The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize by the Nobel Foundation probably receives more publicity than any of the other prizes, and its winners are assured of worldwide attention. In his will, Alfred Nobel directed that the prize should be awarded to the person who "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".
In the event, the Nobel Committee has applied these criteria not only to individuals but to organisations as well: in total, 19 prizes have been won by institutions, many of them international organisations of one kind or another.
Here is a list of these recipients with the dates of their awards in brackets:
- The American Friends Service Committee (1947)
- Amnesty International (1977)
- The Friends Service Council (1947)
- Medecins Sans Frontieres (1999)
- Institute of International Law (1904)
- International Atomic Energy Agency (2005)
- International Campaign to Ban Landmines (1997)
- International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (1985)
- International Committee of the Red Cross (1917, 1944, 1963)
- International Labour Organization (1969)
- League of Red Cross Societies (1963)
- Nansen International Office for Refugees (1938)
- Office of the United Nations Commissioner for refugees (1954, 1981)
- Permanent International Peace Bureau (1910)
- Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (1995)
- United Nations (2001)
- United Nations Children's Fund (1965)
- United Nations Peace-keeping Forces (1988)
International bodies share a determination to publicise their mission and to document their activities. Many of them - in particular the UN and its agencies - are major publishers. The British Library, in common with its counterparts throughout the world, receives much of the published research and documentation which these organisations are uniquely positioned to provide, and which are of enormous benefit to researchers of all kinds. The Library also has a large collection of much older international material.
One of the early winners of the Prize was the Permanent International Peace Bureau, an organisation which had been set up by pacifists after the Third Peace Congress in 1891 to serve as a link between like-minded people and to provide information on the burgeoning peace movement. A number of those connected with the Bureau, such as Albert Gobat, its Director; and Baroness von Suttner, its Honorary President, were also individual winners of the Prize. The influence of the Bureau was inevitably superseded by that of the League of Nations in the interwar years, but it had set an enviable standard, being nominated for the prize no less than seven times in the first 10 years of the award.
The PIPB was a very active organisation, holding regular conferences and making representations to governments wherever conflicts occurred or were threatened. It also published a fortnightly journal from its base in Berne, a journal which is held by the British Library. In it, members of the peace movement exchange news about forthcoming conferences, publicise changes in military preparations in their countries and advertise the work of pacifist groups.
The final issue of The Peace Movement, the PIPB's journal, which carries a picture of its Honorary President, Baroness von Suttner who had died on 21 June 1914. This issue discussed arrangements for the Universal Peace Congress which was due to be held in Vienna in September 1914. No one could foresee the chain of events which would shortly lead to the European conflagration known as the Great War.
The Peace Movement, Berne 1912-14 PP.1129.d. Copyright © The British Library Board
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (1954 and 1981)
Established in 1950 in the shadow of the huge dislocation of peoples brought about by the Second World War, the UNHCR took on the vital role of co-ordinator and leader in international efforts to help refugees from all over the world. It was particularly concerned to formulate a code of refugee rights to which member countries were prepared to adhere, with the ultimate aim of helping those fleeing from conflict to find asylum in other countries, or to return home in safety. Material assistance in the form of emergency food and shelter was also to be coordinated, frequently on the most massive scale. To date, nearly 50 million people have been helped by the UNHCR, which has been awarded the Peace prize twice in recognition of its efforts.
Within a year of its creation, the UNHCR made efforts to discover the full extent of the refugee problem that it confronted. This early report (The Refugee) resulted from a survey carried out in Europe and the Near East. As director of the group set up to complete the survey, Jacques Vernant emphasised the difficulty of the process: not only were his fieldworkers confronted with "unreliable statistics, but also with psychological issues by no means easy to assess".
The Refugee in the Post-War World Geneva: United Nations, 1951 UNA 42. Copyright © The British Library Board
The International Labour Organization is one of the earliest of the international agencies to have been created. It was set up in 1919 at a time when waves of unrest - particularly in Germany and Russia - threatened to plunge the countries of Europe into civil war. Social justice, in particular an amelioration in conditions of labour, was seen by the ILO as a pre-condition for post-war peace and harmony and its constitution emphasised that "universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice".
The ILO saw its publications programme as being particularly important, providing as it did a means of keeping the public informed about its activities and also of educating them. The British Museum Library (now the British Library) was designated one of its first depository libraries and holds many documents from the earliest years of the organisation. It continues to receive a substantial number of current publications.
From its inception, the ILO debated crucial issues such as child labour, occupational health and working hours. It formulated a series of labour standards which it urged upon governments and employers' associations, and encouraged dialogue between opposing parties in industrial disputes. Its researchers collected statistics and monitored trends in the world of work, producing reports which are of great interest to scholars from many disciplines.
On 11 April 1919 the Plenary Conference of the League of Nations adopted a resolution to create "a permanent organization for the promotion of the international regulation of labour conditions". An organising committee was duly set up, and one of its first products was this report, published under the auspices of the League of Nations. The report demonstrates a particular strength of international organisations: the ability to present data acquired from a broad spectrum of sources. It tabulates the information received from several countries, in response to questionnaires sent out by the committee, giving details of laws and orders relating to women and children in employment.
Report on the Employment of Women and Children and the Berne Conventions of 1906 (Report III) London: Harrisons  UNH.30. Copyright © The British Library Board