AFTER a year of bloody campaigns, infringements on human rights and accusations of authoritarianism, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen seem like unlikely candidates to be included in a shortlist of nominees for a peace prize.
But the 2017 Confucius Peace Prize, labelled the Chinese alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize, has selected the two Southeast Asian leaders for this year’s award.
Awarded by a private company, the Confucius awards have courted controversy since their foundation in 2010. Originally set up under the Association of Chinese Indigenous Arts in China, then-chairman Tan Changliu claimed the award existed to “promote world peace from an Eastern perspective.”
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But the award has since been banned by China’s Culture Ministry, forcing the organisers to relocate to Hong Kong.
The renamed China International Peace Research Center has presented the award to a string of authoritarian political figures who favour a pro-Beijing stance.
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In 2015, the recipient was former Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, who was accused of a “litany of human rights abuses” over his 37-year term. The organiser cited his “contribution to peace in Africa,” but the award drew widespread international criticism. Mugabe declined to accept the award, which comes with US$15,000 prize money.
Other winners include Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, former Cuba’s president Fidel Castro, and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Both Duterte and Hun Sen have had a tumultuous year for home politics.
Duterte has been accused by rights groups of “crimes against humanity” for his bloody drug war that resulted in thousands of extrajudicial killings – including several children – by the Philippine National Police. He has also imprisoned political opponents – namely Senator Leila De Lima – who voiced criticism, admitted to murder, and threatened to execute police officers.
Hun Sen has also overseen the dissolution of the only credible opposition party in the country, carried out a crackdown on press freedom, imprisoned the opposition leader, and shuttered organisations that voice anti-government sentiment.
The winners are announced in early December.