Nobel Peace Prize for 2022: A statement as Russia-Ukraine war rages

 Nobel Peace Prize for 2022: A statement as Russia-Ukraine war rages

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2022, awarded to a jailed Belarus civil rights activist, and a rights organization each in Russia and Ukraine, puts the focus on Russia’s war in Ukraine, now in its eighth month. The common thread among the winners of the Prize is that they stand, directly or indirectly, against Russia or an ally of Russia.

The Nobel Committee’s choice of the winners made a statement — and it came, as Kenneth Roth, the former head of Human Rights Watch, noted, on the 70th birthday of President Vladimir Putin.

Ales Bialiatski, who is in jail since 2021, is a vocal critic of Putin’s ally, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus. Memorial, the Russian civil rights group, was shut down by Putin, and Center for Civil Liberties is a Ukrainian rights organization that is documenting alleged war crimes by Russia in Ukraine.

Their Nobel citation said: “The Peace Prize laureates represent civil society in their home countries. They have for many years promoted the right to criticize 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.”

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said “[t]hrough 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”.

Activist Ales Bialiatski was awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. (PTI Photo)

Ales Bialiatski of Belarus

In 1995, Bialiatski founded the Belarus human rights group Viasna (Spring) which, according to a fund-raising page on, “defends human rights, promotes human rights and exposes violations”. Bialiatski has “devoted his life to promoting democracy and peaceful development in his home country”, Berit Reiss-Andersen, head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said on Friday.

The 60-year-old activist was first jailed in 2011 for evading taxes, a charge that he has denied. He was released in 2014, before being arrested again in 2021 during mass public protests in Minsk against elections that opposition activists said had kept Lukashenko in power the previous year.

In an interview given to Reuters in November 2021, Lukashenko, the first and only President of Belarus since it became an independent country, described himself as the “last dictator of Europe”. A close ally of Putin, Lukashenko has since the beginning of the war offered his country’s territory to Russian troops for launching attacks into Ukraine. Belarus shares a long border with Ukraine in the latter’s northwest, and the distance from Minsk to Kyiv is just over 500 km. Russian missile launchers have been stationed on Belarus territory, and its soldiers are said to have fought alongside Russian troops, even though Lukashenko denies this.

Viasna states its mission as “working to build a just and free society and ensure the rights of all without exception”. It watches over elections and human rights violations in Belarus, and provides human rights education and legal assistance to victims of human rights violations.

According to the site, seven members of Viasna are behind bars for defending human rights in Belarus. Homes and offices of Viasna activists and volunteers have been searched dozens of times, and hundreds of people have been interrogated and detained for working with Viasna.

Bialiatski is being held without trial, and the Nobel Committee noted that “despite tremendous personal hardship, Mr Bialiatski has not yielded an inch in his fight for human rights and democracy…”

Memorial group of Russia

Memorial was established by human rights activists in the former Soviet Union during the Gorbachev years of glasnost and perestroika, and among its founders were 1975 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov and Russian mathematician Svetlana Gannushkina. Its objective was to remember atrocities committed during the communist regime, especially under Joseph Stalin. The Nobel Committee noted on Friday that Memorial “is based on the notion that confronting past crimes is essential in preventing new ones”.

The Committee said that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Memorial grew to become the largest human rights organization in Russia. It established a center to document victims of the Stalinist era, and compiled information on political oppression and human rights violations in Russia. Memorial, the most authoritative source of information on political prisoners in Russian detention facilities, also leads efforts to combat militarism and promote human rights.

During the Chechen wars, Memorial gathered and verified information on abuses and war crimes by Russian and pro-Russian forces. In 2009, the head of Memorial’s branch in Chechnya, Natalia Estemirova, was killed because of this work. The organization was stamped as a “foreign agent” early on, and in December 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that it must be liquidated and the documentation center shut permanently.

“The closures became effective in the following months, but the people behind Memorial refuse to be shut down,” the Committee said.

Center for Civil Liberties, Ukraine

The Center was founded in Kyiv in 2007 with the aim of advancing human rights and democracy in Ukraine. The Nobel Committee said it has “taken a stand to strengthen Ukrainian civil society and pressure the authorities to make Ukraine a full-fledged democracy”. The Center has actively advocated that Ukraine become affiliated with the International Criminal Court.

Since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, the Center has engaged in efforts to identify and document Russian war crimes against the Ukrainian civilian population in collaboration with international partners.

Nobel Peace Prize 2022: The choice of winner

The Nobel Peace Prize has often mirrored current geopolitical choices of the West. For this reason, the choice of some laureates has been as politically contentious as the word peace itself — including the question of peace for whom. One question that is periodically asked is why Mahatma Gandhi, almost universally revered as an apostle of peace, was overlooked by the Committee.

The winner of the Peace Nobel is chosen by a committee of five persons selected by Norway’s Parliament. There were 343 candidates — 25 individuals and 92 organizations — for this year’s prize, the second highest after the record 376 nominations of 2016. The names of nominators and nominees cannot be divulged for 50 years. Among eligible nominators are members of national assemblies and national governments of sovereign states as well as current heads of state, and members of The International Court of Justice and The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

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