Unlike almost any previous award, the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 can be an ongoing, and not just reflective, part of a peace process.
That is if Colombians seize the global momentum created by the awarding of the prize to President Juan Manuel Santos.
New momentum is indeed needed after Sunday’s surprise rejection of a referendum on a peace pact between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Colombians, having endured 52 years of war, undoubtedly want peace. But a narrow majority of voters in a low-turnout plebiscite apparently believed the deal was too lenient on FARC fighters, some of whom are accused of decades of kidnapping, extortion, bombings, forced recruitment, drug trafficking and other crimes.
Despite the vote, both FARC and the government have pledged to abide by the current cease-fire agreement. And Santos plans to push for an eventual agreement that FARC — and just as important, Colombians — will accept.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee recognized that the prize could help push all Colombians to complete the arduous peace process. “The committee hopes that the peace prize will give him [Santos] strength to succeed in his demanding task,” said Kaci Kullman Five, the chairwoman of the committee said.
Whether the unique nature of this year’s laureate presages a longer-term shift remains to be seen. “Most of the time the Peace Prize is awarded for accomplishments that have already been achieved,” Joseph Underhill, an Augsburg College professor who is program director of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum told an editorial writer. “As a means to an end that everyone recognizes is widely sought in that country, this is something that can contribute to that process. It by no means should be taken as a refutation of the will of the people, but hopefully a tool to move to a solution that everyone wants under terms that are acceptable to a majority of Colombians.”
That majority deserves a just, permanent end to a war that has killed more than 200,000 and displaced millions more. The new Nobel laureate should use the award’s stature to renegotiate an end to the conflict that can respond to understandable objections from some Colombians.