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

Friday’s 2022 Nobel Peace Prize went to two human right groups, Memorial in Russia and Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine. Ales Bialiatski was also in prison. The Norwegian Nobel Committee recognized their work in challenging power and protecting fundamental human right in war-ravaged neighboring countries. We speak with Anna Dobrovolskaya who was the executive director of Memorial Human Rights Center, Moscow, which is part of the Nobel-winning group Memorial. It was shut down by Russia’s government. “People can see this as a common victory for civil society, not just in Russia,” says Dobrovolskaya. We also speak with Ole von Uexküll, executive director of the Stockholm-based Right Livelihood Award Foundation; all of Friday’s Nobel winners are also previous Right Livelihood laureates, known informally as the “alternative Nobel Peace Prize.” The hope of these international awards is that Belarus will “immediately release Ales Bialiatski” and that Russia will stop their legal persecution of human rights organizations, says von Uexküll.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize will go to Ales Bialiatski, a Belarusian human rights activist. Also, the Memorial Russian human rights group and Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine will be honored. The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced this year’s Peace Prize winners at a ceremony this morning in Oslo.

BERIT REISSANDERSEN:The Norwegian Nobel Committee is presenting the Nobel Peace Prize for 2022 Ales Baliatski, Memorial, and the Center for Civil Liberties. It wishes to honor three outstanding advocates of human rights, democracy, peaceful coexistence, and democracy in the neighboring countries of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. Through their consistent efforts in favor of human 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.

AMY GOODMAN: After the Nobel Committee’s announcement, Anna Trushova of the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine spoke to reporters.

ANNA TRUSHOVA: [translated] I am happy. I am happy to be part of a team that is so driven and does such amazing things for our country. We know that law defenders are catalysts for change, and this motivates us to bring these changes into society. … When the full-scale aggression started, we obviously did not sit idle. We created a team of defenders who actively documented war crimes. We have so far documented over 20,000 war crime. All of this is done to punish all those responsible.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests. Joining us from Stockholm, Sweden, is Ole von Uexküll. He’s executive director of the Stockholm-based Right Livelihood Award Foundation. All three winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize are Right Livelihood laureates. Anna Dobrovolskaya is also present in Moscow. She was the former executive director at the Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow. This center was part of the group Memorial that has been awarded Nobel Peace Prize. Russian authorities shut down her organization.

Anna, let’s begin with you. The significance of this announcement Did you know that your organization was going to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? And what does this mean for what’s happening right now in Russia?


I didn’t know that we could be winners this year. Memorial has been nominated many times before. Some of our staff members have also been nominated for Nobel Peace Prizes. And, of course, it’s a great honor. Though I’m no longer with Memorial, I still keep receiving congratulations from all over the world.

And people consider this as a common victory for civil society, not just in Russia, because it has some importance in Russia, but it’s extremely important now when there is a war between Russia and Ukraine. It is crucial to support organizations in all those countries, especially Ales, who is behind bars. In Russia, I’m sure it will also have some significant importance, because Memorial keeps facing huge difficulties in continuation of its work, although the legal entities have been shut down. So I’m hoping that Russian authorities will step back. But, unfortunately, as we know, it didn’t help, for example, Novaya GazetaThe Peace Prize was awarded to a previous editor-in-chief, so we don’t have a bright future.

AMY GOODMAN:Also, talk about Memorial, when it was allowed function, and what is needed now in Russia.

ANNA DOBROVOLSKAYA:We did many things when Memorial was functional. We had two main flows of work, so it could be called. We had a pillar that dealt with historical remembrance, Soviet history, the political repressions during Soviet times and memorialization. We also had this human rights arm, which I was the chair. We were responsible for documenting the war crimes committed in Chechnya. We documented human rights violations in all parts of the country. We provided legal assistance to victims of human rights violations all over the country and helped victims of political repression.

This is a good time to continue because modern Russia is where many violations are taking place. Actually, the current events are a continuation of the thought promoted by Memorial over a long period. If there are human rights violations within a country that are not addressed and people are held responsible, it will sooner or later cross the borders. And that’s what we see exactly now with Russia, Ukraine, before with Georgia and with some other countries, as well.

