At 11:00 on Friday 2022, the head of the Nobel Peace Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, announced that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2022 will be awarded to one individual and two organisations:
- Human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski from Belarus
- The Russian human rights organisation Memorial
- The Ukrainian human rights organisation Centre for Civil Liberties
It is important to note the reasoning of the Norwegian Nobel Committee for the prize:
“The Peace Prize laureates represent civil society in their home countries. They have for many years promoted the right to criticise power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens. They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human rights abuses, and the abuse of power. Together they demonstrate the significance of civil society for peace and democracy. …
By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2022 to Ales Bialiatski, Memorial and the Centre for Civil Liberties, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to honour three outstanding champions of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence in the neighbour countries Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. Through their consistent efforts in favour of humanist values, anti-militarism and principles of law, this year’s laureates have revitalised and honoured Alfred Nobel’s vision of peace and fraternity between nations – a vision most needed in the world today.”
In this way, the Committee signals that the prize is awarded to outstanding human rights activists and organizations and underlines the crucial function of civil society human rights promotion for democracy and peace. This messaging is aligned with Norwegian foreign policies, which include substantial financial and moral support to human rights defenders worldwide, as well as efforts in the UN to develop an international framework for the protection of human rights defenders.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee has since its inception in 1977 included support for local human rights groups as one of its main lines of work. We believe that well-equipped and professional civil society organizations in authoritarian countries can play unique roles in promoting democratization and serve as schools of democracy for members and the wider society.
All three laureates are long-term partners of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
Bialiatski (born in 1962) is one of the initiators of the movement for democracy in Belarus, which started in the mid-1980s. He founded the organisation Viasna (Spring) in 1996 in response to the controversial constitutional amendments that gave Alexander Lukashenko dictatorial powers. Viasna provides support for political prisoners and is a broad-based human rights organisation that documents and protests against torture and other serious abuse by Belarusian authorities.
The Belarusian government has for years sought to silence Bialiatski, including by sending him to prison. He was imprisoned from 2011 to 2014 and following the large-scale protests against the regime in 2020, he was again arrested on 14 July 2021. He has since been in pre-trial detention, awaiting a trial that will be all but fair.
As the Nobel Committee states, “despite tremendous personal hardship, Mr Bialiatski has not yielded an inch in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus.” Many of his colleagues and members of Viasna are targeted by a series of criminal investigations for their human rights activities and assistance to people in defending their rights. The entire leadership of the organization is in prison at this moment.
Ales Bialiatski received the Norwegian Helsinki Committee Sakharov Freedom Award in 2006.
The organisation Memorial comprises a historic branch and a human rights centre. International Memorial was founded in 1992 to honour the victims of Soviet oppression up to the present time. Its predecessor, the Moscow initiative group Memorial, emerged in 1987. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov and human rights advocate Svetlana Gannushkina were among the founders.
International Memorial has documented the abuses committed by the Soviet authorities from 1917 until the dissolution of the Union in 1991 and the repression by Russian authorities up to the present.
The Human Rights Centre Memorial (HRC Memorial) works to map human rights abuses in today’s Russia, including updating lists of political prisoners, supporting migrants and people in detention, and providing legal aid. The Centre also had programs in Central Asia. Memorial is the largest human rights organisation in Russia. It had over 40 representative offices in many regions of Russia.
At the turn of the year 2021-2022, both Memorial organizations were forcibly dissolved. They are no longer allowed to exist as organisations but remain as very active networks. Several years prior, they were declared “foreign agents”.
In 2010, HRC Memorial, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and a few other Russian and international organizations established the Natalia Estemirova Documentation Centre to collect and analyse documentation of human rights violations and international crimes in the North Caucasus, particularly during the 1990 Chechen wars. During the wars, HRC Memorial gathered information on war crimes and human rights violations perpetrated by Russian and pro-Russian forces. In 2009, the head of Memorial’s branch in Chechnya, Natalia Estemirova, was killed because of her work. The documentation centre continues her work to fight the near-total impunity for heinous crimes.
In 2021, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee awarded one of Memorial’s researchers, the historian Yury Dmitriev with its Sakharov Freedom Award. Gannushkina received the award in 2007.
Center for Civil Liberties
The Center was founded in Kyiv in 2007 to promote human rights and democracy in Ukraine. It has contributed significantly to strengthening Ukrainian civil society and advocating for the authorities to make Ukraine a full-fledged democracy, governed by rule of law, respect for human rights, and fighting corruption effectively. It has campaigned that Ukraine becomes a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and is currently engaged in documenting war crimes along with a range of other Ukrainian civil society organizations. It has published a map of disappeared people during the conflict.
After the violent crackdown of peaceful demonstrations on Independence Square in Kyiv on 30 November 2013, the Center for Civil Liberties increased their influence by coordinating the Euromaidan SOS civic initiative. The purpose of Euromaidan SOS was to provide legal assistance to the victims of Euromaidan in Kyiv and other cities of the country, as well as to collect and analyze information to protect protesters and provide interim assessments of the situation.
After Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and started the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the Center has focused its work both on the documentation of war crimes and preparations for legal settlements through the harmonization of Ukrainian law with international law. At the same time, they have criticized the Ukrainian authorities when they believed the authorities violated human rights.
The Center has since then run multiple international mobilization campaigns for the release of prisoners of conscience such as the #letmypeoplego campaign and the #SaveOlegSentsov global action for the release of illegally imprisoned people in Russia and the occupied Crimea and Donbas.
As Russia initiated an aggressive war against Ukraine on 24 February, staff members had to relocate and find new ways to conduct their work. Now some have returned to Kyiv again but working in a country that remains under constant attack is far from business-as-usual.
Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal
Olga Shamshur Flydal