Global Peace Heroes


People recognized internationally for promoting peace and human rights.

Alfonso García Robles, 1982 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

“Alfonso Garcia Robles” is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 NL.

Alfonso Garcia Robles” is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 NL.

Alfonso García Robles (pronounced ROBE-lace) was born March 20, 1911, in Zamora, Mexico. As a young person, Robles thought about becoming a priest. He later changed his mind and studied law. He earned his law degree in Mexico. Robles then moved to Europe where he earned degrees from the University of Paris and The Hague Academy of International Law. The Hague, a city in the Netherlands, is the home of the Peace Palace, which houses the academy and the International Court of Justice.

Robles’s interest in peace showed in his career as a diplomat. In 1939, he joined Mexico’s Foreign Service. He worked two years for the Embassy of Mexico in Sweden before returning home. In 1945, he attended the San Francisco Conference as Mexico’s delegate. This conference established the United Nations (UN). From 1962 to 1964, he served as Mexico’s ambassador to Brazil and then as State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs until 1970. From 1975 to 1976, he served as Mexico’s Foreign Minister. His work in the international community earned him a reputation as a Mexican nationalist. His friends described him as “obsessed” with disarmament. It was a common theme for Robles. He often spoke with national leaders about the possibility.

The month of October 1962 was a turning point in Robles’s career. U.S. President John F. Kennedy learned that Russia was building nuclear missile sites in Cuba. The possibility of nuclear war alarmed people around the world. Kennedy and Russia’s leader Nikita Khrushchev made an agreement that prevented nuclear war, but the crisis prompted Robles to take a stand against nuclear weapons.

Robles introduced the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean. This treaty met a mixture of opposition and apathy. Robles, well-known for his firm but thoughtful approach to challenges, led the negotiations. These negotiations lasted four years. On February 14, 1967, in Mexico City, 14 countries signed the treaty. With nuclear weapons banned in those countries, Robles saw an opportunity to do more.

A year later, Robles helped draft the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The NPT’s purpose was to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, promote disarmament, and encourage countries to work together to find peaceful uses for nuclear technology.

Robles continued to take part in the worldwide conversation about nuclear weapons. He served as Mexico’s permanent representative to the UN Disarmament Commission in Geneva. Robles’s lifelong dedication to peace earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1982 and the title “Mr. Disarmament” among his UN colleagues. He died September 2, 1991, in Mexico City. Less


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Aung San Suu Kyi, 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

“Aung San Suu Kyi” by Claude Truong-Ngoc is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Aung San Suu Kyi” by Claude Truong-Ngoc is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Note: Controversy currently surrounds Aung San Suu Kyi's failure to publicly condemn the military's campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims. As Myanmar's civilian leader, Suu Kyi has no authority over Myanmar's military. Nontheless, international leaders, including other Nobel Peace Prize laureates, have called on Suu Kyi to take a public stand on the crisis. As to questions about revoking her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for failing to speak out, The New York Times has reported that the Nobel Committee has never revoked a prize nor censured a recipient. Gunnar Stalsett, a former committee member, is quoted in The New York Times as saying, "The principle we follow is the decision is not a declaration of a saint. When the decision has been made and the award has been given, that ends the responsibility of the committee."

Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced Ahn Sahn Soo Chee) was born June 19, 1945, in Rangoon, Burma (also known as Yangon, Myanmar). Suu Kyi’s family valued freedom and diplomacy. Her father, General Aung San, helped negotiate Burma’s independence from Britain. Political rivals killed him in July 1947. Her mother, Ma Khin Kyi, became Burma’s ambassador to India in 1960.

Suu Kyi spent her childhood in Burma and India. India had gained independence from Britain in 1947 thanks to the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi’s philosophy and his success helped shape Suu Kyi’s faith in the power of nonviolent resistance.

In 1962, Burma’s military took control of the government. Two years later, Suu Kyi moved to England to attend Oxford University. She studied philosophy, politics, and economics. It was here she met her future husband, Michael Aris. Suu Kyi worked at the United Nations (UN) after earning her college degree in 1967. At the UN, she served as the assistant secretary for the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions. Suu Kyi later settled in England, where she and her husband raised their two children.

