Liberia, Yemen Peace Efforts Win Nobel Peace Prize

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian peace activist Leymah Roberta Gbowee and Yemeni protest leader Tawakkul Karman are being honored as the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winners.

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LYNN NEARY, host: This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host: And I'm Renee Montagne. The winner - or should I say the winners - of the Nobel Peace Prize were unveiled in Oslo earlier this morning. The announcement was made by the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

THJORBORN JAGLAND: The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011 is to be divided in three equal parts between Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman.

MONTAGNE: The committee said they were jointly awarding the prize to these women for their non-violent efforts in promoting peace, democracy and women's rights. NPR's European correspondent Philip Reeves monitored the proceedings for NPR, and joined us on the line from London.

Good morning.

PHILIP REEVES: Good morning. Excuse me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: Tell us - morning. Tell us a little about these women, starting with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

REEVES: Well, she became Africa's first freely elected female president in 2005, taking over a nation that you remember was completely traumatized by a terrible civil war. She did a lot to rebuild Liberia. She managed to persuade the international community to write off debts. She campaigned against corruption. And she was - as a result of that, and also her fight generally in the gender war - feted internationally.

However, she is more controversial at home. She's seeking reelection this month. Her opponents have accused her of buying votes and using government money to campaign. And there is a report by the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which she's so far ignored, which named her on a list of people who shouldn't hold public office for 30 years because they backed the warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor. Of course, Sirleaf afterwards became Taylor's fierce opponent once the true extent of his crimes became apparent.

MONTAGNE: Now, the prize also went to another woman from Liberia, Leymah Gbowee.

REEVES: Yeah. She's very well-known for mobilizing women in the civil war against warlords. She became famous for persuading thousands of women to dress in white and demonstrate day after day for peace, led a remarkable group, too, of women who helped force the government and the warlords who'd torn Liberia apart to make peace by surrounding the meeting hall in which they were negotiating. And then they wouldn't let the warring parties out until an agreement had been reached.

MONTAGNE: Now, the third recipient actually comes from - at least we've come to know her through the Arab Spring.

REEVES: Yes. She's Tawakul Karman from Yemen, the 32-year-old journalist and activist. And she's been at the forefront of events in the country that's, of course, linked, you know, to the Arab Spring. It was her arrest in January that helped spark the mass uprising against the authoritarian rule of President Saleh. She's endured threats and harassment.

As she has been for months, she's today protesting in Change Square, which is the center of the movement that she's become the figurehead of. Many Yemenis call her the mother of the revolution. And we understand that she's appeared on Arabic television after this announcement that she'd been joint winner of the prize and dedicated her Nobel Peace Prize to all the activists of the Arab Spring.

MONTAGNE: And this peace prize was - is now being called by the Nobel committee a very important signal to women all over the world. Was this a surprise, this group win?

REEVES: Well, it's very important for women, because only 10 of the 98 individuals who've won this prize since 1901, when the Nobel Peace Prize began, have been women. So it is an extremely moment for women in the fight for equality and rights.

MONTAGNE: Thanks, Phil. NPR's Philip Reeves speaking to us from London. This is NPR News.

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