MEPs award Ukraine’s ‘brave people’ and President Zelensky with top human rights prize

October 19, 2022
With the Sakharov Prize, MEPs paid tribute to Ukraine’s courageous resistance against Russia’s invasion. — courtesy Twitter
With the Sakharov Prize, MEPs paid tribute to Ukraine’s courageous resistance against Russia’s invasion. — courtesy Twitter

BRUSSELS — The “brave people” of Ukraine defending their country against Russia’s relentless invasion have been awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union’s highest tribute to human rights defenders.

The award is given every year by the European Parliament and comes with a €50,000 endowment.

MEPs paid tribute to Ukrainians’ daily fight to protect their country’s independence and uphold the values of freedom and democracy in the face of Russia’s “unprovoked war of aggression.”

“They are standing up for what they believe in. Fighting for our values. Risking their lives for us,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said on Wednesday afternoon, while unveiling the winner. “No one is more deserving.”

On behalf of the Ukrainian population, the prize will be handed to President Volodymyr Zelensky for “his bravery, endurance and devotion to his people,” as well to Ukraine’s civil society organizations.

Zelensky is unlikely to travel to Strasbourg on Dec. 14, the date of the official Sakharov ceremony. The president has not left the country since Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on Feb. 24.

The Sakharov Prize winner was selected by the parliament’s conference of presidents, which Metsola chairs, among a pool of three finalists, including WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Colombia’s Truth Commission.

Even before the official finalists were announced, Ukraine appeared to be the frontrunner.

Ukraine’s bid had been backed by the three main political groups, the European People’s Party (EPP), the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), and Renew Europe, giving it a clear edge over the other two candidates.

Since the start of the invasion, the hemicycle has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine, urging national governments to impose severe sanctions on the Kremlin and step up weapons deliveries.

In early March, mere days after Russian tanks crossed Ukraine’s borders, Zelensky delivered a rousing virtual speech before the European Parliament, and made the case for his war-torn country to join the bloc.

“Do prove that you are with us. Do prove that you will not let us go. Do prove that you are indeed Europeans. And then, life will win over death and light will win over darkness. Glory be to Ukraine,” Zelensky said.

The Ukrainian president was hailed as a hero and received a standing ovation from lawmakers. The parliament’s translator became emotional while interpreting Zelensky’s words.

Ukraine’s campaign paid off in late June when the country was granted EU candidate status.

Still, Zelensky keeps pleading with EU leaders to accelerate military support and micro-financial assistance, as Russian forces increase their attacks on civilian targets and key infrastructure.

Besides Ukraine, the finalists for this year’s Sakharov Prize included WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Colombia’s Truth Commission.

Assange, who was nominated by a group of 41 MEPs, is an Australian activist who faces spying charges in the United States over a large trove of classified documents that his organization leaked to the public more than a decade ago. The leaks exposed evidence of war crimes, human rights violations and torture.

From London’s Belmarsh prison, Assange is battling an extradition order from the UK to the US. His lawyers said he is “being prosecuted and punished for his political opinions” and could be sentenced to up to 175 years behind bars if convicted in America.

The Truth Commission in Colombia, nominated by the Left group, was set up in 2016 as part of the peace agreement that brought to an end the conflict between the country’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The commission was tasked with reconstructing the six decades of war, establishing the facts behind the human rights violations, and giving voice to the victims. The body’s final report revealed that an estimated 450,000 people were killed between 1985 and 2018.

The Sakharov Prize was set up in 1988 to honor individuals and organizations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The annual award is named in honor of Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, an advocate of civil liberties in the former Soviet Union.

The first recipients were Nelson Mandela and Anatoli Marchenko. Last year’s prize was awarded to imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. — Euronews

October 19, 2022
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