With the Nobel committee set to announce its selection for the 2010 Peace Prize on Friday, speculation has mounted that it will be awarded to one of two prominent activists, hailing from Afghanistan and China. An American is not among the frontrunners for the prize, experts say.
One of the organizations closest to the process (both in mission and geography) is the Peace Research Institute of Olso (PRIO). Director Kristian Berg Harpviken offered his predictions over who would win this year's prize in an event Wednesday at the United States Institute of Peace. His top three contenders are: female Afghan human rights advocate Sima Samar, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a diaspora-based news agency, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).
Samar is his top choice because this is a crucial time in the formation of the Afghan civil society and the establishment of a human rights regime, which the Nobel committee might want to capitalize on, he said.
"I think a prize to Sima Samar would put considerable pressure both on the Afghan government, President Karzai in particular, and on the international community," Harpviken said. "It would make it considerably harder to leave human rights issues by the roadside in Afghanistan and it would be much more difficult for the president... to continue to neglect her and the issues that she stands for."
PRIO's recommendations have hit the nail on the head twice in the last five years, but are based on informed speculation, not any insider's knowledge, he cautioned.
One contender who is leading the odds makers' prediction but is not on Harpviken's short list is imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, whose nomination has already sparked very public opposition from the Chinese government.
"I don't see it as very likely that he will be awarded the prize," Harpviken said, arguing that 2008 would have been a better year to focus on Chinese human rights violations, in response to Chinese government oppression surrounding the Beijing Olympics.
The committee is sensitive to Chinese government pressure, he said. "The prize for a Chinese dissident would have consequences and I don't think that goes down too well with the committee," he said. "You have a certain level of sensitivity to what that could provoke."
Similarly, since the chairman of the committee Thorbjon Jugland is also secretary general of the Council of Europe, he might not be enthusiastic about choosing a Russian dissident for the prize, such as Svetlana Gannushkina, according to Harpviken.
There aren't any quotas, but the Nobel committee does like to achieve some demographic balance with its awards, he explained. For example, since a woman hasn't been awarded the Peace Prize since Wangari Maathai won it in 2004, women like Samar might have a better chance this year.
One thing Harpviken is pretty confident about is that no American will win the prize, especially after the controversial selection last year of President Barack Obama.
"The fact that one fourth of Nobel Peace Prize laureates have been Americans would effectively rule out American candidates this year," he said.
The process by which the five-member committee selects the nominee is extremely opaque. What we do know is that there were 237 candidates nominated. 18 of those have been confirmed by name while another 23 are rumoured to be on the list.
The selection committee is made up of five Norwegian politicians selected by the Norwegian Parliament. Chaired by Jugland, the committee also includes Kaci Kullman Five, Sissel Ronbeck, Inger-Mari Ytterhorn, and Agot Valle.
"It's a bit problematic that the parliament appoints membership in this way. I don't think any of these members are appointed first and foremost for their expertise on matters of war and peace," Harpviken said
Some of the other top contenders Harpviken mentioned include the International Crisis Group, Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege, and Richard Goldstone, the author of a controversial U.N. report on the 2006 Gaza war.