The Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament and human rights worldwide

The creation of the Sakharov Prize

The idea of creating an annual European Parliament prize emerged during a plenary debate in July 1984 discussing Andrei Sakharov’s situation. Its original purpose was to reward work on the development of East-West relations, the freedom of debate and inquiry and the defence of human rights or the rule of law. As French Member and rapporteur Jean-François Deniau put it, the freely elected European Parliament had a duty and responsibility to defend fundamental freedoms. Andrei Sakharov, Mr. Deniau argued, was the perfect embodiment of the award.

Sakharov was a European citizen who was the personification of freedom of thought and expression and who had decided, because of his convictions and his conscience, to renounce all the material advantages and all the honours which were open to him.

Jean-François Deniau

This powerful challenge was answered by the Parliament’s Members: on 13 December 1985, the motion for a resolution creating the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was adopted by a large majority.

In response to a personal request from the President of the European Parliament, Lord Plumb, in the spring of 1987 Andrei Sakharov gave his support to the project and agreed to the creation of a prize bearing his name. It was ultimately decided that the Sakharov Prize would be awarded to individuals or organisations for outstanding activities or achievements in the field of human rights in Europe and around the world. It was agreed with Parliament’s Political Affairs Committee that the first Sakharov Prize should be awarded before the end of 1988, and was won by Nelson Mandela and Anatoli Marchenko - the latter laureate proposed by Sakharov himself.