The third Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, which honours outstanding civil society action in defence of human rights, has been awarded to veteran Russian human rights defender Lyudmila Alexeyeva. The €60,000 prize was presented to her in person at a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
The frail 88-year-old Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva got a standing ovation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as she stood to accept the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize for her lifelong commitment to human rights, justice and the rule of law. PACE President Anne Brasseur, who chaired the selection panel, said Lyudmila Alexeyeva had inspired many generations of activists not only in Russia but also abroad to commit themselves to the struggle for justice.
The Russian human rights defender, who was a leading personality in the Soviet dissident movement and who now chairs the Moscow Helsinki Group in an often hostile environment expressed her thanks in English.
“With all my heart I am grateful to the Parliament for their choice, because I understand it not as a recognition of my personal (merit) but a recognition of all human rights defenders who work in very hard circumstances. I thank you again with all my heart.
In her youth Lyudmila Alexeyeva gave up a promising academic career to join the Soviet dissent. She was persecuted and threatened, lost her job and was forced to leave her country in 1977, emigrating to the US where she continued to speak out about human rights violations in the Soviet Union. In 1989 she returned to Russia to continue her work, becoming President of the International Helsinki Foundation and later joining the Russian President’s Commission on Human Rights. Today she continues to denounce human rights violations and offers help to victims of persecution. Addressing the plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Ms Alexeyeva said “the history of the human rights movement in Russia is the story of my life”.
The Václav Havel Human Rights Prize is awarded each year by the Parliamentary Assembly, in partnership with the Václav Havel Library and the Charta 77 Foundation, to reward outstanding civil society action in defense of human rights in Europe and beyond. As she handed over the trophy and diploma to this year’s laureate the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe president recalled the legacy of Czech dissident and ex-president Václav Havel and the need to be guided by it in the present day.
“Solidarity is a safeguard against dictatorship, protection from violence and an antidote to hatred and intolerance. Solidarity is the essence of the human rights commitment. Solidarity makes democratic societies work. I think we should remember this in the present context when there is an important risk for many countries to fall back into populism and hatred. Especially today let us remember the words of Vaclav Havel, pronounced 18 years ago in this very building - ”We must not pass on to the future generations an egoistic Europe, deaf and blind to the needs of others –a Europe entrenched in a fortress mentality”.
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