As a Czech playwright, essayist, poet, dissident and politician, Vaclav Havel was the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic. During his time, he was widely acclaimed for his human rights work across Eastern Europe and has been named one of the most influential figures of the 20th century.
Rather than support attacks on Israel the way some of his fellow countrymen did, this Palestinian philosophy professor decided to focus on proactively helping his people in the midst of the bloodshed. His supporters believed that his passive “Ghandi-like” struggle was what warranted him the Noble Peace Prize.
More than just the first lady of a former US president, Eleanor Roosevelt was as politically active as her husband. In fact, she was the one who led the first mission of the United States to the United Nations, allowing the US to recognize how significant the UN was. As the woman behind the UN Commission on Human Rights as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the influence of Eleanor Roosevelt in the lives of many people remains until today.
Pope John Paul II
John Paul II was acclaimed as one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century. He is credited with helping to end Communist rule in his native Poland and eventually all of Europe.
One of the most significant personalities during the Great Depression, Dorothy Day organized the Catholic Worker Movement, a pacifist movement during the Second World War. Her mission was to help families rebuild their lives and promote peace by means of communal living and distributed wealth. Her movements eventually spread to both Canada and Europe and are still active today.
Known as the Gandhi of Nigeria, Ken Saro-Wiwa was a part of the Ogoni people, a minority in Nigeria and he had always been honest about his grudges towards the government of his own country, especially when it came to the displacement of his people and the exploiting of their resources for the gain of the Nigerian government. In response to this, he formed an organization which aimed to protect the rights of the minority and led non-violent demonstrations on behalf of the persecuted.
Fazle Hasan Abed
Fazle Hasan Abed played a critical role in the rebuilding of Bangladesh after the Indo-Pakistani Wars of Separation. After the war, Bangladesh became an autonomous country but was left severely devastated. To help his nation recover, he created and led BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee), a development organization that aimed to rebuild infrastructure in Bangladesh and help the people of his nation to re-establish their ravaged homes. This organization eventually became one of the largest development organizations in the world with eight countries under its fold, helping more than a hundred million impoverished people worldwide.
Known as the first female president in Asia, Corazon Aquino established a good number of democratic and humanitarian reform programs in the Philippines following the ousting of the former president Ferdinand Marcos. The start of her reign marked the end of the dictatorial rule in the Philippines, as she instituted a new constitution that emphasized the democracy of the Filipino people. She is considered today as one of the most influential women in the history of the world.
A Polish Roman Catholic nurse/social worker who served in the Polish Underground during World War II, she smuggled some 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and provided them with false identity documents, saving them from the Holocaust.
Although most people know Gandhi, and he would probably be the first person to pop into their head when thinking of peace prizes, he never actually won the Nobel. His influence, however, has been undeniable.
Dr. Feng Shan Ho
A former consul-general of the Chinese Embassy in Vienna, Dr. Feng Shan Ho is often dubbed as “China’s Schindler”. During the 1940’s, the Chinese Ambassador to Berlin ordered Feng Shan Ho not to issue visas to prevent Jews emmigration. Shan Ho, however, refused to follow the order; instead, he issued around 2000 visas in a span of six months and saved thousands of Jews.
Following the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela in 1964, Stephen Biko took the reins and became the head of the South African Anti-apartheid movement. He was the one who founded the Black Consciousness Movement and promoted “the brotherhood of man.” Along with his active involvement in the promotion of unity among all nations, he preached non-violence among his subordinates. He dedicated his life to leading peaceful protests until the Apartheid police sought to kill him.
Abdul Sattar Edhi
Pakistani Abdul Sattar Edhi was the great leader of the Edhi Foundation. As a philanthropist, he used his own meager funds to establish a humble medical shop in Karachi and helped out those people who needed his knowledge in the field of medicine. He allowed the people of Karachi to obtain the medicines they needed at very low costs and urged many of his friends to donate medical equipment and drugs for the poor.
Probably the most well known member of the Avenue of the Righteous, Oskar Schindler saved around 1,200 Jews from the hands of the Nazis by providing jobs for them in his own weapons factories during the Second World War. Though he knew that his life was in jeopardy, he never stopped employing the Jews and even paid millions to the Nazi Party just to compel them to leave the Jews to him.
Jose Figueres Ferrer
As the man who served as president of Costa Rica for three terms, Jose Figueres granted both men and women equal rights to vote. According to him, although men were generally stronger than women, the mental faculties of both genders had no difference. He was also the one who pushed for the abolition of the army of Costa Rica, as he believed that the police force was more than enough to enforce the domestic laws of the land. He gave citizenship to the black immigrants and instituted civil service bureaucracy in his country.
Dubbed as “The Martin Luther King of Mexico,” Cesar Chavez was the co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association in California, which is now called the United Farm Workers. He formed the association to help improve the working conditions for the common Latino labourers in his country.
Pope Pius XI
Prior to the Second World War, Pope Pius XI delivered a speech in front of the 250,000 pilgrims in Lourdes, France, stating that the Nazis were nothing but “miserable plagiarists who dress up old errors with new tinsel”. Before the start of the war he played a large role in defending the Jews and Christians being persecuted under Nazi and Soviet regimes.
A French economist and politician, Jacques Delors was the eighth president of the European Commission and was the first man to have served the commission for three consecutive terms. As the minister of the Economics and Finance under President Francois Mitterrand, he actively promoted both the acceptance of the market economy and alignment with social democracy in Europe.
A human rights activist who initiated political reforms in China, Liu Xiaobo was the man who actively pushed for the end of communist party rule in the country. Of all the things he had done for his nation, it was his enduring and non-violent fight for fundamental human rights that allowed him to earn the respect of the world. Despite his previous arrest on grounds of “subversion of state power,” Liu Xiaobo did not stop from making a historical transformation in his beloved China.
Thich Nhat Hanh
A Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh was a peace activist who dedicated his life to participating in the peace movement and upholding non-violent solutions to the conflicts going on in his country. He spent most of his life in the Plum Village Monastery in South France but traveled extensively giving talks to thousands of people.
Although he has been a controversial figure, his music, his philanthropy, and his devotion to peace have left a lasting impact on the world.
Love him or hate him, the man famous for leaking classified government documents has enough of a following to have been nominated for the Peace prize. Although he is almost certainly the most controversial figure on this list, what list is complete without controversy? Besides, that’s what comments are for.
As the head of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai was the prime minister of Zimbabwe and the first Zimbabwe national to have ever been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. His nomination was on account of his governance in South Africa and the freedom of his people.
Father Nguyen Van Ly
Vietnamese Father Nguyen Val Ly was a Roman Catholic priest who got involved in several pre-democracy movements in Vietnam, for which he was imprisoned for 15 years. During his imprisonment, he continued to lead several non-violent protests. In 2002, he was awarded the Homo Homini Award for Human Rights Activism in Vietnam.
Dr. Sima Samar
A female physician who founded the Shuhada Organization and Shuhada Clinic, Dr. Sima Samar was a human rights and democracy advocate in her native country of Afghanistan. She founded the Shuhada organization when she recognized and was disturbed by the lack of health facilities for women and children. Ever since then she has been actively opposing the extremism and injustice that is commonly accepted as the status quo.