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Nobel Peace Prize: Human rights activists in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus are honored


This year's Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to two human rights organizations - one from Ukraine, the other from Russia - and one human rights campaigner from Belarus.


BERIT REISS-ANDERSEN: This year's peace prize is awarded to human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, the Russian human rights organization Memorial and the Ukrainian human rights organization Center for Civil Liberties.

FADEL: Joining us now with more on today's announcement is NPR's Rob Schmitz in Berlin. Hi, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So tell us more about these three recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. Who are they?

SCHMITZ: So I'll start with Ales Bialiatski. He was one of the founders of the democracy movement in 1980s Belarus and is one of the country's most well-known human rights activists. He's led a 30-year campaign for democracy and freedom in the former Soviet republic. And in 1996, he founded a group that helped political prisoners in the country's capital of Minsk. Since then, it's become the country's leading civil society organization. It continues to document human rights abuses and monitor elections. Bialiatski has been persecuted by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko for years and has been in and out of prison. He's currently back in prison on what many believe are trumped-up charges on tax evasion, but he never went to trial on these charges.

FADEL: And what about the two other recipients of this award?

SCHMITZ: So the Russian human rights group Memorial has worked to preserve the stories of those who suffered during the Soviet Union's darkest days. And the organization emerged from the brief window of freedom that began during the collapse of the Soviet Union. The group was founded by human rights campaigner and Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov, and it sought to document Stalinist-era repressions and preserve the memory of the millions of people who vanished in the network of labor camps called the Gulag. Last year, the government of Vladimir Putin ordered Memorial to shut down for allegedly violating a foreign agents law. Now, the third recipient of today's award is Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties. Now, this is a Kyiv-based human rights group that is hard at work collecting evidence of Russian war crimes inside of Ukraine, a crucial job that will become more important as this war rages on.

FADEL: Now, this news comes in the middle of Russia's continued war on Ukraine.


FADEL: And this year's Peace Prize recipients are in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus. What message was the Nobel Committee trying to send with this, do you think?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. After the award was announced, I spoke to Kadri Liik. She's the Russia and Eastern Europe expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations. And here's what she said.

KADRI LIIK: They have chosen Russia, Ukraine, Belarus. And Russia and Ukraine are at war, which Russia started. Belarus sides with Russia but somewhat reluctantly, while not being a democratic country, having suppressed democratic protests on its own soil. I think the message is clear. We are not pro or anti-countries. We are pro-democracy and human rights.

SCHMITZ: And Liik added that she believes this award will not go unnoticed inside of Russia. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev won it, and last year the editor of Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, won the award. So you've got three recipients winning another Nobel Peace Prize for their fight against human rights violations. And she told me that Russian state news will likely ignore the announcement but that the people of Russia will absorb it, and it would have an impact in its own way.

FADEL: NPR's Rob Schmitz, thank you.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.