Oslo, Norway –
This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded on Friday to imprisoned Belarusian human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, the Russian group Memorial and the Ukrainian organization Center for Civil Liberties, a strong rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin to the occasion of his 70th birthday.
Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said the panel wanted to honor “three outstanding defenders of human rights, democracy and peaceful coexistence in neighboring countries, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine”.
“Through their tireless efforts to uphold human values, anti-militarism and the principles of law, this year’s laureates have revitalized and honored Alfred Nobel’s vision of peace and brotherhood among nations, a vision the world needs most today,” she told reporters in Oslo.
Bialiatski was one of the leaders of the democracy movement in Belarus in the mid-1980s and continued to campaign for human rights and civil liberties in the authoritarian country. He founded the non-governmental organization Human Rights Center Viasna and won the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes called the “Alternative Nobel”, in 2020.
Bialiatski was arrested following anti-government protests that year and remains in jail without trial.
Despite enormous personal difficulties, Mr. Bialiatski has not given an inch in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus,” Reiss-Andersen said, adding that the Nobel Prize jury called on the authorities Belarusians to free him.
She said the Nobel committee was aware of the possibility that in awarding her the prize, Bialiatski could face additional scrutiny from Belarusian authorities.
“But we also have the view that the individuals behind these organizations have chosen to take a risk and pay a heavy price and show the courage to fight for what they believe in,” she said. . “We pray that this award does not affect him negatively, but we hope it will lift his spirits.
Memorial was founded in the Soviet Union in 1987 to ensure the memory of the victims of communist repression. He continued to compile information on human rights abuses in Russia and tracked the fate of political prisoners in the country.
“The organization has also been at the forefront of efforts to counter militarism and promote human rights and a government based on the rule of law,” Reiss-Andersen said.
Asked if the Nobel committee was intentionally sending a signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who turned 70 on Friday, Reiss-Andersen said “we always give a prize for something and to someone and not against anyone.”
“This award is not for President Putin, not for his birthday or in any other sense, except that his government, as a government in Belarus, represents an authoritarian government that suppresses human rights activists,” she said.
“The attention that Mr. Putin has brought to himself that is relevant in this context is how a civil society and human rights defenders are suppressed,” she added. “And that’s what we would like to address with this award.”
The Center for Civil Liberties was founded in 2007 to promote human rights and democracy in Ukraine during a time of turmoil in the country.
“The center has taken a stand to strengthen Ukrainian civil society and put pressure on the authorities to make Ukraine a full democracy, to make Ukraine a rule of law,” Reiss-Andersen said.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the group worked to document Russian war crimes against Ukrainian civilians.
“The center is playing a pioneering role in holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes,” Reiss-Andersen said.
A representative of the Center for Civil Liberties, Volodymyr Yavorskyi, said the award was important for the organization because “for many years we worked in an invisible country”.
“It’s a surprise to us,” he told The Associated Press. “But human rights activity is the main weapon against war.”
The award continues in the tradition of highlighting groups and activists who attempt to prevent conflict, alleviate hardship and protect human rights.
Last year’s winners have gone through a tough time since receiving the award. Journalists Dmitry Muratov from Russia and Maria Ressa from the Philippines have fought for the survival of their news agencies, defying government efforts to silence them
They were honored last year for “their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a prerequisite for democracy and lasting peace.”
The prize has a cash reward of 10 million Swedish krona (nearly $900,000) and will be presented on December 10. The money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, in 1895.