Ales Bialiatski from Belarus and human rights groups from Russia and Ukraine win Nobel Peace Prize


Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, the Russian human rights organization Memorial and the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties were jointly honoured for the Nobel Peace Prize. It was announced Friday in Oslo.

“The Peace Prize laureates represent civil society in their home countries. They have for many years promoted the right to criticize power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in its citation.

“They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power. Together they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy.”

Bialiatski, 60, has been an advocate for democracy in Belarus since the 1980s and formed the rights organization Viasna, which means “spring.”

He was imprisoned between 2011 and 2014 for tax evasion, charges his supporters said where politically motivated. Arrested again in July 2021 on unclear charges, he remains in pre-trial detention.

Committee calls for Bialiatski’s release

Widespread protests rocked Belarus after the August 2020 presidential election, when autocrat Alexander Lukashenko won with an improbable 80 per cent of the vote. Several opposition politicians and activists fled the country, and others reported being subjected to beatings and abuse while imprisoned.

Belarusian opposition politician Pavel Latushko heralded the award on Friday.

“It’s not only for him but for all political prisoners which we have now in Belarus,” Latushko said. “It motivates all of us to struggle and we are sure we will win with the dictatorship of Lukashenko.”

Reaction from exiled Belarusian opposition leader:

“Despite tremendous personal hardship, Bialiatski has not yielded one inch in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

The panel called for his release, but acknowledged the possibility that by awarding him the prize, Bialiatski might face additional scrutiny from authorities in Belarus.

“We do pray that this price will not affect him negatively, but we hope it might boost his morale,” said Reiss-Andersen.

Russia’s Memorial was established in 1987, with Nobel Peace laureate Andrei Sakharov among its founders. It worked to expose dictator Joseph Stalin’s crimes and other Soviet-era repression.

The group also documented abuses in modern Russia, and in 2016 was declared a “foreign agent” by the government — a label that implies additional government scrutiny and carries strong negative connotations that can discredit the targeted organization. Beginning in late 2021, the Kremlin began taking court action to remove its legal status as a protected organization.

WATCH | Russia’s Memorial faces crackdown:

Russia goes to court to shutter prominent human rights group

As part of efforts to silence voices critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin has gone to court to try and shut down Memorial International, Russia’s most prominent human rights group.

Russia’s Supreme Court in a ruling declared that Memorial “creates a false image of the U.S.S.R. as a terrorist state, whitewashes and rehabilitates Nazi criminals,” but the organization’s leaders vowed to continue its work.

The organization has also been standing at the forefront of efforts to combat militarism and promote human rights and government based on the rule of law,” said Reiss-Andersen.

Not a message to Putin: Nobel panel chair

The Center for Civil Liberties was founded in Kyiv in 2007 to promote democracy during a period of turmoil in the country.

Since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, it has worked to help document Russian war crimes against Ukrainian civilians.

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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 a country that was invisible.”

“This is a surprise for us,” he told The Associated Press. “But human rights activity is the main weapon against the war.”

Belarus’s Lukashenko has been arguably Putin’s strongest supporter since Russia launched its Ukraine invasion.

But asked whether the Nobel Committee was intentionally sending a signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who turned 70 on Friday, Reiss-Andersen said that “we always give a prize for something and to somebody and not against anyone.”

“This prize is not addressing President Putin, not for his birthday or in any other sense, except that his government, as the government in Belarus, is representing an authoritarian government that is suppressing human rights activists,” she said.

The Nobel Peace Prize is worth 10 million Swedish kronor (over $1.2 million Cdn) and will be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.

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