Suu Kyi returned to Burma in April 1988 to care for her sick mother. By this time, Burmese citizens had started rising up against the brutal and corrupt military regime. In August, Burma’s army killed thousands of peaceful, pro-democracy protestors. Suu Kyi wrote a letter asking the government to hold multiparty elections. She then gave a speech calling for a multiparty, democratic-style of government. In September, Suu Kyi co-founded the National League of Democracy (NLD). The NLD planned to use nonviolence and civil disobedience to change the government.

Suu Kyi’s political activity and popularity threatened the government, which changed the country’s name to Myanmar in 1989. Her call for democratic reform and multiparty elections were met with harsh punishment. Between 1989 and 2010, Suu Kyi was in and out of house arrest for a total of 15 years. Within a year of her first house arrest, the government decided to hold multiparty elections. However, when the NLD won most of the legislative seats, the military rulers refused to give up control of the government.

People around the world recognized Suu Kyi for her work to bring justice and peace to Burma. For her nonviolent efforts, she received several awards, including the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. Because she was under house arrest, she could not accept the awards in person.

While under house arrest, Suu Kyi saw few, if any, visitors. Although able to meet with NLD officials and select diplomats, she was not allowed see her husband or two sons. When cancer threatened her husband’s life, government officials said she could go to England to visit him. Suu Kyi was reluctant to leave because she feared she would not be allowed to return. Her husband died on March 27, 1999.

Suu Kyi was released from house arrest for the last time in November 2010. Burma did not hold another multiparty election until 2012. This time, Suu Kyi won a seat in Parliament, and the government accepted the results. That same year, Suu Kyi traveled to Oslo, Norway, to accept the Nobel Peace Prize she had received 21 years earlier.

Multiparty elections held in 2015 gave the NLD control of Burma’s Parliament. This victory may give Suu Kyi, the NLD, and the people of Burma a chance to form a new, civilian government. Less


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Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

“Leymah Gbowee” by Jon Styer is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Leymah Gbowee” by Jon Styer is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Leymah Gbowee was born February 1, 1972, in Monrovia, Liberia. Her life turned upside down in 1989 at age 17. Liberia’s civil war had begun. She has said the war turned her “from a child into an adult in a matter of hours.”

During the civil war, Gbowee trained to be a social worker and trauma counselor. She worked with children who had been soldiers. Gbowee believed women should restore peace for future generations. With this goal in mind, she helped found the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) of the West Africia Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP).

Gbowee may be best known for organizing the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, a collaboration of Christian and Muslim women. As the organization’s spokesperson, Gbowee helped end 14 years of civil war in 2003. She led protests against Charles Taylor, Liberia’s ruthless president. The protests forced Taylor to take part in formal peace talks in Accra, Ghana.

Gbowee wanted to make sure Taylor’s men and the rebel warlords did not leave the peace talks without a resolution. To do this, she and 200 other women formed a human barricade around the meeting hall. They allowed no one to leave, regardless of the reason. Security tried to arrest Gbowee for this action, but quick thinking saved the day. Gbowee said she would take her clothes off if arrested. In some nations of Africa, the traditional belief is that a woman stripping naked places a curse on men. Gbowee avoided arrest and the peace talks continued until an agreement was reached. Two weeks later, Taylor resigned, and a peace treaty was signed. The peace treaty called for a transitional government. The election held in 2015 has been considered the most fair and legitimate in Liberian history.

In 2006, Gbowee co-founded the Women Peace and Security Network Africia (WIPSEN-A) in Accra. This nonprofit organization helps African women become peace leaders.

The 2008 documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” tells Gbowee’s story. The documentary, her memoir Mighty Be the Powers, and her lectures have inspired people around the world.

Gbowee, mother of seven children, earned a master’s degree in conflict transformation from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisburg, Virginia. She received honorary degrees from Rhodes University in South Africia and the University of Alberta in Canada. In 2011, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2012, she founded the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa (GPFA) to provide educational and leadership opportunities for women and youth. Less


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