25 years of Sakharov Prize: "Silence and looking away only helps the perpetrators" 


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Barbara Lochbihler 

Human rights have always been a priority for the European Parliament, which is why every year MEPs award the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to honour those who fight for human dignity. On 20 November the 25th anniversary of the prize was marked with a ceremony in Strasbourg, attended by more than 20 laureates. We spoke to human rights subcommittee chair Barbara Lochbihler, a German member of the Green group, about how the prize has helped to promote human rights around the world.

How have 25 years of the Sakharov Prize helped to promote human rights? How has it helped the laureates themselves?

The Sakharov Prize aims to raise public awareness about human rights defenders and the violations they are fighting against. You need public attention because silence and looking away only helps the perpetrators.

Each of the prize winners worked on a specific human rights violation. Some of them have been imprisoned, others were opposition leaders. By awarding the prize, we enable them to continue and sometimes we could protect them. The prize also helped Parliament to enrich its human rights work. So it's a real exchange.

How do you see the future? What else can the European Parliament do to campaign for human rights?

I think our challenge is to have a strong human rights focus in other committees, for example in the international trade committee. In the next legislature we must try very actively to mainstream human rights issues in the work of all the Parliament's committees.

Economic and geostrategic interests are always taken into account by foreign policy-makers, but Europe is known for its values-driven policy. It's good to have the Sakharov Prize strengthen this approach.