The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to human rights activists in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine against the background of Minsk and Moscow’s crackdown on dissidents and the invasion of the Kremlin in Ukraine.
Norway’s Nobel Committee chair Berit Reiss-Andersen said Oct. 7 that jailed Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski, Russian rights group Memorial and Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties received the 2022 award.
The committee said the laureates have made outstanding efforts to document “war crimes, human rights violations and abuse of power” while at the same time demonstrating “the importance of civil society for peace and democracy”.
Despite the announcement on President Vladimir Putin’s 70th birthday, Norway’s Nobel Committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said that while bestowing the prize on those who criticize him and regimes like his was not a direct message to the Russian leader, it was yet a way to show “how civil society and human rights defenders are being oppressed”.
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the decision, calling the winners “staunch defenders of human rights in Europe”.
“Ales Byalyatski, the NGO Memorial in Russia and the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine: The Nobel Peace Prize pays tribute to staunch defenders of human rights in Europe. As peacemakers, they can count on the support of France,” Macron wrote Twitter.
US President Joe Biden congratulated the winners on their commitment to human rights in the face of “intimidation and oppression”.
The winners “remind us that even in the dark days of war, in the face of intimidation and repression, the common human desire for rights and dignity cannot be extinguished,” Biden said in a statement expression.
Byaljatski, 60, founder of Belarusian rights group Vyazna (Spring) is currently in prison for tax evasion, which his supporters have dismissed as politically motivated.
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled Belarusian opposition leader, said she is proud that Byalyatski received the award and it means the world will pay more attention to Belarus and its political prisoners.
“Of course I’d like to hug him. I remember when we last met he said, ‘Svyatlana, do what you do. Defend Belarus on the international stage. talk about us We as human rights defenders will do our job,'” she told RFE/RL’s Belarusian service during a meeting of EU leaders in Prague.
She added that the award highlights the importance of Belarus in the European context.
“I hope that this will give some impetus to our political friends to draw even more attention to Belarus, to work more, to put pressure on the regime so that all political prisoners, including Ales Byalyatski, are released as soon as possible.”
Since presidential elections in 2020 brought authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka to power for a sixth term, despite opposition and international outcry that the vote had been rigged, security forces have beaten, arrested and tortured thousands of people for expressing dissent.
Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatol Hlaz said a number of decisions by the Nobel Committee in recent years have been “so politicized that … Alfred Nobel had to roll over in his coffin.”
He added in a comment quoted by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency that at a certain stage the Belarusian government “simply lost all interest in it”.
Olav Njolstad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, dismissed the criticism. “I am quite sure that we understand Alfred Nobel’s will and intentions better than the Minsk dictatorship,” he said.
Russia’s Supreme Court last December shut down Memorial, one of the country’s most respected human rights organizations, on the grounds that the group violated the controversial “foreign agents” law.
Memorial has since formed a new group, Memorial, The Center To Defend Human Rights, which operates without legal entity status.
The award was announced the same day a Moscow court held a hearing on the seizure of Memorial’s assets, the rights group noted.
“Putin banned Memorial, but the world recognizes true heroes” said Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics.
Lana Estemirova, the daughter of Natalya Estemirova, the slain head of the Memorial Human Rights Center office in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Chechnya, said RFE/RL that she “cried and was emotionally overwhelmed” when she heard that Memorial was named by the committee.
“Memorial is just an incredibly important organization for the Caucasus,” she said, adding that winning the award will come as a blow to Kremlin-backed, authoritarian Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
“To the [Kadyrov], Memorial and my mother were adversaries he was ready to crush. They openly criticized his activities and were not afraid of him,” Estemirova said.
Kadyrov has been accused by Memorial and other rights groups of overseeing abuses against perceived opponents, crackdowns and summary trials by law enforcement agencies, and numerous intimidation tactics since he came to power with the backing of the Kremlin in 2007.
Natalya Estemirova ran Memorial’s office in Chechnya and documented extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and other ill-treatment by police officers in the region before disappearing in the Chechen capital of Grozny on July 15, 2009.
Her body was found hours later in neighboring Ingushetia with gunshot wounds to the head and chest. No one has been convicted of her murder.
Founded in 2007 and based in Kyiv, the Center for Civil Liberties has worked to strengthen Ukrainian civil society while promoting the rule of law and compliance with international law.
His work documenting war crimes and human rights abuses has gained prominence since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
“Proud of being awarded the #Nobel Peace Prize, this is a recognition of the work of many human rights defenders in Ukraine and not only in Ukraine,” the group said in a tweet.