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Martti Ahtisaari

Martti Ahtisaari Wins Nobel Peace Prize

October 13, 2008 09:00 AM
by Isabel Cowles
Finland’s former president, Martti Ahtisaari, has been named winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Martti Ahtisaari: First Finn to Win Nobel Peace Prize

Finland’s former president Martti Ahtisaari won the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to lasting peace across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced Ahtisaari’s award on Oct. 10, noting that his diplomatic efforts “have contributed to a more peaceful world and to 'fraternity between nations' in Alfred Nobel's spirit.” There were 197 nominees in total.

The committee cited Ahtisaari’s work in Namibia, Aceh, Indonesia, Kosovo and Iraq, saying, "For the past twenty years, he has figured prominently in endeavors to resolve several serious and long-lasting conflicts.” The citation added, “He has also made constructive contributions to the resolution of conflicts in Northern Ireland, in Central Asia, and on the Horn of Africa.”

Ahtisaari negotiated an end to a 30-year conflict between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels in 2005, and has been mentioned as a possible Nobel Peace Prize candidate ever since. However, when asked what contribution he considered most important, Ahtisaari cited his work in Namibia.

In response to winning the prize, Ahtisaari stated, “I’m extremely pleased.” He said he hoped that it would encourage fundraising for his non-governmental organization, Crisis Management Initiative, by facilitating the next generation’s peacekeeping efforts. “I have to start realizing that I am 71 years of age,” Ahtisaari continued. “I want to spend more time with my wife.”

Background: A “human rights prize”

Despite the breadth of his career, Mr. Ahtisaari’s selection was a surprise to some. Many thought that the five-person selection team would choose Chinese dissidents such as Hu Jia and Wei Jingsheng in response to the country’s human rights violations. Peace researcher Stein Toennesson said, "I think there is a big chance for it be a human rights prize," and speculated that the award would either go to Hu Jia, to Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Do, or to Russian human rights lawyer Lidia Yusupova.

Key Player: Martti Ahtisaari

Mr. Ahtisaari’s peacekeeping career began in 1965 when he joined Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Ambassador of Finland to the United Republic of Tanzania, a position he held from 1973 to 1976, and in 1975 he was also accredited to Zambia, Somalia and Mozambique.

In the 1980s, Ahtisaari was responsible for International Development Co-operation in Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, where he served as Under-Secretary of State. He also became the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Namibia.

According to a United Nations profile, in the 1990s, “Mr Ahtisaari was Chairman of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Working Group of the International Conference on the former Yugoslavia.” In 1993, Ahtisaari worked for four months as Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for the former Yugoslavia.

Ahtisaari served as Finnish president from 1994 to 2000 and founded the non-governmental organization, Crisis Management Initiative, upon leaving office.

Reference: The Nobel Peace Prize

Related Topic: Other 2008 Nobel Prize winners


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