Eastern Europe: Nobel Peace Prize awarded to brave human rights defenders

Eastern Europe: Nobel Peace Prize awarded to brave human rights defenders - Civic Space

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the news that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to human rights defenders in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. The jailed Belarusian human rights activist and the head of Viasna Ales Bialiatski, Russian human rights organisation Memorial, and Ukrainian human rights organisation Center for Civil Liberties reflect the immense courage of civil society across the region in the face of unrelenting repression and violence. 

Ales Bialiatski was a prominent figure in standing up for human rights in Belarus and the wider Eastern Europe region even before the collapse of the Iron Curtain. In 1996, he founded the Human Rights Centre Viasna, which has become one of the most remarkable symbols of civil resistance against Alexander Lukashenko’s sweeping authoritarianism, being notably famous for documenting cases of political prisoners and providing them much needed support. Bialiatski himself has been imprisoned since 14 July 2021 as part of a severe crackdown on the opposition in the aftermath of yet another wave of anti-regime demonstrations. In September, ARTICLE 19 joined partner rights organisations to once again strongly condemn the ongoing arbitrary detention of several of Viasna’s activists and demand the release of all political prisoners. 

The Memorial group, which was established during the Glasnost reforms of the 1980s, is Russia’s oldest human rights organisation and a gatekeeper of the remembrance of victims of Soviet crimes. Over the years, Memorial has gathered an invaluable collection of historical archives by rigorously documenting political repression and crimes in the USSR, including a database of victims of the Great Terror and gulag camps. In December 2021, Memorial was shut down under Russia’s controversial ‘foreign agent’ legislation, which dealt a massive blow to the human rights community in the country. 

The Center for Civil Liberties was established in 2007 to promote and advance protection of human rights, the rule of law and democracy in Ukraine. Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, The Center has been closely involved in identifying and documenting war crimes committed in Ukraine to propel the awaited efforts to hold the perpetrators to account and – ultimately – to bring justice. Awarding the Center the Nobel Prize is a strong and clear message of solidarity with brave Ukrainians who continue to heroically defend their country and institutions in the face of Russia’s escalating aggression. 

The Nobel Committee’s decision recognises the persistent and long-standing plight of the recipients to strengthen the sense of unity among the people and ensure their democratic rights in the face of unabated repression launched by autocrats residing in Moscow and Minsk. ARTICLE 19 is humbled to have had an unique opportunity to support the work of these courageous and trailblazing human rights advocates and hopes that the international community will step up their efforts to assist civil society communities in Eastern Europe.