Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, a surpise choice after Colombians voted against his peace deal in a referendum.
Announcing their decision in Oslo, the Norwegian Nobel committee praised Santos’ “resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end.”
Santos’ peace deal with Farc guerillas, the result of four years of negotiations, was narrowly rejected in a referendum in the country on Sunday. But the Nobel committee said despite the upsetting result of the referendum, Santos “has brought the bloody conflict significantly closer to a peaceful resolution.”
Santos has promised to revive the peace plan. Many voters believed it was too lenient on the FARC guerrillas.
“The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people,” committee leader Kaci Kullmann Five said. Voters did not say “No” to peace but to the agreement, she said.
The award pointedly excluded FARC guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, who signed the accord with Santos.
“There is a real danger that the peace process will come to a halt and that civil war will flare up again. This makes it even more important that the parties, headed by President Santos and FARC guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londono, continue to respect the ceasefire,” the committee said.
“The fact that a majority of the voters said “No” to the peace accord does not necessarily mean that the peace process is dead,” it said.
The committee also praised Santos for saying he would fight for peace until his final day as President.
A spokesperson said: “The committee hopes that the peace prize will give him strength to succeed in this demanding task. Further, it is the committee’s hope that in the years to come, the Colombian people will reap the fruits of the reconciliation process.”
More than 220,000 people have died on the battlefield or in massacres during the struggle between leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and government troops.
Millions have been displaced and many beg on the streets of the capital, while economic development has been stunted in the mostly rural nation.
“It’s a message of hope for my country and for peace in Colombia,” the country’s ambassador to Norway, Alvaro Sandoval Bernal, told Norwegian broadcaster TV2.
“It reiterates that there is hope for the peace process in Colombia.”
Asked why the Londono was left out, Five said Santos had been central to the process.
“President, Santos has been taking the very first and historic initiative. There have been other tries, but this time he went all-in as leader of the government with a strong will to reach a result.
“That’s why we have put the emphasis on president.”
Santos is the first Latin American to receive the peace prize since indigenous rights campaigner Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala won in 1992, and is the second Colombian after writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the literature prize in 1982.
Disappointment for Syria’s White Helmets
The result has come as a surprise as The White Helmets volunteer search and rescue group.
This emergency group has one of the most dangerous jobs in the Syrian conflict. They have pulled 62,000 people alive from smashed and burning buildings often with bombing still going on. The cost to them has been heavy: 145 dead and 430 injured out of 3,000 who joined up in the past three years.
The group has been awarded the Right Livelihood Award – described as the “alternative Nobel Prize” for human rights work. They have now been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the winner of which will be announced on Friday.
British MP Jo Cox, the Labor MP, who was the chair of the House of Commons all party Friends of Syria group, played an important role in this, putting them forward for the nomination, publicizing their work. In her name, dozens of Parliamentarians across Europe have launched a collective appeal to support such a distinction for the White Helmets. A similar petition has already gathered over 150,000 signatures.
After the winner was announced, the group sent a congratulatory message to Santos on Twitter.
Others who were believed to have been nominated for the prize included a group of inhabitants from Greek islands who have rescued refugees after they made the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean.
The peace prize is the one of the five Nobel Prizes along with Chemistry, Physics, Medicine and Literature.
The Nobel Peace Prize, worth 8 million Swedish crowns ($930,000), will be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10. ($1 = 8.5891 Swedish crowns)