This year’s Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian activists for advancing the right to challenge power and protecting the fundamental rights of citizens.
Imprisoned Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski, the Russian organization Memorial and the Ukrainian group Center for Civil Liberties were announced as recipients in October.
Al Jazeera will be live at 16:00 GMT from Oslo, Norway, to speak with Natallia Pinchuk, wife of Bialiatski, Jan Rachinsky of Memorial and Oleksandra Matviichuk of the Center for Civil Liberties about the importance of civil society in wartime. and the challenges and dangers activists face in carrying out their work.
The prize, worth about $900,000, was presented Saturday on the anniversary of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel’s death, who founded the prizes in 1895.
In his acceptance speech, Rachinsky spoke out about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “insane and criminal” war in Ukraine.
Under Putin, “opposition to Russia is called ‘fascism'” and has become “the ideological justification for the insane and criminal war of aggression against Ukraine,” Rachinsky told the audience.
Matviichuk said her country cannot achieve peace by “laying down arms” against Russia. “This would not be peace, but occupation,” she said.
Speaking on her husband’s behalf, Pinchuk said Putin wanted to turn Ukraine into a “dependent dictatorship” like Belarus, “where the voice of the oppressed people is ignored and ignored.”
The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised the recipients for their “outstanding efforts to document war crimes, human rights violations and abuses of power”.
Together they demonstrate the importance of civil society for peace and democracy.
Here’s a look at who the recipients are and why their work matters:
Prominent Belarusian human rights activist Bialiatski is the fourth laureate to win the Nobel Peace Prize behind bars.
The founder of the leading rights group Viasna had been at the forefront of efforts to document the abuses of the government of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, described in the West as Europe’s last dictator.
Bialiatski, 60, was jailed in July 2021 after massive street protests over a national vote that kept Lukashenko in power for a sixth term last year.
His organization documented the use of torture against political prisoners by the Belarusian authorities and provided support to detained protesters and their families.
Shortly before his arrest, Bialiatski condemned the crackdown, saying local authorities “acted like an occupation regime”.
Bialiatski had previously served three years in prison after being convicted of tax evasion in 2011, allegations he denied. His supporters view the arrest as an attempt to silence him.
Under Lukashenko’s rule, which began in 1994, the human rights organization applied for registration twice without success.
Despite the lack of formal recognition, Viasna’s activities won numerous international awards, including the Freedom Award from the US Atlantic Council.
Bialiatski was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2006 and 2007.
Memorial, one of the oldest and most respected human rights organizations in Russia, was co-founded in 1987 by physicist and Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov to expose and reveal the horrors of Soviet oppression.
This mission was considered treacherous by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The organization was shut down by a court order in December 2021 for violating the “foreign agents” law. It continued to operate without official registration, documenting Russia’s totalitarian past and organizing educational initiatives to spread awareness among the population.
According to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Memorial’s work is “based on the idea that facing crimes of the past is essential to prevent new crimes”.
The Human Rights Center was the subject of a legal battle earlier this year when the government tried to confiscate it because it justified “terrorist activity”.
In 2020, a court increased the sentence of historian Yuri Dmitriev, who chaired the Department of Memorial in the Northern Republic of Karelia, from 3.5 to 13 years in prison.
He was found guilty of sexual assault charges in what was widely regarded as retaliation after finding evidence of a mass cemetery used by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s secret police.
Dmitriev remains imprisoned in a Russian penal colony.
Center for Civil Liberties
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the Center for Civil Liberties has been documenting war crimes against the civilian population in occupied territories.
In cooperation with international agencies, including the International Criminal Court (ICC), the organization also made efforts to document the forced relocation of civilians from occupied parts of Ukraine to Russia.
As part of its Euromaidan SOS project, it drew attention to the persecution of local government officials, journalists, religious leaders, volunteers and civil society activists in areas under Russian control.
Founded in 2007, the organization drew on its decades of experience in recording unlawful incarcerations and other abuses. When Russia unilaterally annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, the group began documenting the disappearances of Kremlin opponents, including journalists and activists.
In the early years, the Center for Civil Liberties put pressure on the Ukrainian authorities to ensure that the country developed into a fully-fledged rule of law.
An important goal was the accession of Ukraine to the ICC in The Hague. From 20 February 2014, the government accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction with regard to alleged crimes committed on Ukrainian territory for an indefinite period of time.