The award committee named the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties (CCL), which works to document alleged war crimes of Russian invaders; the Russian human rights group Memorial; and imprisoned Belarusian human rights defender Ales Bialiatski as annual peace prize winners, marking the second year in a row that critics of Putin have been among those nominated for the prize.
“They have for many years promoted the right to criticize power and to protect the fundamental rights of citizens,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said. said in the announcement of the winners.
Although the committee did not name Putin or Lukashenko in his announcement, it was another high-profile rebuke of the oppressive means the winner’s governments have adopted to centralize power and silence opponents at home and abroad.
Lukashenko, who has brutally suppressed criticism in Belarus since claiming re-election in a 2020 vote widely denounced as fraudulent, allowed his country to be a staging ground for Putin’s failed attempt to s capture Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. And Putin, while launching a full-scale war against Ukraine, has harshly cracked down on war critics, political opponents, journalists and other dissidents.
After the committee’s announcement, Oleksandra Matvichukthe president of the board of the CCL, called for the creation of an international tribunal to try Putin, Lukashenko and others for their alleged crimes, and she denounced the inability of international organizations to prevent war or to protect victims of rights violations.
“Russia should be expelled from the UN Security Council for systematic violation of the UN Charter,” Matvichuk wrote in a statement. Facebook post. “If we don’t want to live in a world where the rules are determined by someone with more powerful military potential rather than the rule of law, things have to change.”
The Nobel decision was announced as a Ukrainian counteroffensive continues to liberate swaths of territory after months of Russian occupation and reveals new evidence of atrocities allegedly committed by Russian soldiers in Ukraine.
The selection by the Nobel Committee of Memorial, a veteran organization that has exposed the crimes of the Soviet gulag and the abuses of the Russian state since the fall of the Soviet Union, followed the awarding of the peace prize last year to Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, editor of longtime head of Novaya Gazeta, which the committee cited as “the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a fundamentally critical attitude towards power”
Memorial was dissolved this year as Putin suppressed dissent after the war began and Novaya Gazeta was forced to shut down its operations in Russia. Muratov then auctioned off a prize to benefit Ukrainian children.
The awarding of the peace prize to a Russian group and a Belarusian activist drew immediate criticism in Ukraine, where many politicians and activists view ordinary Russians as accomplices in Putin’s war.
“The Nobel Committee has an interesting understanding of the word ‘peace’ if the representatives of two countries that attacked a third receive @Nobel prize together”, Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said on Twitter. “Neither Russian nor Belarusian organizations were able to organize resistance to the war. This year’s Nobel Prize is “brilliant”. ”
The Nobel committee, in announcing its decision, called on Belarus to release Bialiatsky, who has spoken out against repression by Lukashenko’s government for decades.
Norwegian Nobel Committee Chair Berit Reiss-Andersen said the prize was for individuals and entities and not directed at Putin, who turned 70 on Friday, or anyone else.
“The attention Mr. Putin has brought to himself that is relevant in this context is the way civil society and human rights defenders are being suppressed,” Reiss-Andersen told reporters in Oslo. .
Belarusian opposition figures hailed the award, calling for the release of political prisoners. Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya describe as “an important recognition for all Belarusians who fight for freedom and democracy”.
The prize, created by the will of Swedish businessman and inventor Alfred Nobel in 1895, is a gold medal and a $1.14 million award. Unlike other prizes in physics, medicine and other disciplines, which are selected and awarded in Sweden, Nobel chose a Norwegian committee, selected by that country’s parliament, to administer the peace prize.
The award is a boon for Memorial, Russia’s oldest human rights organization, which has come under intense pressure from Putin’s government in recent years amid a crackdown on activists civilians and rights groups which accelerated in the last year before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
Last year, Russian courts abolished Memorial’s two wings after previously declaring them “foreign agents”. ordered the organization to dissolve in a move that has shocked global human rights advocates and Russia watchers. The group publishes a list of political prisoners in Russia and maintains an extensive archive of human rights violations committed by Russian security services since Soviet times.
The International Memorial Society is renowned for its research and commemoration of the executions and imprisonment of dissidents during the Soviet era. Its human rights wing, Memorial Human Rights Center, exposes current abuses by Russian authorities and played a leading role in exposing military atrocities during the two Chechen wars in the mid-1990s and early 1990s. 2000.
In a parallel effort in Belarus, Bialiatski founded the Viasna Center in 1996 to track cases of persecution of activists and document torture and abuse against political prisoners by Belarusian law enforcement.
He was first arrested in 2011 and spent three years behind bars for tax evasion which he and his supporters saw as direct retaliation for the activities of Viasna, which helped to help Belarusian civil society track the most great repression of the modern history of the country. after the 2020 protests.
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in August 2020 to denounce Lukashenko’s declared victory in what is widely believed to be a rigged election that gave Lukashenko a sixth consecutive term. The hunt for protesters launched by Lukashenko in retaliation has sparked an exodus from the country. Yet thousands of people have been detained and, in some cases, tortured and beaten in prisons.
At least seven Viasna activists, including Bialiatski, have been arrested in 2021. Bialiatski has been charged with tax evasion, as he had previously been, and denies the charge.
In Ukraine, CCL initially launched the Euromaidan SOS initiative to document and publicize human rights abuses during the wave of anti-government protests in 2013 and 2014. Since then, it has focused on events related to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support for separatists. in the eastern region of Donbass in Ukraine. The group also created a map of enforced disappearances across Ukraine.
Last month, Matvichuk and CCL received another award, known as the the alternative Nobelthe Right Livelihood Award for “building lasting democratic institutions in Ukraine and creating a pathway to international accountability for war crimes”.
Ellen Francis and Paul Schemm in London, William Branigin in Washington, Kostiantyn Khudov in Kyiv, Isabelle Khurshudyan in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine, and Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report. Dixon and Ilyushina reported from Riga.