UNRWA, ICJ named in unofficial 2024 Nobel Peace Prize shortlist

UNRWA, ICJ named in unofficial 2024 Nobel Peace Prize shortlist
Henrik Urdal, director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, has announced his unofficial 2024 Nobel Peace Prize shortlist. He included UNRWA and the ICJ.
4 min read
07 February, 2024
UNRWA and its chief Philippe Lazzarini have been named together in an unofficial 2024 Nobel Peace Prize shortlist [LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL/AFP/Getty-archive]

The UN's Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) have been named in an unofficial shortlist for the 2024 Nobel Peace Prize.

Henrik Urdal, director of the Norwegian-based Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), announced his list on Wednesday – as he has each year since assuming his role in 2017.

UNRWA and its chief Philippe Lazzarini were third on the list, which gives Urdal's perspective on the most deserving potential winners. The ICJ took the second spot.

"UNRWA is on the list for their crucial humanitarian support in one of today's most devastating humanitarian contexts," Urdal told The New Arab in emailed comments.

"The Nobel Peace Prize has a long tradition for awarding prizes for humanitarian work (including to ICRC, MSF, WFP, [gynaecologist and rights activist] Denis Mukwege), and a prize to UNRWA would sit very well in this tradition.

"It will also bring important attention to the need for protecting and supporting humanitarian assistance in an increasingly polarised geopolitical situation."

The shortlist's announcement comes after Norwegian MP Asmund Aukrust last week said he had put UNRWA forward for the peace prize.

"We welcome this as a reaffirmation and a recognition of the work of UNRWA and its humanitarian frontline workers in Gaza and the region," an agency spokesperson told The New Arab.

Members of national parliaments, university professors of subjects including history, law, and religion, and ICJ judges are among those eligible to submit nominations.

Gaza war

UNRWA is a lynchpin of efforts to provide humanitarian assistance in Gaza, where Israel's brutal war has so far killed over 27,700 people and injured more than 67,100 others.

The military campaign, which has left infrastructure devastated, has displaced up to 1.7 million of the enclave's population of 2.3 million.

UNRWA is also reeling from an Israeli claim, which the United Nations is investigating, that a small number of its staff were involved in a 7 October attack on Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian militants.

News agency AFP found the attack led to some 1,160 people's deaths in a tally relying on official Israeli numbers.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on 28 January that UNRWA immediately fired those accused, save for a few who were either dead or being identified.

Greta Gunnarsdottir, director of the UNRWA Representative Office in New York, later said that for one individual accused, the Palestinian refugee agency had "not been able to match him with our staff lists".

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Countries including the US, Australia, Germany, and Japan have suspended funding to UNRWA.

But Britain's Channel 4 News said a confidential document that led the UK and other donors to pause funding gives "no evidence to support" the Israeli allegation that agency staff "were involved in the terror attacks on Israel".

International Court of Justice

With the ICJ's inclusion on Urdal's 2024 shortlist, the court has now featured three years in a row.

Last month, the ICJ found it was "plausible" that Israel was violating the Genocide Convention in Gaza.

"While a Nobel Peace Prize to the ICJ would largely be seen as uncontroversial, the court acted boldly in January this year ordering Israel to take action to prevent acts of genocide in the Gaza Strip," PRIO said in a press release about the 2024 shortlist.

The research organisation added that the UN's highest court "acted early in March 2022 by ordering Russia to 'immediately suspend the military operations' in Ukraine".

Russian forces began a full-scale invasion of neighbouring Ukraine on 24 February that year.

Urdal told The New Arab that a prize for the ICJ would "underscore the important work that international legal structures play for multilateral collaboration and peaceful conflict resolution".

He added: "This is a conflict resolution mechanism for states, and all UN states are members, and a prize would strengthen their mandate in a situation where we see a decreasing respect for international rules and multilateral collaboration."

The ICJ is also known as the World Court.

Urdal is not associated with either the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the peace prize, or the Nobel Institute that aids it.

Iranian women's rights advocate Narges Mohammadi was on the PRIO director's list last year and went on to win the award.

In first place on his 2024 shortlist was the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which observes elections.

In fourth were weapon harm reduction group Article 36 and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots coalition.

Taking the final spot were the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation, or UNESCO, and the Council of Europe.

Nobel Prizes

Nobel Prizes, which recognise contributions in fields such as physics and literature, can be awarded to up to three people. The winner of the peace prize can also be an organisation.

The laureates, as the awards' recipients are known, are announced annually in October.

Previous Nobel Peace Prize winners include the UN's World Food Programme, former US President Barack Obama, and Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.

The serving director of PRIO has given their opinion on the most deserving potential peace prize winners for two decades.

Note: This article was updated at 18:02 GMT on 8 February 2024 after UNRWA commented.