One of Scotland's top composers will be awarded a major international peace prize tomorrow in recognition of his work in the Balkans. Nigel Osborne, the Reid Professor of Music at University of Edinburgh is this year's winner of the Freedom Award, awarded by the International Peace Centre of Sarajevo, Bosnia.

Every year on December 10 - International Human Rights Day - the peace centre honours individuals and institutions who have made "a special contribution to human rights and freedom in the world, to mutual understanding and respect of diversity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Europe and the world".

Osborne, whose most recent commission was a composition to open the Commonwealth meeting in Kampala, Uganda, said: "It's very touching. It means a lot to me. It's not a grand prize. It's not money or anything that brings huge kudos with regards to the media. But it means a lot to me personally."

After studying in Poland during the 1970s, Osborne became engaged in Eastern European politics. He worked with dissident-turned-president Vaclav Havel in the former Czechoslovakia before returning to the UK. When war broke out in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s he became chairman of Scottish Action for Bosnia, a group that lobbied for peace, international intervention, and raised awareness of genocide in the area.

On a trip to Sarajevo during the war he decided to work with local musicians to use music to help the city's children, who regularly dodged snipers to fetch water.

"We wanted to try to do something for the kids, using creative arts as a diversion and distraction from the horrible things going on," he said. "And then we discovered we had a therapeutic programme. We discovered that particularly music was helping children in a psychological and physical way. So a whole movement came from that which we now use around the world."

The techniques Osborne pioneered in Sarajevo have now been used with traumatised children in Kosovo, Chechnya, Palestine and most recently in southern Sudan. They are also being used in special education in Scotland.

"I wholeheartedly agree that music can help bring peace," said Osborne. "This art form has a huge capacity to bring people together, communicate identities and feelings in a way other people can accept, and have a therapeutic role to play."

He added: "The creative arts can offer a space of reconciliation. And music is one of the great spaces."