AMY GOODMAN:In March Democracy Now! spokeOleksandra Matviichuk, the head of Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine), which won the Nobel Peace Prize today. This is what she said back then.

OLEKSANDRA MATVIICHUK: When the war started, I asked myself, “Do I feel a fear?” And I was emotional, but I don’t have fear. I have two main emotions. Anger is the first emotion. I really anger, as the millions of Ukrainians, that Russia invades to our country, that Russia try to stop our democratic choice, that Russia try impose the logic of Soviet Union and push us away to the past, which we don’t want to return to. Love is the most powerful emotion. This is a love of my country. This is a love for our people. It’s love to our values. We will stand up for it.

AMY GOODMAN:This is Oleksandra Matviichuk, speaking in a video made by the Right Livelihood Foundation. She’s one of this year’s Right Livelihood laureates.

OLEKSANDRA MATVIICHUK:We are currently going through difficult times in Ukraine. We are fighting for our freedom in every sense: freedom to be an independent country; freedom for Ukrainians to speak and write their own languages and cultures; freedom for democracy. … We are documenting war crimes in this war with Russia in order to hold war criminals accountable, to provide justice for each victims of these crimes.

AMY GOODMAN: Ole von Uexküll is the executive director of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, which is based in Stockholm, Sweden. They produced that video, because the Center for — CCLThe Center for Civil Liberties, a human rights group in Ukraine, has not only won today’s Nobel Peace Prize, but they also won the Right Livelihood Awards. Can you talk about how significant the convergence of the Nobel Committee and Right Livelihood Awards is and who Oleksandra is? CCL, Memorial and the Belarusian group — the Belarusian human rights activist, in prison right now, what this means, Ole?

OLE VON UEXKÜLL:Amy, thank you. Thank you, Amy.

I am overjoyed. It was amazing to hear this morning. We followed the announcement from Oslo, and then, as we heard, a first Right Livelihood Award winner was announced as a Nobel Peace Laureate. And then, a second and third. I believe it is very significant that they are all awarded together. It’s a very, very good sign.

And it’s particularly significant that they received a peace award — they, as defenders of democracy and as defenders of the rule of law, received a peace award — because, as Anna already pointed out, democracy is really a precondition for peace. We see in their work how these people are helping to make post-Soviet societies peaceful. And, I mean, that’s something we’ve been hearing from Memorial and from Ales Bialiatski, who have been our laureates for a bit longer, for many years, that the crackdown they experience in their own countries also has to be read and understood as a preparation for war.

And I think it’s particularly fantastic — I mean, they both, Ales Bialiatski and Memorial, are from — have their roots in the democracy movement of the ’80s. Olexsandra Matviichuk is part of a younger generation. I think she’s 38 years now, started her activism already 15 years ago. She does a great job, and it shows that there is an alternative to brutal aggression. It’s international law and accountability.

AMY GOODMAN:Anna, can you talk about the significance and imprisonment of a Russian group? CCLThis award was jointly won by Ukraine. In the West, it’s always presented as Russia versus Ukraine, but your perspective as a human rights activist and lawyer?

ANNA DOBROVOLSKAYA: Yeah, that’s a very good question, actually. Many people are now worried about the words of the Nobel Peace Committee, which stated that they hoped for peaceful coexistence. And actually, a lot of — for many people of Ukraine, those words about peaceful coexistence were very, very controversial. And some people will also see that building these together, like bringing Ukraine, Belarus and Russia together, is some kind of attempt to stress how that these countries still have the common past, and maybe they still have common future, as that’s what Vladimir Putin and his government is hoping for. Here, I see a potential contradiction. I am aware that these decisions and others will not be perfect for everyone.

Some people in my team in Memorial, they said — I spoke to them this morning, and they said that “We think that we don’t deserve it, because we couldn’t stop the war. We couldn’t be receiving the Peace Prize in this horrible moment, because, yeah, the war is still going. We couldn’t stop the war in Chechnya. There was war in Georgia. There was a war in Syria and in many other places.” But again, the question is: Would it be different without us? We know full well that the world would be a much worse place without human right activists in Belarus, Ukraine, and, of course Russia.

