Nobel Peace Prize guesswork focuses on the Ukrainian war, protests in Iran and climate change

FILE - An exterior view of Oslo City Hall, Dec. 9, 2021, the venue of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File) (Alexander Zemlianichenko, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

STAVANGER – The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who will join the ranks of Elie Wiesel, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, will be revealed on Friday and the annual guessing game has reached its climax.

As usual, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has dropped no hints about who's in the running this year, leaving those speculating with very little to go on.

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Bookmakers who take bets on prospective winners are giving the lowest odds to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or jailed Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. However, guessing a winner is notoriously hard and the bookies rarely get it right.

Zelenskyy would seem like an unlikely choice, as Russia's war in Ukraine continues to spread death and destruction. When the committee has picked world leaders embroiled in conflicts in the past, it has usually been after they reached a peace agreement.

“I don’t think the panel can give it to a national leader in the midst of a war between two nations,” said Henrik Urdal, director of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, who is a widely quoted pundit major media outlets turn to every year for his views on potential winners.

Urdal’s annual projections about possible prize winners are always closely watched, even though he has no inside information. Urdal correctly guessed the dual winners Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad in 2018 and Abiy Ahmed in 2019. He has not picked the winner since.

Navalny has been mentioned as a contender in recent years, though it’s unclear whether the committee would consider him after the last two prizes included Russian winners. The 2022 award was shared by Ales Bialiatski, a human rights advocate from Belarus; the Russian human rights organization Memorial, and Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties.

Urdal's top picks this year are human rights activists Narges Mohammadi from Iran and Mahbouba Seraj from Afghanistan.

“This year is exactly 75 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so it would be a very timely award for Narges Mohammadi if the panel wants to focus on human rights,” Urdal said.

Earlier this year, Mohammadi was one of three imprisoned Iranian journalists to receive the United Nations’ World Press Freedom Prize.

Urdal said Mahbouba Seraj could be a possible co-winner with Mohammadi. She returned to Afghanistan in 2003 after 26 years in exile to found the nonprofit Afghan Women’s Network and the Organization for Research in Peace and Solidarity.

Norway's public broadcaster NRK also said the committee could award Mohammadi or other Iranian activists for shining a light on women's lives in Iran following the nationwide protests that erupted last year after the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country's morality police.

Should the panel plumb for an institution, rather than an individual, Urdal thinks the Netherlands-based International Court of Justice, which mediates international conflict; or the U.S based Human Rights Data Analysis Group, which documents and analyzes data on human rights abuses, would be worthy recipients.

In a year that’s on track to be the hottest on record, some speculate the peace prize could go to climate activists, such as Greta Thunberg from Sweden or Vanessa Nakate from Uganda. The committee has not devoted the prize to climate change since the 2007 award to former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Even though the rest of the prizes are picked and announced in Sweden, founder Alfred Nobel decreed that the peace prize should be judged in next door Norway. The five-member panel of academics and former politicians is independent but appointed by the Norwegian parliament.

The committee says it has received 351 nominations for this year's prize, including 259 for individuals and 92 for organizations. The winner will be announced at 11 a.m. in Oslo (0900 GMT / 5 a.m. ET).

Earlier this week, the Nobel committee awarded writer Jon Fosse the prize for literature. The chemistry prize went to to Moungi Bawendi of MIT, Louis Brus of Columbia University, and Alexei Ekimov of Nanocrystals Technology Inc. Hungarian-American Katalin Karikó and American Drew Weissman won the Nobel Prize in medicine. And on Tuesday, the physics prize went to French-Swedish physicist Anne L’Huillier, French scientist Pierre Agostini and Hungarian-born Ferenc Krausz.