Nobel Peace Prize 2022: Recognising Courageous Human Rights Defenders

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This year’s Peace Prize was awarded to human rights defender Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, the Russian human rights organization Memorial and the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties. The first two are well known and have received many important human rights awards.

Ales Bialiatski is the recipient of 11 other awards, while Memorial has received seven previous awards. A few days ago, Oleksandra Matviichuk, president of the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties, received the Right Livelihood award.

Ales Bialiatski, Nobel Peace Prize

Ales Bialiatski, winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. Photo credit: Nobel Foundation

Ales Bialiatski founded the Viasna (Spring) organization in 1996 in Belarus in response to controversial constitutional amendments that gave President Alexander Grigorievich Lukashenko dictatorial powers, an action that sparked widespread protests. In the years that followed, Viasna became a broad-based human rights organization that documented and protested the authorities’ use of torture against political prisoners.

Government authorities in Minsk have repeatedly sought to silence Ales Bialiatski. He was imprisoned from 2011 to 2014. Following large-scale protests against the regime in 2020, he was arrested again. He is still being held without trial. Despite enormous personal difficulties, Mr. Bialiatski has not given up an inch in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus.

The human rights organization Memorial was founded in 1987 by human rights activists from the former Soviet Union who wanted to ensure that the victims of oppression by the communist regime would never be forgotten. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov and human rights lawyer Svetlana Gannushkina were among the founders.

Memorial, Nobel Peace Prize

Memorial to the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Photo credit: Nobel Foundation

Memorial is based on the idea that confronting past crimes is essential to preventing new ones. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Memorial became the largest human rights organization in Russia. In addition to establishing a documentation center on Stalin-era victims, the organization compiled and systematized information on political oppression and human rights abuses in Russia.

Memorial has become the most trusted source of information about political prisoners in Russian detention centers. The organization has also been at the forefront of efforts to combat militarism and promote human rights and a government based on the rule of law. During the Chechen Wars, Memorial collected and verified information on abuses and war crimes perpetrated against the civilian population by Russian and pro-Russian forces. In 2009, the head of Memorial’s branch in Chechnya, Natalia Estemirova, was killed because of this work.

Civil society actors in Russia have been threatened, imprisoned, disappeared and murdered for many years. As part of Memorial’s harassment by the government, the organization was early branded a “foreign agent”. In December 2021, the authorities decided that Memorial should be liquidated by force and that the documentation center should be permanently closed. The closures became effective in the following months, but the people behind Memorial refused to be closed. In a comment on the forced dissolution, President Yan Rachinsky said, “No one is planning to give up.”

Center for Civil Liberties, Nobel Prize

Center for Civil Liberties in Kyiv announcing the Nobel Prize. Photo credit: Center for Civil Liberties

The Center for Civil Liberties was founded in Kyiv in 2007 with the aim of advancing human rights and democracy in Ukraine. The center has taken a stand to strengthen Ukrainian civil society and pressure the authorities to make Ukraine a full-fledged democracy.

Center for Civil Liberties, Nobel Prize

2022 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Center for Civil Liberties. Photo credit: Nobel Foundation

To establish Ukraine as a state governed by the rule of law, the Center for Civil Liberties has actively advocated for Ukraine’s affiliation to the International Criminal Court. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, she engaged in efforts to identify and document Russian war crimes against the Ukrainian civilian population. Together with international partners, the center plays a pioneering role in holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes.

By awarding this Nobel Peace Prize for 2022, the Norwegian Nobel Committee honors outstanding defenders of human rights and steadfast efforts for humanistic values, anti-militarism and the rule of law.

Hans Thoolen is a Dutch national who has worked for various NGOs and intergovernmental organizations, including 12 years in Geneva. He is now retired but not tired. Read his Blog.

This story by Hans Tholen was originally published by Global Geneva.

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