Who are the three Nobel Peace Prize laureates?

In a highly symbolic choice in favor of “peaceful coexistence”, the Nobel Peace Prize crowned, Friday, October 7 in Oslo, two non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Russian Memorial and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties, as well as the Belarusian opponent Ales Bialiatski. Who are these three “human rights champions” in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus?

  • Ales Bialiatski, Belarusian political activist still imprisoned

Initiator of the democracy movement that emerged in Belarus in the mid-1980s, Ales Bialiatski, 60, is a political activist imprisoned since July 2021, known for his work at the head of Viasna, the main organization for the defense of human rights in the country.

The activist had been arrested for “tax evasion”, a case perceived as revenge for President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994 and who muzzles any form of criticism with arrest or truncheon, since the vast post-election protest movement of the summer of 2020, which shook his regime.

For weeks, tens of thousands of Belarusians had taken to the streets to protest against the re-election for a sixth term of the head of state. At their side, Viasna listed the arrests, accusations of torture in prison and the injured.

Mr. Bialiatski had already been imprisoned for tax reasons for nearly three years, from 2011 to 2014. His arrest then came a few months after a presidential election which also gave rise to severely repressed opposition demonstrations.

After putting down the demonstrations in the summer and fall of 2020, the Belarusian regime attacked the media and organizations deemed critical, imprisoning their leaders or simple activists for various reasons. Viasna and Bialiatski were no exception. “Viasna’s brutal crackdown is just part of President Alexander Lukashenko’s purge of civil society”then noted the NGO Human Rights Watch.

Founded in 1996 during massive pro-democracy protests in Belarus, Viasna began its work providing aid to incarcerated people and their relatives. His work then extended to the defense of human rights in general.

  • Memorial, the conscience of Russia banished by Putin

Founded in 1989, the emblematic Russian NGO Memorial has shed light for three decades on the Stalinist purges, then the repressions in contemporary Russia of President Vladimir Putin, before being itself a victim. Last winter, the Russian justice had pronounced the dissolution of Memorial for violations of a controversial law on “foreign agents”, a decision which had shocked in the West as in Russia and sparked an avalanche of convictions.

The dissolution of this pillar of Russian civil society, symbol of the democratization of the 1990s after the collapse of the USSR, had preceded the offensive in Ukraine by a few weeks. Since then, the Kremlin has further stepped up the repression of voices denouncing its military campaign, with thousands of fines and heavy prison sentences.

From Stalinist crimes to abuses in Chechnya, the organization, created by Soviet dissidents, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov, was authoritative through its rigorous investigations, in particular into the abuses of Russian paramilitaries in Syria. At the same time, Memorial compiled a list of political prisoners, provided assistance to them, as well as to migrants and sexual minorities.

It was above all for its work in Chechnya, a Russian republic in the Caucasus which was the scene of two wars, that the NGO became known in the West, where it enjoyed great prestige, having received the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament in 2009.

In 2009, the head of the NGO in Chechnya, Natalia Estemirova, was kidnapped in broad daylight and shot in the head in Grozny. Implicated in this assassination, the authoritarian Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, who today is one of the most zealous supporters of the Russian war of invasion waged in Ukraine, had in return called the members of Memorial“enemies of the people”.

In early April, a month after the start of the attack on Ukraine, Oleg Orlov, one of Memorial’s historic leaders, admitted to Agence France-Presse that he had not “lived in darker times” in his life. “What is happening now is not comparable to what may have happened before. (…). A country that had left the totalitarian system returns to it”had struck the one who had started to militate in the 1980s, by distributing leaflets against the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

  • The Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties

The Center for Civil Liberties was founded in 2007, in Kyiv, with the aim of advancing human rights and democracy in Ukraine. “The center has taken a stand to strengthen Ukrainian civil society and put pressure on the authorities to make Ukraine a full-fledged democracy”, recalled the Nobel committee.

After the Russian invasion launched on February 24, the NGO engaged in efforts to identify and document Russian war crimes against the Ukrainian civilian population. Together with international partners, the center plays a pioneering role in holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes.

” We are happy “reacted to the announcement of the prize one of the leaders of the NGO, Oleksandra Romantsova, while adding that she still “a lot of work to do for the victory”. She announced a press conference for Saturday and specified that she was on her way to Ukraine with the head of the organization, Oleksandra Matviichuk.

“When we heard the news, we were stunned”for her part, declared in kyiv to some journalists Anna Trouchova, in charge of communication of the NGO. “We view this award as a respectable recognition of our business”, she added in the premises of the Ukrainian capital. Since the invasion, “we document the war crimes of the Russian military in Ukraine throughout the country (…). Another important activity is the return of kidnapped Ukrainians to their homes”said Trouchova.

“It is necessary to create an international tribunal and to bring to justice [Vladimir] Cheese fries, [le président biélorusse Alexandre] Lukashenko and other war criminals,” said the head of the NGO, Mme Matviichuk. The lawyer also explained on her Facebook page:

“The UN and participating states must address the ‘responsibility gap’ and provide a chance for justice to hundreds of thousands of victims of war crimes. Without this, a lasting peace in our region is impossible. Russia should be expelled from the UN Security Council for systematic violation of the UN Charter. »

“The Ukrainian people are today the main architects of peace, in which we must exist without aggression”for his part, reacted on Telegram the chief of staff of the Ukrainian presidency, Andriy Iermak. “The Nobel Committee has an interesting understanding of ‘peace’ if representatives of two countries that have attacked a third all together receive the Nobel Prize”commented on Twitter the presidential adviser, Mykhaïlo Podoliak. “Russian and Belarusian organizations could not organize resistance to the war”he asserted.

The 2022 Nobel Prizes

The World with AFP

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