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In rebuke of Putin, rights defenders in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus awarded Nobel

A picture of one of the Nobel Peace Prize winners for 2022, jailed Belarus rights activist Ales Bialiatski, was placed next to previous years Nobel Peace Prize winners at the garden of the Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway, on Friday.Rodrigo Freitas/Associated Press

KYIV — The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday to a trio of human rights defenders in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, delivering another pointed international rebuke of Russian President Vladimir Putin for his war in Ukraine, and condemnation of widespread abuses and repression by the Kremlin chief and his ally, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

The prize committee named Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties, or CCL, which is working to document alleged war crimes by the Russian invaders; the Russian human rights group Memorial; and imprisoned Belarusian human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski as its annual Peace Prize winners, marking the second consecutive year Putin critics were among those designated for the award.

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“They have for many years promoted the right to criticize power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in announcing the winners.

Although the committee did not name Putin or Lukashenko in its announcement, it was another high-profile reproach of the oppressive means the prize winner’s governments have embraced to centralize power and silence opponents at home and abroad.

Lukashenko, who has brutally repressed critics in Belarus since claiming reelection in a 2020 vote that has widely been denounced as fraudulent, allowed his country to be a launching point for Putin’s failed attempt to seize Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. And Putin, while initiating a full-scale war against Ukraine, has cracked down harshly on critics of the war, political opponents, journalists, and other dissenters.

After the committee’s announcement, Oleksandra Matvichuk, the head of CCL’s board, called for the establishment of an international tribunal to try Putin, Lukashenko, and others for their alleged crimes, and she decried the failure of international organizations to prevent the war or protect victims of rights abuses.

“Russia should be excluded from the UN Security Council for systematic violations of the UN Charter,” Matvichuk wrote in a Facebook post. “If we do not want to live in a world where rules are determined by someone with more powerful military potential rather than the rule of law, things must change.”

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The Nobel decision was announced as a Ukrainian counteroffensive continues to liberate swaths of territory from months of Russian occupation and reveal further evidence of atrocities allegedly committed by Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

The Nobel committee’s selection of Memorial, a veteran organization that has exposed the crimes of the Soviet gulag and abuses by the Russian state since the fall of the Soviet Union, followed its awarding of the Peace Prize last year to the Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, the longtime editor in chief of Novaya Gazeta, which the committee cited as “the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a fundamentally critical attitude towards power.”

The Memorial group was disbanded this year as Putin cracked down on dissent after the start of the war, and Novaya Gazeta was forced to shut down its operations in Russia. Muratov later auctioned off the prize to benefit Ukrainian children.

The awarding of the peace prize to a Russian group and a Belarusian activist generated immediate criticism in Ukraine, where many politicians and activists view ordinary Russians as complicit in Putin’s war.

“Nobel Committee has an interesting understanding of word ‘peace’ if representatives of two countries that attacked a third one receive @NobelPrize together,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said on Twitter. “Neither Russian nor Belarusian organizations were able to organize resistance to the war. This year’s Nobel is ‘awesome.’”

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The Nobel committee, in announcing its decision, called on Belarus to free Bialiatski, who has spoken out against crackdowns by Lukashenko’s government for decades.

Norwegian Nobel Committee Chair Berit Reiss-Andersen said the prize was for people and entities and not directed against Putin, who turned 70 Friday, nor against anyone else.

“The attention that Mr. Putin has drawn on himself that is relevant in this context is the way civil society and human rights advocates are being suppressed,” Reiss-Andersen told reporters in Oslo.

Belarusian opposition figures hailed the award, calling for the release of political prisoners. Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya described it as “an important recognition for all Belarusians fighting for freedom and democracy.”

The prize, set up by the will of Swedish businessman and inventor Alfred Nobel in 1895, is a gold medal and an award of $1.14 million. Unlike the other prizes for physics, medicine, and other disciplines, which are selected and awarded in Sweden, Nobel chose a Norwegian committee, selected by that country’s parliament, to administer the peace prize.

The prize is a boon for Memorial, Russia’s oldest human rights organization, which has come under intense pressure from Putin’s government in recent years as part of a clampdown on civil activists and rights groups that accelerated last year ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Last year, Russian courts abolished both wings of Memorial after earlier declaring them as “foreign agents,” ordering the organization to disband in a move that shocked global human rights advocates and observers of Russia. The group publishes a list of political prisoners in Russia and maintains a large archive on human rights abuses by Russia’s security services going back to Soviet times.

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