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Alternative Narrative

Students for peace: How young people are changing the world. Part I

Students for peace:

How young people are changing the world. Part I

The Student Peace Prize

Since the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2018, we have taken a closer look at this prestigious award. We explored this year’s winners and went on a journey through time and space in our map of Nobel Peace Prize laureates around the world. In these articles, however, we wanted to look at another, far less known award: The Student Peace Prize. 

The Student Peace Prize is founded on the acknowledgment that students often play a central role in peace and democratization processes. Nevertheless, this young generation of peace activists rarely gets the kind of international recognition that is bestowed upon the prominent figures traditionally associated with the Nobel Peace Prize. The Student Peace Prize is a way to support and recognize these, sometimes, forgotten young people fighting for a better future for themselves and their generation.

The Student Peace Prize is a way to support and recognize these, sometimes, forgotten young people fighting for a better future for themselves and their generation.

Like the Nobel Peace Prize, the Student Peace Prize is based in Norway. It was established in 1999 by Norwegian students involved in the International Student Festival in Trondheim (ISFiT). ISFiT is the world’s largest student festival, gathering young people from all over the world with the aim to ‘promote unity between students across borders’. An important objective of the festival is to create a platform for cross-cultural dialogue, promoting international understanding and building a foundation for future cooperation and peaceful interaction. Based on this vision, and in light of the Nobel Prize hardly ever being awarded to youth, the students decided to create their very own peace prize. It would be awarded during the festival to a student or student organization working to promote peace, human rights or democracy.

Winners at a glance: 1999 – 2009

Student Peace Prize laureates represent a great variety of backgrounds, issues, and approaches to activism. They come from all over the world, from South-East Asia to Latin America. What unites them, is their unrelenting non-violent effort for fundamental change. As the prize is awarded biannually through ISFiT, nine students or student organizations have received it.

1999: Antero Da Silva

The Student Peace Prize

The first laureate of the peace prize was student leader Antero da Silva from East Timor. The former Portuguese colony was taken over by Indonesian troops just a week after gaining its independence in 1975. The internationally condemned annexation subjected the East Timorese people to systematic violence and even genocide. Nevertheless, Da Silva never gave up hope that his people would regain their freedom. As a leader of the East Timor Students Solidarity Council, he initiated peaceful student activism against repression and for independence and democracy.


2001: The All Burma Federation of Students Union and Min Ko Naing

The second laureate of the prize was All Burma Federation of Students Union and its leader Min Ko Naing. Primarily speaking out for academic freedom and student rights, the Union also led peaceful mass demonstrations against the country’s military dictatorship, calling for democracy and respect for human rights. The student movement in present-day Myanmar has persisted through brutal crackdowns by the authorities. Many student activists have disappeared, been imprisoned or even killed. Naing himself spent several years in prison under brutal conditions. Nevertheless, he maintained the principle of non-violence.


The Transnational Institute, The New Yorker and Democracy for Burma


2003: Zimbabwe National Student Union

ZINASU and Nehanda Radio. Video: The Student Peace Prize

In 2003, the Student Peace Prize was awarded to Zimbabwe National Student Union (ZINASU). During the nearly 40-year long despotic reign of dictator Robert Mugabe, students faced brutal repression. The regime limited freedom of speech and academic freedom for students. The high costs of higher education also made it inaccessible to large groups of the population. ZINASU fights to promote students’ rights through non-violent means, despite being subjected to violence on the part of the authorities.


2005: Association for Colombian University Students

The Association for Colombian University Students (ACEU) was awarded the 2005 Student Peace Prize for their efforts to preserve public higher education during the decades’ long civil war in the country. As the education system became increasingly privatized and expensive, many young people did not have the opportunity to get educated.

ACEU works to ensure that all young people have access to education, no matter their economic situation. The group also went on to become a strong voice for peace, democracy, and human rights in one of the world’s most violent countries.


2007: Charm Tong

Charm Tong

The 2007 peace prize was awarded to Charm Tong, for her efforts to ensure gender equality in education during the military dictatorship of Burma. Tong started her human rights activism at age 16, speaking out about the issues facing girls growing up in areas of conflict. As a refugee, she had experienced how girls like her were at high risk of sexual violence and did not have safe access to education outside of the home. Tong founded her own school that not only teaches academic subjects but empowers women to fight for their rights.


Video: The Student Peace Prize


2009: Elkouria Amidane


Elkouria Amidane received the 2009 Student Peace Prize for her peaceful protest against the Moroccan presence in Western Sahara and her struggle for the human rights of Saharawi people. There are no educational institutions in the Moroccan-controlled territories, and Saharawi youth have little access to higher education. They also face discrimination in schools and in society at large. Activists speaking out for independence and self-determination have been subjected to brutal repression. In Amidane’s case, both she and her family have been imprisoned and tortured for promoting freedom.

                                                           Johanne Kalsaas