Rights defenders honored at Nobel Peace Prize ceremony

Kyiv, Ukraine — In a passionate speech While receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on Saturday, the Ukrainian laureate seized the opportunity to make an incongruous but powerful point: At this moment in history, she said, the only way to ensure democracy, human rights and lasting peace in Ukraine is to struggle.

“The people of Ukraine want peace more than anyone else in the world,” said Oleksandra Matviychuk, who accepted the award on behalf of the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine, which she heads. “But peace cannot be achieved by an attacked country laying down its arms. It would not be peace, but occupation.

The other two winners – Memorial, a Russian human rights research and advocacy organization, and Ales Bialiatski, an imprisoned Belarusian activist – also became symbols of resistance and responsibility in Europe’s biggest ground war. since World War II, triggered by Russia’s invasion of Russia. Ukraine.

Memorial is known for its efforts to uncover Soviet-era crimes, but Jan Rachinsky, its chairman, who accepted the Memorial Prizesaid his organization does more than research and document the tragedies of the past, extending its efforts to “acute social conflicts of the present.”

“What we see as the root cause of these crimes is the sanctification of the Russian state as the supreme value,” he said in his speech. “This requires that the absolute priority of power be to serve the ‘interests of the state’, over the interests of individual human beings, and their freedom, dignity and rights.”

This “inverted value system”, he said, “prevailed in the Soviet Union for 70 years and, unfortunately, continues until today”.

“One of the obvious effects of the sanctification of the state has been the rise of imperial ambitions,” he said. It also allows “impunity, not only for those who make criminal political decisions, but also for those who commit crimes in carrying out those decisions”.

“We saw it during the hostilities in Chechnya, and we see it happening again today in the occupied territory of Ukraine,” he said. “Unfortunately, Russian society did not have the strength to break the tradition of state violence.”

In her acceptance speech, Ms Matviychuk of the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine said the international system designed after World War II had been seriously undermined and called on world leaders to “stop pretending that delayed military threats are ‘political compromises'”.

“The democratic world is used to making concessions to dictatorships,” she said. “And that’s why the will of the Ukrainian people to resist Russian imperialism is so important.”

A desire for peace does not mean peace at all costs, she said, and her country cannot “let people in the occupied territories be killed and tortured”.

“People’s lives cannot be a ‘political compromise’,” she said. “Fighting for peace does not mean yielding to the pressure of the aggressor, it means protecting people from his cruelty.”

Ahead of the ceremonies, which were held in Oslo, Russia launched more than a dozen Iranian-made attack drones in a pre-dawn assault on targets in southern Ukraine, knocking out power in the city of Odessa and the surrounding region.

In his evening speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the situation was “very difficult” in parts of the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, with the fighting around Bakhmut particularly heavy. He said overnight that Russian forces had “destroyed” Bakhmut, turning the town, once home to 70,000 people, into “burnt ruins”.

The decision of the Nobel Committee to unite a Ukrainian civil society organization with human rights defenders from Russia and Belarus provoked an initial reaction in Ukraine when the price was announced in October. Some saw it as an affront to those who have worked to protect Ukrainians since Russia invaded the country in February.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Mr Zelensky, issued a scathing critique of the Nobel committee, saying he had an “interesting understanding of the word ‘peace'”.

“No Russian or Belarusian organization was able to oppose this war,” he said in a statement.

Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel committee, said before the ceremony that the prizes had been awarded send a signal that the conflict in Ukraine must end.

“Sometimes an effort for peace falls to civil society and not to the ambitions of the state alone,” she said. “Peace is a wish and an achievement that comes with a value that all laureates work for: fighting atrocities, war crimes and the rule of law.”

She said disregard for those values ​​was at the heart of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“Precisely in these times it is a very important reminder,” she said.

Natalia Pinchuk, wife of Ales Bialiatski, received the award on behalf of her husband. He was detained in Belarus following protests in 2020 against the re-election of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and remains in jail without trial. He faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

Mr Lukashenko allowed his country to be used as a staging point for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Russian bombers continue to use Belarusian airspace to launch missile strikes across the country. ‘Ukraine. The gathering of Russian soldiers there recently has led to repeated speculation that Belarus may be preparing to intervene in the conflict on behalf of the Kremlin.

Ms Pinchuk said today’s political and military events “threaten Belarus to lose its statehood and independence”.

“Unfortunately, the authorities choose to engage with society using force – grenades, batons, stun guns, endless arrests and torture,” she said. “There is no effort or discussion on a compromise or a national dialogue.”

It is precisely this type of violent oppression that Ms Matviychuk said Ukraine was fighting to prevent, framing the war as part of a larger struggle between competing worldviews.

“It’s not a war between two states, it’s a war between two systems – authoritarianism and democracy,” she said. “We are fighting for the opportunity to build a state in which everyone’s rights are protected, the authorities are accountable, the courts are independent and the police do not defeat peaceful student demonstrations in the central square of the capital.”

Mrs. Matviychuk concluded her speech with a call for support and solidarity in this fight.

“You don’t have to be Ukrainian to support Ukraine,” she said. “You just have to be human.”

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