Francis Sejersted, Who Led Nobel Peace Prize Panel, Dies at 79

By Weber, Bruce | International New York Times, August 31, 2015 | Go to article overview

Francis Sejersted, Who Led Nobel Peace Prize Panel, Dies at 79


Weber, Bruce, International New York Times


Mr. Sejersted led a committee that angered many by giving the awards to Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat, and to F.W. de Klerk.

Francis Sejersted, a Norwegian historian who as the chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize committee presided over several controversial awards, including the one shared by the Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, died on Tuesday at his home in Oslo. He was 79.

The cause was cancer, Olav Njolstad, the director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, said in an email.

The Nobel Prizes, first presented in 1901, were fathered by the Swedish chemist, engineer and inventor Alfred Nobel, whose 1895 will established annual awards for surpassing work in chemistry, physics, literature, and physiology or medicine, as well as "for the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

A sixth prize, in economics, was established by Sweden's central bank in honor of Nobel and first awarded in 1968.

The peace prize is distinct in that, in accordance with Nobel's will, the winner is selected not by a Swedish academic institution but by a five-person committee whose members are chosen by the Norwegian legislature, known as the Storting.

The reason Nobel ceded the selection of the peace prize winner to Norway is unknown, though Norway, which did not achieve full independence until 1905, was politically tied to Sweden.

Mr. Sejersted, a professor of history, was connected to the Nobel committee for nearly two decades, beginning in 1982 when he was first selected as one of the five committee members. He was the committee's chairman from 1991 until 1999, and during that time was the main spokesman for the panel's selections.

He was also the author of an essay detailing the history of the peace prize on the Nobel website, in which he acknowledged the various biases that have affected the committee's choices through the decades, including a tendency to reward "white men of Western origin" and to consider the regional interests of Norway's politicians.

The 1994 prize -- given to Mr. Peres, Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat in recognition of the first of two peace agreements pointing in the direction of a two-state solution to Middle East hostilities -- drew skepticism from some quarters and anger from others. One member of the committee, a supporter of Israel, resigned.

Skeptics also noted at the time that the peace negotiations had been conducted in Norway and that the agreement was commonly known as the Oslo accord. …

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