For many years the European Parliament has championed human rights and democracy, with Members of the European Parliament expressing their concerns on human rights abuses in the world regardless of borders or regime. And it isn’t just sentiment: inspired by Andrei Sakharov’s constant campaigning for freedom of thought the European Parliament put this commitment into practice, founding the annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1988. Presented to the Sakharov Prize laureate if possible by the President of the European Parliament at a plenary session in Strasbourg, the Prize endeavours to embody Sakharov’s extraordinary work and carry his message forward to future generations.
As the highest honour bestowed by the EU for actions promoting human rights, the prize is not just a symbolic gesture. As well as the 50,000 euro endowment, the media coverage surrounding the event is a chance to name and shame countries violating human rights and democratic principles. In many cases, the awarding of the prize is also a way to protect laureates against possible reprisals by their own countries. Both the prize and its community allow the European Parliament to assist the laureates, supporting and empowering them in their work. As an instrument of parliamentary diplomacy, the Sakharov Prize has established itself over time as a powerful testament to Parliament’s commitment to standing up to dictatorships and to safeguarding human rights around the world.