Human rights watchdogs from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, with the jury criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “authoritarian” regime as he waged war in Ukraine.
The honor in favour of “peaceful co-existence” went to Russian rights group Memorial, Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties, which is documenting “Russian war crimes” against the Ukrainian people, and detained activist Ales Bialiatski of Belarus.
A highly symbolic choice, the trio represent the three nations at the center of the war in Ukraine, which has plunged Europe into its worst security crisis since World War II.
“They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power,” the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, told reporters.
“Together they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy,” she added.
Calling Putin’s regime an “authoritarian government,” Reiss-Andersen said the five-member committee wanted to highlight the “way civil society and human rights advocates are being suppressed.”
‘Oxygen of democracy’
Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties (CCL), founded in 2007, has since Moscow’s invasion in February identified and documented “Russian war crimes against the Ukrainian civilian population,” the Nobel committee said.
It hailed the group’s “pioneering role with a view to holding the guilty parties accountable for their crimes.”
On Friday, the head of the CCL said Putin should face an “international tribunal.”
Oleksandra Matviychuk wrote on Facebook the tribunal should be created to “give the hundreds of thousands of victims of war crimes a chance to see justice.”
Memorial, founded in 1989 by 1975 Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov, is the largest human rights organization in Russia, compiling and systematizing information on political oppression and human rights violations in Russia.
The country’s Supreme Court ordered that it dissolved in December 2021.
Just hours after the win, a Moscow court ordered the seizure of Memorial’s headquarters in the Russian capital, Interfax agency reported.
Congratulating the winners, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres hailed civil society organizations as the “oxygen of democracy”.
And US President Joe Biden later congratulated the award recipients for championing human rights in the face of “intimidation and oppression.”
But Lev Ponomarev, who helped create Memorial during the perestroika Soviet era reform drive, said the award should have gone to political prisoners such as Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
“I am compelled now to say that the correct choice would have been to give the Nobel prize — if they want to support Russia when it is under its harshest regime — to political figures,” he said.
‘No sign of peace’
UN investigators on September 23 accused Russia of committing war crimes on a “massive scale” in Ukraine, citing bombings, executions, torture and sexual violence on victims aged four to 82.
Moscow has also been accused of committing massacres, after the bodies of dozens of civilians were found in Bucha, outside Kyiv, and the discovery of hundreds of others in Izyum, a region liberated by Ukrainian troops last month.
Beyond the countless deaths and material destruction in Ukraine, the war has revived fears of a nuclear strike by Russia, which has struggled militarily since Ukraine launched a counter-offensive in September.
“This year we were in a situation with a war in Europe, which is most unusual, but also facing a war that has a global effect on people all over the world,” Reiss-Andersen said, referring to “the threat of using nuclear weapons and food shortage”.
“That is a very bleak background and there is no sign of peace in the immediate future.”
‘Not yielded an inch’
Last year, the Peace Prize went to another Kremlin critic, Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, whose newspaper Novaya Gazeta also had its license revoked.
He won together with Philippine journalist Maria Ressa for their fight for press freedom.
The Nobel committee on Friday also called on Belarus to release Bialiatski, 60, the founder of rights group Viasna whose work has charted the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of President Alexander Lukashenko and his security forces.
Bialiatski has been jailed several times since 2011, including after large-scale demonstrations against the regime in 2020 when Lukashenko claimed victory in elections the international community deemed fraudulent.
Minsk cracked down hard on the mass protests, with at least 37,000 people detained in a matter of months according to the UN, and many alleging they were mistreated and tortured in detention.
Lukashenko, who has clung to power since 1994 and has long been backed by Russia, is one of Moscow’s few allies in the war on Ukraine.
The regime criticized the award, saying prize creator Alfred Nobel was “turning in his grave.”
Bialiatski’s wife meanwhile said she was “overwhelmed with emotion.”
Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya — herself mentioned in Nobel speculation before Friday’s announcement — saw the prize as “recognition for all Belarusians fighting for freedom and democracy.”
Bialiatski was imprisoned from 2011 to 2014, in 2020, and again in July 2021. He is the fourth Peace laureate to win whilst behind bars.
“He is still detained without trial. Despite tremendous personal hardship, Mr. Bialiatski has not yielded an inch in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus,” the Nobel committee said.
Leave a Reply