Nobel Peace Prize Goes to Human Rights Activists in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia

Belarus political prisoner Ales Bialiatski, the Russian group Memorial and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties jointly won this year’s award

Photo of Ales Bialiatski
A photo of Ales Bialiatski on display in the Nobel’s garden at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway Photo by Rodrigo Freitas / NTB / AFP via Getty Images

Two human rights organizations and a jailed activist won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to document abuses of power and war crimes.

This year’s joint honor goes to Belarus political prisoner Ales Bialiatski, the Russian human rights group Memorial and the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties. The award represents a “pointed international rebuke” of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, write the Washington Post’s Missy Ryan, Robyn Dixon and Mary Ilyushina.

“Through their consistent efforts in favor of humanist values, anti-militarism and principles of law, this year’s laureates have revitalized and honored Alfred Nobel’s vision of peace and fraternity between nations—a vision most needed in the world today,” wrote the Nobel Peace Prize committee in its announcement.

"We are sending a signal that war must end." Interview about the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.

In total, nominators suggested 343 candidates for consideration for this year’s prize, which is the second highest number on record, report James Hookway and Ann. M. Simmons for the Wall Street Journal. The committee considers the nominations to be a “closely guarded secret” and, as such, names are not made public for 50 years.

With a bequest in his will, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel established the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as prizes for literaturechemistryphysics and physiology or medicine, in 1901. Each prize comes with a monetary award of 10 million Swedish kronor (about $900,000); if multiple awards are given in the same category, the amount is split between the winners.

Bialiatski, 60, has championed democracy in Belarus since the 1980s, when it was still under Soviet control. He continued his efforts after Belarus declared independence in 1991 and Lukashenko rose to power in 1994.

In 1996, Bialiatski founded the Human Rights Center Viasna (viasna means “spring” in Belarusian) to monitor elections, help political prisoners and promote human rights. He’s currently in prison for tax evasion, charges his supporters see as retaliation from Lukashenko’s regime.

“Government authorities have repeatedly sought to silence Ales Bialiatski,” wrote the Nobel committee. “Despite tremendous personal hardship, Bialiatski has not yielded an inch in his fight for human rights and democracy in Belarus.”

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The human rights organization Memorial launched in the former Soviet Union in 1987. Founded by Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov, human rights advocate Svetlana Gannushkina and other activists to document the communist regime’s oppression, the group grew to become the largest organization of its kind in Russia.

Last year, a Russian court ordered Memorial to close. “The closures became effective in the following months,” the Nobel committee wrote, “but the people behind Memorial refuse to be shut down.” Gannushkina says that winning the Nobel prize was a “show of solidarity” and an “acknowledgment that not all Russians are bad and that there are those of us who are against the war in Ukraine,” per NPR’s Rob Schmitz, Charles Maynes and Julian Hayda.

Natalia Estemirova, who helped Memorial document abuse in Chechnya, was kidnapped and shot to death in 2009. Her daughter, Lana Estemirova, tweeted on Friday that she wished her mother could “be here to share this triumph with her colleagues.” 

“But everything we do, we do in her memory,” she wrote.

Ukrainian activists founded the Center for Civil Liberties in 2007 to advance democracy and human rights in the country. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the group’s work took on greater urgency as it began documenting war crimes against Ukrainians.

For Oleksandra Matviychuk, who leads the center’s board, the Nobel was a recognition that “ordinary people have far more influence than they think,” she tells the New York Times’ Megan Specia and Oleksandra Mykolyshyn.

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