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What the Nobel Peace Prize-Winning Ukrainian Human Rights Group Wants From the West

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Published on Oct 8, 2022
What the Nobel Peace Prize-Winning Ukrainian Human Rights Group Wants From the West

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Oleksandra Matviichuk heads Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday along with Memorial, the largest human rights organization in Russia, and Ales Bialiatski, a democracy and human rights advocate in Belarus. Founded in 2007 to strengthen civil society and democracy in Ukraine, the Center for Civil Liberties has this year focused on investigating and documenting war crimes against the country’s civilian population by the Russian military following its invasion. The Nobel Committee, in handing its highest award to human rights activists in neighboring countries, cited “their consistent efforts in favour of humanist values, anti-militarism and principles of law.” I spoke with Matviichuk on Sept. 30 as she prepared to travel to New York for the Oslo Freedom Forum, which convened leading human rights activists from around the world five days before the Nobel was announced. Andelman: How has human rights changed since the first Oslo Freedom Forum more than a decade ago? Matviichuk; I can say that in parts of the region, of my region, we see how the negative trends of international law become more and more visible. And Ukraine is maybe the only state in our part of the world which in all these ten years has been trying to counteract this negative trend. What do I mean? Eight years ago, Ukrainians started a revolution of dignity. They struggled for their right of democratic choice—just for the chance to build a country where the rights of everybody are protected, the judiciary is independent, government is accountable, and police do not beat peaceful student demonstrations. And Ukrainians paid a high price for this revolution of dignity. You know that police broke up peaceful student demonstrations in the main square of our capital. And then when Ukraine received a chance to provide a real democratic transformation, after the collapse of the Soviet Union regime, in order to stop us Russia started the occupation of Crimea and underground work in the Donbass, which resulted in the occupation of parts of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions. This is the crucial point. Because in our region, Russia tried to dictate a trend of authoritarianism. And many people in the world think that this work by Russia started in February 2022 but the truth is this war started in February 2014. And the real reason is not that Putin is afraid of NATO–however he might try to describe his actions this year. The truth is that Putin is afraid of the idea of freedom. And all these past eight years, Ukrainians, have been trying to counteract this negative trend of authoritarianism in different countries, which we see in Russia, in Belarus in Kazakhstan, in Tajikistan, in Poland, in Hungary. In parallel with defending our country and our people, in this war with Russia we try to provide democratic reforms. And I would point to the Chatham House report which said that in the four or five first years after the collapse of its authoritarian regime, Ukraine made much better, more positive impact developing democratic reform in the country then in the previous 20 years before. What kind of organization should we have in place, that can react more effectively than the UN to solve problems of the sort being unleashed by Russia? We are in the forefront of the battle between autocracy and democracy in this world. We are fighting for our right to have a democratic choice. And Putin? This work has not only a military but a value dimension. That’s why it’s not only the war between two states. It’s a war between two systems—authoritarianism and democracy. And Putin in his work is trying to convince Ukrainians and the whole world that our values–like democracy, rule of law, freedom of human rights–are artificial, are fake values. Because he tried to convince people, if they are real why couldn’t they protect you during this war? He’s tried to show that the whole UN system is unable to release even one single person from capt...


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