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Nobel Peace Prize Winners Shine Spotlight On ‘The Power Of Civil Society To Promote Peace’

The human rights advocates from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus who have been awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, represent “the oxygen of democracy” said the UN chief on Friday, in a message of congratulations to the three winners.

The laureates are Ales Bialiatski, a jailed activist in Belarus, the civil society organisations Memorial, which was forced to close its doors by the Russian authorities last year, and the Ukraine-based Centre for Civil Liberties.

“As the Nobel Committee cited, this year’s recognition shines a spotlight on the power of civil society to advance peace”, said Secretary-General António Guterres.

'Catalysts for peace'

“Civil society groups are the oxygen of democracy, and catalysts for peace, social progress and economic growth. They help keep governments accountable and carry the voices of the vulnerable into the halls of power.

Mr. Bialatski was imprisoned in July 2021, as a result of the mass protest movement against the disputed re-election of Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko. Memorial is reportedly one of the oldest human rights organisations in Russia, led by previous peace prize laureate, Andrei Sakharov. It unearthed the full scale of suffering experienced in the notorious Stalinist-era prison camps, known as the Gulag.

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Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, Ukraine’s Centre for Civil Liberties has begun documenting human rights abuses committed by Russian forces and their allies, having previously worked on exposing rights abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea, according to news reports.

The chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andresen, said during the awards announcement that the three civil society winners “have for many years promoted the right to criticize power and protect the funadamental rights of citizens.”

Civic space shrinking

In his statement, Mr. Guterres noted that civic space was “narrowing across the world.” More and more, rights defenders, women’s rights advocates, environmental activists, journalists and others in the rights field, “face arbitrary arrest, harsh prison sentences, smear campaigns, crippling fines and violent attacks.”

“As we congratulate this year’s winners, let us pledge to defend the brave defenders of universal values of peace, hope and dignity for all”, the Secretary-General concluded.

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