By Karl Ritter, Associated Press

02 February 12

The nomination deadline for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize closed Wednesday amid renewed criticism that the award committee has drifted away from the selection criteria established by prize founder Alfred Nobel.

Russian human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina, jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Cuban rights activists Oswaldo Paya and Yoani Sanchez are among the candidates who have been publicly announced by those who nominated them.

The secretive prize committee doesn’t discuss nominations – which have to be postmarked by Feb. 1 to be valid – but stresses that being nominated doesn’t say anything about a candidate’s chances.

Its choices often spark debate – the world rarely agrees on who’s most deserving of the $1.5 million award – but this year the committee is facing criticism even before the deliberations have begun.

Stockholm’s County Administrative Board – the authority that supervises foundations and trusts in the city – has formally asked the Nobel Foundation to respond to allegations that the peace prize no longer reflects the will of Nobel, a Swedish industrialist who died in 1896.

The move comes after persistent complaints by Norwegian peace researcher Fredrik Heffermehl, who claims the original purpose of the prize was to diminish the role of military power in international relations.

“Nobel called it a prize for the champions of peace,” Heffermehl told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “And it’s indisputable that he had in mind the peace movement, the movement which is actively pursuing a new global order … where nations safely can drop national armaments.”

Since World War II, especially, the prize committee, which is appointed by the Norwegian Parliament, has widened the scope of the prize to include environmental, humanitarian and other efforts.

For example, in 2007 the prize went to climate campaigner Al Gore and the U.N.’s panel on climate change, and in 2009 the committee cited President Barack Obama for “extraordinary efforts” to boost international diplomacy.

“Do you see Obama as a promoter of abolishing the military as a tool of international affairs?” Heffermehl asked rhetorically.

Nobel gave only vague guidelines for the peace prize in his 1895 will, saying it should honor “work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

Geir Lundestad, the nonvoting secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, dismissed Heffermehl’s claims.

“Fighting climate change is definitely closely related to fraternity between nations. It even concerns the survival of some states,” he told AP.

Still, the county administrative board decided it was worth raising the matter with the Stockholm-based Nobel Foundation, which manages the prize assets.

“We have no basis to suggest that they haven’t managed it properly. But we want to investigate it,” said Mikael Wiman, a legal expert working for the county.

The board has an obligation to make sure Nobel’s will is respected, and has the authority to suspend the foundation’s decisions, going back a maximum of three years, if they do not, Wiman said, adding that such measures were highly unlikely.

“The prize committee must always adjust its rules to today’s society,” he said. “But peace work has to be at the core – it can’t deviate too much from that,” Wiman said.

The peace prize and the other five Nobel awards are always handed out Dec. 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.