And I’m definitely hoping that for Ales Bialiatski, my longtime, esteemed colleague, that this will help to put not just him but many other people, activists and journalists from Belarus out of the bars, because they keep receiving horrible sentences. Andrei Alexandrov (a prominent journalist) was sentenced yesterday to 14 years imprisonment. This is absolutely terrible. And I’m just hoping that the demonstration that there is a Peace Prize and that the international community is paying attention to the work of civil society in all the three countries will definitely change the fate not just of the laureates but of everyone.

AMY GOODMAN:I would like to visit Ales Bialiatski in Belarus, an activist from Belarus who has just won the Nobel Peace Prize. This video is a short one-minute clip that was produced by the Right Livelihood Foundation in 2020 to celebrate his win.

NARRATOR:Ales Bialiatski is a Belarusian human right activist who has led a nearly 30-year campaign for democracy, freedom and equality. In 1996, he founded the human rights center Viasna, which today is the country’s leading organization documenting human rights abuses and monitoring elections.

Belarus, under the authoritarian rule of President Alexander Lukashenko, is often referred to as “Europe’s last dictatorship.” Elections are rigged, opposition voices are silenced, and civil society is severely restricted.

Bialiatski was detained more than 25 times. He spent several years behind bars on trumped-up charges. Belarusian authorities tried unsuccessfully to prevent him from being released. Viasna’s members and other Viasna members have been frequently targeted by the government.

However, Bialiatski and Viasna’s persistent and long-standing efforts to empower the people of Belarus and ensure their democratic rights have rendered them an unstoppable force for freedom. Viasna was a leader in the advocacy for freedom of assembly, defending rights of protestors, as well as documenting human rights violations.

Bialiatski and Viasna continue to stand for the multitude of courageous people protesting Lukashenko’s dictatorial reign at high personal risk. Bialiatski, Viasna and their commitment to democracy have laid the foundations for a peaceful, democratic society in Belarus.

AMY GOODMAN: And let’s hear the imprisoned Belarusian human rights activist Ales Bialiatski in his own words. Today, it was announced that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He spoke in Stockholm, when he was awarded the 2020 Right Livelihood Award.

ALES BIALIATSKI: [translated] Dear friends, this year’s Right Livelihood Award to the human rights center Viasna and myself is a very important and exciting moment in our lives. The award, also known as the alternative Nobel Prize, is being presented to us at a time of peaceful revolution in Belarus. For six months now, the Belarusian society has been engaged in a breathtaking struggle — a fight for human rights, democracy and justice; a fight for the right to “be called people,” as the Belarusian writer Yanka Kupala has said; a fight against Europe’s last dictator and the regime he has built over 26 years.

AMY GOODMAN:Ales Bialiatski concluded his Right Livelihood Award acceptance speech in English. He congratulated his fellow award winners, Bryan Stevenson (the leading American human rights activist) and Nasrin SOTUDEH, an Iranian human rights lawyer, as well as the Right Livelihood Award recipient.

ALES BIALIATSKI:Nasrin is now in a horrible situation. It is hard to imagine what it must be like for her to be in prison. Sometimes I have nightmares that I am in prison again. My heart and my soul are with Nasrin right now. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN:In 2020, Nasrin Sotoudeh was in prison as an Iranian human rights lawyer. She is currently on medical leave from prison. Ole von Uexküll, I want to go back to you to talk about that moment. Bryan Stevenson was also awarded that year. He is calling for Ales’s freedom, for his release from prison, congratulated him winning the Nobel Peace Prize today. Because it was during the pandemic, he was unable to meet him in person. I believe Ales was the only one — right? — who came to Sweden for the awards.


AMY GOODMAN:You spent time with him.

OLE VON UEXKÜLL:It was amazing to hear him speak again. It was also very typical of him to always think about others first and consider the global and universal nature of the fight for democracy, and for human rights. He called the prospect of going to prison his darkest wish, as we have just heard. He was also arrested last summer along with other Viasna colleagues. He was just celebrating his 60th birthday in prison. We protested at the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Belarus, now that they have the Nobel Peace Prize, must immediately release Ales Bialiatski as well as all Viasna staff members and other pro democracy fighters currently in prison. And they also — and Russia has to understand that they have to end their legal prosecution of Memorial. And I believe that will be the result of this award.

