The Peace Prize is to be awarded to individuals and institutions that “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,” according to Alfred Nobel’s will. The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarding scientists, writers, peace and political activists since the late 1800s, but not everyone always agrees on who is and isn’t worthy of the $1.2 million prize. While meant to recognize those whose work has greatly benefited or contributed to the advancement and unity of mankind, the Nobel Peace Prize has sometimes been given to those with violent pasts, those whose award-winning work contains factual errors, or those whose accomplishments do not quiet bear up under close examination. It may be a rare occasion that the committee’s choices were short-sighted, or even worse, naive, but a number of poor decisions have been made. Here are the ten most controversial Nobel Peace Prize winners of all time.
Rigoberta Menchú won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for I, Rigoberta Menchú, her autobiographical account of her life as a Mayan and, more specifically, the genocide of the indigenous Guatemalan people in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Menchú’s book was first published in 1982 and would eventually be translated into 12 different languages, making it one of the first cohesive accounts of the atrocities against the Mayans and garnering international interest that would lead to her Nobel Peace Prize win.
But did everything in Menchú’s book really happen the way she described? Thanks to the work of American anthropologist David Stoll, Menchú’s book — and her Nobel Peace Prize — became the topic of great debate after he discovered that she had stretched the truth to make her story more emotionally persuasive. Menchú was not, as she had written, entirely uneducated, and she did not witness the torture and murder of her brother (although her mother did.) While Stoll supported Menchú’s win regardless of these discrepancies, he also pointed out that Menchú’s account was not a realistic portrayal of what actually caused the genocide to take place.