The Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament and human rights worldwide

Sakharov Prize laureates

Since its creation over thirty years ago, the Sakharov Prize has recognised a wide array of individuals and groups of human rights activists worldwide who are working tirelessly for justice and equality in their societies. Long deprived of real power in the field of foreign policy, the European Parliament immediately realised the potential of the prize in establishing its commitment to fundamental rights on the world stage and have taken this opportunity wherever possible. Laureates have come from a diverse range of cultures and regions and have included as many forms of activist as one can think of. Spokespeople for minorities, an anti-terrorist group, an activist for a ban on torture, a cartoonist, long-detained prisoners of conscience, a film director, the collective body of the United Nations and even a child defending the right to education - all have been recognised by the European Parliament for their outstanding work.

In honouring such people and organisations, the prize actively promotes values upheld by the Parliament such as freedom of expression, minority rights, respect for international law, the establishment of democracy and the rule of law. Many of the laureates already had and would still spend years in prison. Some even sacrificed their lives to protect these values. Significantly, some Sakharov Prize laureates later went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. What all Sakharov Prize laureates have in common is a clear understanding of how necessary it is to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and a willingness to dedicate their lives to this difficult struggle.

In December 2019, the ‘Sakharov Walk of Freedom’ was inaugurated on the Esplanade Solidarność 1980, right in front of the European Parliament in Brussels. The Walk consists of 43 ceramic tiles carrying short texts on all Sakharov Prize laureates, arranged chronologically from 1988 to the present day. They are there to remind those in the Parliament on a daily basis the importance of our rights as individuals, and the necessity to fight for them.

The Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament and human rights worldwide (audio file)

As well as awarding the Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament continues to uphold and act on its values through many other channels. Its Members regularly speak out about human rights issues in non-EU countries in human rights resolutions at plenary sessions. As these rights are considered universal the response is the same whether the violation takes place in Myanmar/Burma, some 8,000 kilometres away, or in Belarus, which borders on the Union. Important resolutions have regularly been adopted by the European Parliament highlighting important humanitarian issues and Members work to defend democratic systems around the globe, even travelling to observe elections, mediate in conflicts and support fledgling parliaments. As just one example, the European Parliament recently observed the early legislative elections in Peru in January 2020. The European Parliament understands that human rights don’t just end at the EU’s borders, and acts on this reality wherever it can.