The Sakharov Prize Network was born out of the Sakharov Prize the European Parliament awards for outstanding work in favour of human rights.
At the 20th anniversary of the Sakharov Prize in 2008, the Sakharov Prize Network (SPN) was launched by President Pöttering to promote and support its Laureates and enhance contact among Laureates, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), and civil society. It aims to focus attention on human rights violations in Laureates' countries and intensify international pressure on oppressors. The SPN is co-chaired by the President of the European Parliament and the most recent Laureate(s). The SPN is assisted by the Human Rights Actions Unit (HRAC), within the Directorate for Democracy Support.
The SPN is developing closer and more permanent contacts with the Laureates, despite the challenges posed by their geographical diversity and differing circumstances, which can impede or prevent contact and their ability to participate in events.
The SPN aims at providing Laureates with an official channel to communicate with the Parliament, providing an "early warning system" for developments in their respective countries. This allows them to inform the Parliament and if necessary trigger a response to domestic human rights violations.
The platform provided by Network conferences may also serve to promote the Laureates as focal points of human rights promotion for their compatriots and domestic human rights advocates.
The SPN also aspires to develop and maintain closer ties between MEPs and Laureates, especially as the latter may provide invaluable information on in-country developments to MEPs, particularly in meetings with Laureates when EP delegations or individual MEPs visit these countries, and the former may support the latter in their causes.
The SPN held on 23 November 2011 in Brussels a High Level Event and Human Rights Conference on the role of new technologies in human rights defence and promotion as well as on the role of women in democratic transition, presided by President Jerzy Buzek and welcoming 13 Laureates and other human rights activists.
On 10 October, 2012, the SPN and President Martin Schulz hosted "Voices for Democracy: Citizenship in the Making", a panel debate ranging from East Germany to the Arab Spring, including 2011 Laureates and German writer Maxim Leo.
On the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Sakharov Prize a special SPN conference took place in November 2013 around the topic of freedom of thought. A study on the impact of the Sakharov Prize was commissioned for this landmark event.
For the conference, a Sakharov Prize Network website was launched, providing up to date news on SPN activity, Network news and EP action on human rights. The website supplements the monthly Network newsletter provided by the Human Rights Actions Unit in its role as Network Secretariat.
Additionally, bi-annual human rights conferences in EU member states with Laureates, local MEPs and MPs and civil society are being organised in cooperation with EP Information Offices, beginning with Ireland and Lithuania in 2013.
Laureates may also participate in the annual EU-NGO Forum in Brussels and in the Council of Europe World Democracy Forum in Strasbourg.
The former Laureates from Cuba, the Ladies in White (2005) and Guillermo Fariñas (2010) were finally able to come to their award ceremonies at the EP this year, following the lifting of travel restrictions by Cuban authorities.
Aung Sang Suu Kyi (Burma/Myanmar, Laureate of 1990), another Laureate formerly impeded from travelling to the European Parliament due to the house arrest imposed on her for nearly two decades, was able to visit the EP this year and deliver her message in a plenary award ceremony.
Whereas prior to 2012 Laureates could only reach out to the Parliament in an ad hoc fashion, now they will benefit from a specific and active channel of communication. The SPN is broadly connecting MEPs, Laureates, and civil society in a way that increases knowledge-sharing, cooperation, and hopefully more rapid and effective action in Brussels and internationally to address dangerous and delicate human rights situations. The Parliament is determined to continue supporting Laureates beyond the award of the Prize.