The human-rights lobby Amnesty International was awarded the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize today. The Nobel committee also awarded the 1976 prize retroactively to two Catholic women who led a peace movement in Northern Ireland.
Amnesty, a London-based volunteer group that turns a spotlight on political prisoners and torture in all corners of the world, was cited for its defense of human values against degradation.
The two women were honored for their attempts to waken the conscience of Northern Ireland against the campaign of bombings and shootings that has lasted there for more than eight years.
The prizes - 700,000 Swedish Kroner or about $145,000 each - were announced by the Nobel Parliament in Oslo. The committee made no award last year in order to keep the prize open for williams and Corrigan, whose nominations had arrived late.
The two women expressed surprise and joy. Corrigan, 33, said through her tears , "I am absolutely stunned and delighted. I feel very humble. I accept the prize on behalf of everyone throughout the world who works and longs for peace."
Williams, 34, was at a Sovoy Hotel luncheon here to honor the peace movement when she heard the news.
"Words fail you." she said. "I felt deep down in my heart we don't deserve this. We've only been going 14 months and other people have been going for years. But I know how hard we worked and perhaps after all we have earned it."
Their movement, which they call the Peace People, was launched in August 1976 when Williams saw three children run over and killed by a run-away car. Its driver, described as an Irish Republican Army gunman, had been shot by British soldiers. Corrigan, who had once thought of joining the IRA herself, was the three children's aunt. She joined William's appeal to Catholics and Protestants alike to stop supporting the violence and work for peace.
For several months, the pair caught the imagination of Ulster and the world. They drew as many as 20,000 marchers, Catholic and Protestant, for one rally alone. Nearly$1 million poured in on them from West Germany, Norway and elsewhere.
The movement has never been clear about how peace should be achieved, however, and its stated aim - an end to violence - is shared even by gun-men in Ulster, Williams, Corrigan and their chief ally - a former journalist, Ciaran Mckeown - have toyed with the idea of non-sectarian politics, of creating local community peace organizations to compete with existing politicians. But this proposal has divided the movement.
Sophiscated observers in Ulster agree that the movement is now irrelevant, taken seriously only in the outside world. The movement, they say, has become futile because it refuses to come to grips with the questions of politics and power that lie behind Ulster's violence - Protestant demands for preponderant influence. Catholic insistence on equal rights: the debate over whether Uster shall stay in the United Kingdom, join the Irish Reppublic or go independent.
Since the peace movement began, there has been a murder almost every other day and more than one bombing each day, but the curve is deeling. Comparing the first eight months this year with the same period last year, killings have gone down from 222 to 96, shootings from 1,327 to 892 and bombings from 464 to 225.
In private British authorities give Corrigan and Williams some credit, saying that more citizens are now giving information to the police and army.
Their Nobel citation says they "acted out of a deep conviction that individual people can do meaningful efforts for peace through conciliatory work."
There is less question over the effectiveness of Amnesty especially in a year when President Carter has insisted on human rights as a major foreign policy issue.
Amnesty started in 1961, "adopts" the cause of political prisoners throughout the world. Last year, it was championed 3,650 prisoners in 107 different countries.
The organization campaigns strenuously for the prisoners' release and has not hesitated to publicize the torture to which many are subjected. Its files and contacts are so highly valued that several attempts have been made to break into Amnesty's offices, probably by intelligence agencies.
The organization's strength lies in its accuracy and its political impartiality. It fights abuses in Western and Eastern Europe, in the developed and the so-called developing world. It has attacked repression in Brazil and Bulgaria, Chile and the Soviet Union, South Korea and Guatemala. One report condemned British interrogation practices, since abandoned in Ulster.
Human rights has enjoyed a great boom this year and Amenesty has benefitted. Its organization in the United States have expanded rapidly and its London budget has almost double to $1,225,000.
A year ago Amnesty 66 full-time workers labored in a grimy loft. Now the staff has grown to more than 100 enjoying more spacious offices.
Amnesty can point to hundreds of its adopted prisoners who have been freed, although no one knows how much its pressure has counted. It is not thought likely that torture is on the wane, but Amnesty has at least embarrassed several governments.
In a sense, this is the second time that Amnesty has been honored by the Nobel committee. Sean MacBride, the organization's former director, won the Peace Prize in 1974.
Martin Ennals, Amnesty's secretary-general, called the prize "an award for human rights," adding: "People in political prisons and peace are similar and linked."
The prize committee noted that 1977 is "the year dedicated to prisoners of conscience" and said that Amnesty is trying "to protect this group of prisoners against treatment contrary to human rights."
"With its activities to defend human values against degradation, violence and torture. Amnesty International has contributed to safeguard the foundation for freedom and justice and thereby also for peace in the world."
Reuter reported from Oslo:
The two prizes, which include Nobel gold medals and diplomas as well as the money, will be presented at a ceremony in Oslo Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite who endowed the awards.
Following announcement of the award. Amnesty issued a call to government to release all prisoners of conscience and to abolish torture and the death penalty.
The award to Amnesty was hailed by Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov who said the organization was a major international influence due to its "fearless defense of human rights." Sakharov won the Peace Prize in 1975.
The Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences will announce the winners of the 1977 Nobel prizes for physics and for chemistry in Stockholm on Tuesday.