The San Juan Daily Star
Ukraine’s Nobel Peace Prize winners urge solidarity among rights defenders
By Oleksandra Mykolyshyn and Megan Specia
The leaders of the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties, which won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, rejected criticism of the committee’s decision to award it the prize alongside human rights defenders from Russia and Belarus, saying that the prize recognized the universal struggle against oppression.
Oleksandra Matviychuk, chair of the center, stressed during a news conference Saturday that the Nobel Peace Prize belongs to every Ukrainian fighting for freedom and democracy, addressing a backlash from some Ukrainians over the sharing of the prize.
But Matviychuk also urged solidarity with those groups who have been fearlessly documenting human rights abuses in Belarus and Russia.
She said people who had criticized the lumping of the three organizations together should see that they all are working to fight as one for universal freedoms.
“It is a story about resistance to common evil and that human rights defenders in different countries are building links to solve problems that do not have state borders,” Matviychuk said, mentioning the slogan “for our freedom and yours” that many post-Soviet nations had used during their struggles for independence.
The phrase, she said, “once again has become relevant and will lead to the destruction of the renewed Russian empire.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, she added, is not afraid of NATO — he is “afraid of ideas of liberty.”
Her organization received the peace prize alongside Memorial, a Russian human rights group, and Ales Bialiatski, an imprisoned human rights defender in Belarus.
Memorial was outlawed by the Kremlin last year. And Bialiatski, the Belarusian activist, was arrested last year as part of a sweeping and brutal crackdown on dissent in Belarus after protests against President Alexander Lukashenko.
When human rights are threatened anywhere, they are threatened everywhere, Oleksandra Romantsova, executive director of the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties, said during Saturday’s news conference.
“The lack of respect for human rights leads to war sooner or later,” she said. “Lukashenko and Putin, and all those who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity, must be punished.”
The White House congratulated all of the winners of the prize in a statement Friday, saying, “the brave souls who do this work have pursued the truth and documented for the world the political repression of their fellow citizens — speaking out, standing up and staying the course while being threatened by those who seek their silence.”