The Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament and human rights worldwide

Laureates 1988 - 1999

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – 1988, South Africa

An icon in the fight against racism, Nelson Mandela led South Africa’s historic transition from apartheid to a racially inclusive democracy and promoted equal opportunities and peace for all.

We take this as a challenge that we should remain true to the vision we all share of a world free of war and free of poverty and suffering. We take it as a challenge above all to have the courage to fight for justice and peace.

Anatoli Marchenko (posthumously) – 1988, Russia

A former Soviet Union dissident who brought to light the horrific jail conditions of political prisoners, Anatoli Marchenko was nominated by Andrei Sakharov himself.

Alexander Dubček – 1989, Slovakia

A leading figure in the Prague Spring, Alexander Dubček strove to achieve democratic and economic reform. He continued to fight for freedom, sovereignty and social justice throughout his life.

Now, as I receive the Sakharov Prize, my thoughts are for those who have earned the right to the renewal and change currently taking place. Even during the most difficult moments of their history, the nations which make up my country have never ceased to feel that they are part of humanity’s great struggle for freedom.

Aung San Suu Kyi – 1990, Myanmar

Former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi spearheaded Myanmar’s pro-democratic struggle against the country’s military dictatorship. She was only able to receive the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in person on 22 October 2013, 23 years after it was awarded.

On 10 September 2020, the European Parliament's Conference of Presidents decided to suspend Ms Aung San Suu Kyi from the activities of the Sakharov Prize Community in response to her failure to defend and safeguard the rights of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, and to her condoning the related violations of human rights and of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Adem Demaçi – 1991, Kosovo

Taking a stand against the harsh repressions of the Serbian regime, the ‘Mandela of the Balkans’ devoted himself to the promotion of tolerance and ethnic reconciliation in Kosovo.

Without freedom of speech there is no dialogue, without dialogue truth cannot be found, and without truth progress is impossible.

Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo - 1992, Argentina

The ‘Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo’ led a peaceful resistance movement against the military dictatorship and repression in Argentina in response to the forced disappearance and torture of political opponents.

We should like to make a pact, a joint commitment to ensure that the defence of life has no frontiers, and that life is valued.

Hebe de Bonafini

Oslobođenje – 1993, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The journalists of Sarajevo’s Oslobođenje newspaper risked their lives fighting to maintain the unity and ethnic diversity of their country during the war in the former Yugoslavia.

... defending and preserving a Bosnia-Herzegovina that is multi-ethnic, multinational, cosmopolitan and tolerant.

Zlatko Dizdarević

Taslima Nasreen – 1994, Bangladesh

Exiled from Bangladesh and Bengal for her secular views, the writer Taslima Nasreen fights against the oppression of women and opposes all forms of religious extremism.

As a writer I cannot isolate myself from my country or from the world in which I live.

Leyla Zana – 1995, Turkey

The first Kurdish woman to be elected to the Turkish Parliament in 1991, Leyla Zana’s fight for democracy symbolises her people’s struggle for dignity and human rights.

They will be unable to stem the development and the internationalisation of our peaceful fight ... to live together on equal and brotherly terms ... within the framework of democracy and the mutual respect for rights and the separate identity of each people.

Wei Jingsheng – 1996, China

A leader of the opposition to the Chinese regime, Wei Jingsheng denounces human rights violations and fights for democracy. He remains unsilenced by prison and exile.

The Sakharov Prize is ‘an act of encouragement and support on the part of the European people ... for the entire human rights movement in China.

Salima Ghezali – 1997, Algeria

Editor-in-chief of the critical newspaper La Nation and President of the Association for the Emancipation of Women, Salima Ghezali advocates women’s rights, democracy and political dialogue in Algeria.

Fundamental democratic questions ... have no chance of escaping from the ghettos in which they have been contained in the style of Machiavelli, while the overwhelming majority of the population see them as the monopoly of a minority insensitive to their lot.

Ibrahim Rugova – 1998, Kosovo

Working tirelessly towards peaceful solutions and dialogue, the first President of Kosovo dedicated his life to the non-violent resistance of ethnic Albanians against Serbian oppression.

In the 10 years since its creation, the Sakharov Prize has, in effect, become the symbol of peace, freedom and humanity.

Xanana Gusmão – 1999, Thíomór Thoir

Once the leader of East Timor’s (Timor-Leste’s) struggle for freedom and self-determination, Xanana Gusmão became the nation’s first president and later served as its prime minister.

This prize shows the European Parliament’s recognition of my people’s courage in fighting for a free homeland where freedom of thought is guaranteed as a right that is inherent to the human condition.