The Norwegian Nobel Committee has named jailed human rights advocate from Belarus, Ales Bialiatski, and two human rights organisations from Russia and Ukraine – namely, Memorial and Center for Civil Liberties – as the winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
The human rights champions were recognised for an “outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power”, the Committee said in a statement. “Together they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy,” it added.
Here is what to know about the winners:
- Bialiatski, 60, has been leading a pro-democracy movement in Belarus since the mid-1980s.
- In 1996, he founded Belarus’s most prominent human rights organisation, Viasna, following controversial constitutional changes by longtime President Alexander Lukashenko.
- Through Viasna, which translates to “Spring”, Bialiatski provided support to jailed demonstrators and their families, while he also documented authorities’ use of torture.
- In August 2011, he was handed a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence for tax evasion in a move widely seen as politically motivated in the wake of an earlier presidential election claimed by Lukashenko.
- In 2020, as Belarus saw a new wave of mass demonstrations against Lukashenko’s latest election, Viasna meticulously tracked numbers of people detained at protests and during police raids across the country.
- Bialiatski was arrested again in 2021 on tax evasion charges, a move that Lukashenko’s critics described as a tactic to silence his work.
- “This is the best person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize because for many years, Bialiatski became the symbol of the global fight against tyranny and for the rights of ordinary people, of Belarussians,” Franak Viacorka, a Belarusian opposition politician and senior adviser to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the leader of the Belarusian Democratic Movement, told Al Jazeera from Paris.
- “He started his career as a freedom fighter against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, then he fought for Belarusian independence, then he fought against Lukashenko’s regime. He was imprisoned and right now he is finally recognised by the Nobel Committee for dedicating his whole life to something that the entire world calls human rights.”
- A group of human rights activists, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, established the Memorial in 1987 in then-Soviet Union to provide support to the victims of the communist regime.
- After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the group gathered and recorded information on political oppression and human rights violations in Russia, becoming the largest human rights organisation in the country.
- The group maintained a massive archive of Soviet-era crimes and questioned official narratives that glossed over horrors committed under Joseph Stalin.
- It also campaigned against rights violations linked to Russia’s wars in Chechnya and brought legal cases against Russian mercenaries in Syria.
- In 2009, Natalia Estemirova – head of the Memorial’s office in Chechnya – was shot dead after the organisation had worked on gathering information on war crimes committed by Russian and pro-Russian forces against civilians.
- In late 2021, after being for years in the crosshairs of authorities, Memorial was ordered shut by Russia’s Supreme Court.
- Prosecutors alleged that the group, which had been previously put on the government’s register of “foreign agents”, repeatedly violated regulations obliging it to mark itself as such, and tried to conceal the designation. They also accused it of condoning “terrorism” and “extremism”.
- Memorial denied any serious violations, labelling claims it broke the law or backed “terror” and “extremist” groups as “absurd” and politically motivated.
- The group said on Friday that winning the award was a recognition of its human rights work and of colleagues who continue to suffer “unspeakable attacks and reprisals” in Russia.
Center for Civil Liberties
- The Center for Civil Liberties was founded in 2007 to promote human rights and democracy in Ukraine.
- The independent organisation is also focused on fighting corruption.
- It has also been actively pushing for Ukraine to become affiliated with the International Criminal Court.
- Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February this year, the Center for Civil Liberties has focused on documenting Russian war crimes against the local population.
- It said on Friday it was proud to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
- “Morning with good news. We are proud,” it wrote on Twitter.