AMY GOODMAN:This year, it was earlier. Democracy Now! spokeNatallia Sasunkevich. She works with the imprisoned Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski in their organization, which in English translates into “Spring.” She was speaking to us from Vilnius — this was in March — from Vilnius in Lithuania, talking about her country.

NATALLIA SATSUNKEVICH:Belarus is home to more than 1,000 political prisoners. They live in horrible conditions. It has a significant impact on their health. There has been at least one instance in which a political prisoner, or a prisoner, died in a Belarusian jail. I urge you to keep this topic in your mind, political prisoners in Belarus. To show solidarity, send postcards and letters of solidarity from all countries.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Anna Dobrovolskaya, again, you’re in Moscow, executive director of what was the Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow. If you can talk about the role of Belarus right now in Russia’s war on Ukraine?

ANNA DOBROVOLSKAYA:It is difficult to describe what is happening, as we have the official position that Belarus has nothing do with the war. But, unofficially, it is clear that a lot troop, a lot weapons, and a lot, like, logistical flows go through Belarus. Recent reports have indicated that a missile was launched from Belarus to attack Ukrainian territory for the first time. Putin is very close to Lukashenko. He is perhaps the closest friend of all post-Soviet nations.

In terms of civil society, Belarus is a few steps ahead, ahead of Russia. And unfortunately, what is happening in Belarus — what was happening in Belarus before starts happening in Russia like maybe in couple of years. The situation with the civil society is terrible right now. Unfortunately, the international agenda portrays people from Belarus as well as Russians as those who support war. This is especially true for Belarus. It’s a country where almost no protest is possible and where people are being severely beaten up and detained even if they try to do something very, very innocent like, I don’t know, giving money to some opposition groups or something like that. Unfortunately, we see this as the future of Russia when we look at Belarus.

AMY GOODMAN: Today’s Nobel announcement comes on Vladimir Putin’s 70th birthday and also on the 16th anniversary of the assassination of a fierce journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, critic of Putin, a critic of Russia’s war in Chechnya, crusading human rights and anti-corruption reporter. Anna, what do we know about her sudden death?

ANNA DOBROVOLSKAYA: I’m not sure about the recent developments, but I think that it was not properly investigated at this moment, as it happened with the death of all other journalists and human rights activists in Russia. There are likely to be some people who were imprisoned because they were, like, the ones who actually committed the murder. There was no proper investigation into her death or Natalya Estemirova’s death. She was a human rights activist from Chechnya, and my colleague from Memorial. So, unfortunately, all these crimes are not being — yeah, they’re not being taken care of by the government. Previously, we had the possibility of going to European court if stuff like this happened, but right now it’s not the option again for the Russian human rights defenders.

Her death was tragic. It was the first, followed by many more. She is still very much remembered to this day. She has books. People bring flowers to the Moscow home of her. Everyone understands that her death, her murder, and her assassination was like the point where there was no turning back, when it was already obvious that Russia was heading in a strange direction.

AMY GOODMAN:Anna, how do this war end?

ANNA DOBROVOLSKAYA: Oh my god. I would really, really hope — well, it’s really difficult, because a lot of people are hoping that Ukraine will win. I’m hoping that there could be some possible settlement. I definitely think that Russia will pay a lot of money to everything that happened in Ukraine, and that I’m really hoping that there will be some international treaty now against the war criminals, against military criminals, and people who were accountable will be held accountable for the deaths. That’s my hope. Is there any chance of peace negotiations? That’s just very, very hard to predict. Many people believe that no peace is possible and that no peace agreement can be reached. This is understandable. I’m just hoping that nobody will die, but, unfortunately, the conflict is still going on.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Ole von Uexküll, you know, the Right Livelihood Awards are often referred to as the “alternative Nobel Prize.” Now the alternative has merged with the actual Nobel Prize. What could this mean for human rights activists in Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and other countries?

OLE VON UEXKÜLL:Amy, thank you. Yeah, we’ve been presenting the Right Livelihood Awards since 1980, and there has been an understanding of the importance of civil society activism from the very beginning. And with the Nobel Prizes, sometimes they honor that, but then also they honor people like Abiy of Ethiopia or Barack Obama, with — where there seems to be a totally different kind of understanding of how change should come about in the world. We strongly believe that people who organize to fight for important causes, such as democracy, peace, and human rights, have power. This actually has a significant effect.

