Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his resolute efforts in bringing his country’s five-decade-long civil war to an end, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.
“The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people, who … have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process,” Kaci Kullmann Five, chairperson of the five-member committee, said in a statement published on the official website of the Nobel Prize.
Santos initiated the negotiations in Cuba in 2012 that culminated in a peace accord between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest rebel group.
But the peace agreement was narrowly rejected in an October 2 referendum with majority choosing “No”.
“The fact that a majority of the voters said no to the peace accord does not necessarily mean that the peace process is dead,” Five said.
“The referendum was not a vote for or against peace. What the ‘No’ side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement.”
More than 220,000 Colombians died and close to six million were displaced in the war which ended with the September 26 peace deal.
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 Santos and FARC guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londono, continue to respect the ceasefire, the statement said.
According to The Guardian, the prize should, however, have gone to the White Helmets, the Syrian volunteers who have rescued more than 60,000 people from the rubble of buildings hit in the bombings by the militants.
The White Helmets — some 2,900 volunteer search and rescue workers from local communities who risk their lives to save others and bring hope and also nominated for the prize — welcomed the committee’s decision saying: “Congratulations to the people and the President of Columbia. We sincerely wish them peace.”
The committee said it encourages Santos and Timochenko to respect the accord and “take their share of responsibility and participate constructively in the upcoming peace talks”.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee emphasised the importance of the fact that Santos was now inviting all parties to participate in a broad-based national dialogue aimed at advancing the peace process.
The civil war in Colombia is one of the longest civil wars in modern times and the sole remaining armed conflict in the Americas.
Santos on being awarded the prize thanked the committee “from the bottom of my heart and in the name of all the Colombians, especially the victims”.
Santos emphasised that he received the award on behalf of his fellow citizens.
“It’s simply a matter of believing in a cause and there is no better cause for any society, for any country, than living in peace,” he said.
Last year, the surprise winners of the accolade were the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet who were heralded for bringing peace in the country after the Arab Spring.
The year before, Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai, the girls’ education campaigner who was shot in the head by the Taliban at the age of 15, became the youngest winner when she was jointly awarded the prize with Indian child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi.