoes urges people to ponder how to make the components of peace more permanent. For example, he said, the border zone between Russia and Norway has long been tranquil. "Why is that?" he asked. What mechanism between people can make more peace than war? What happens in areas of the world where there is peace, but political, economic and cultural disparities exist? Fighting is sometimes stopped for days in war zones such as Sri Lanka, so children can be vaccinated. Why not expand those five days?

Mjoes said one person who should have received the honor but never did was Mahatma Gandhi.

At his talk in Minnesota, Mjoes quoted Gandhi: "When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been murderers and tyrants, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Think of it! Always!"


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