And in this regard, I would say that the three Right Livelihood — now Right Livelihood-Nobel laureates, who won the Nobel Peace Prize today, that’s an incredible message of hope. It’s really a symbol of the weakness of Vladimir Putin and the old-style military aggression, with all its dangers to world peace, right? I’m not doubting that. It also shows the immense power and effectiveness of the civilized way of handling conflict in international situations, to build societies that are peaceful, which is, as you know, through rule of law and mechanisms of democracy. It’s incredible that the CCL, the Center for Civil Liberties — Oleksandra Matviichuk, we heard — they have collected more than 20,000 pieces of evidence for war crimes. I am confident that there will be accountability. Putin will lose, and not only through traditional military means. But, he will also be defeated by accountability, rule-of-law, and democracy. This, to me, is the message that Nobel picked up this year. It’s a message of hope that is very in line with our thinking over the past four decades. And yeah, it’s very significant.

AMY GOODMAN:You are a predictor of who will win Nobel Peace Prize. Could you please talk about who won this award? You just announced the Right Livelihood Award Foundation’s winners.

OLE VON UEXKÜLL: Right. We also gave an award to Somalia this year, to Ilwad Elman and Fartuun Adan, a mother and daughter who’ve built the Elman Peace Center, which does local peace work with communities, for instance, disarmament of former combatants, working a lot with child soldiers, working against gender-based violence. And for us, it was also very important and a really good message to have this conflict in Somalia, which, unfortunately, for too many around the world, is perceived as more of a forgotten conflict, you know, to have that honored in the same year with Ukraine, which, very rightly so, gets a lot of attention right now — because there are so many parallels in how you work for peace.

And then, we always have four laureates, so our award also goes to Cecosesola, which is a cooperative — a network of cooperatives in Venezuela that are providing more than 100,000 families for their needs, much more successfully so than the failing economic system, and really shows the power of solidarity economics in times of crisis.

We presented an award to the Africa Institute for Energy Governance from Uganda for their work for decentralized, localized energy and their important voice against the East Africa Cru Oil Pipeline. This also reflects the inclusion of local voices into international campaigns.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, we have been tracking the rise of neofascism in Europe, whether we’re talking about Meloni in Italy, the Brothers of Italy party, to be the new, well, most far-right prime minister since Mussolini, is very proud to embrace Mussolini; Poland’s ruling party; and, of course, what’s happening in Sweden with the Sweden Democrats — might surprise people to hear who the Swedish Democrats are. This is Ole’s concern as you speak to me from Stockholm.

OLE VON UEXKÜLL: Oh, it’s a huge concern. It is horrible. The Sweden Democrats are a party that has its roots in fascism. The Liberal Party, as well as the conservatives, voted to join the Sweden Democrats in tactical gain to help them win the next prime minstership. And when traditional established parties do something like that, we’ve seen so many times in history, then, obviously, they normalize this kind of hateful discourse, which borders to fascism. People then vote for the original in the end. The conservatives lost, but they are likely to form the next government with their new ally, Sweden Democrats.

And that’s just — it’s a terrible blow to Sweden. It’s not a coincidence that an organization like ours was founded in this country, but it was founded in this country because also of our history, long-standing history here, supporting democracy and rule of law and human rights around the world. Now, Sweden won’t be able do that in a credible manner. And people don’t seem to realize that that’s going to weaken Sweden a lot. Like what I just said, you know, the power of the universal values of democracy and rule of law, yes, they are under attack, but I think they will prevail, and it’s very sad to see Sweden starting to turn away from this camp.

AMY GOODMAN: Ole von Uexküll, we thank you so much for being with us, executive director of the Stockholm-based Right Livelihood Award Foundation. All three Nobel Peace Prize recipients have received the Right Livelihood Awards. Anna Dobrovolskaya (executive director of the now closed Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow) is also a special thanks. The Norwegian Nobel Committee just honored Memorial. She spoke from Moscow.

Coming up, the president, Biden — President Biden pardons thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession. We’ll speak to the Drug Policy Alliance. Stay with us.