The European Parliament supports human rights

The respect for human rights is one of the European Union's fundamental values. Any violation of these rights affects the democratic principles upon which our society is founded, whether they take place within or outside the EU.  The European Parliament fights such violations through legislative action, including election observation, monthly human rights debates in Strasbourg and by enshrining human rights in its external trade agreements.

The European Parliament also supports human rights through the annual Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, established in 1988.  The prize is awarded to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the fight for human rights across the globe, drawing attention to human rights violations as well as supporting the laureates and their cause.

Reporters Without Borders - The new era of propaganda

By Christophe Deloire, the Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders - which was awarded the 2005 Sakharov Prize

We are entering a new era - one in which we will need courage. Defenders of liberty and proper journalists will be able to continue their struggle, but if they fight on alone they will be defeated hands down. They need the wholehearted support of the people, because otherwise the forces of manipulation, obscurantism and submission will prevail. Lethal ideologies, propaganda apparatuses and spin doctors are striving to debase public debate as we have known it since the Enlightenment. Will we let them?

How can 'proper' journalism, in its pursuit of what is real in all its diversity, survive in a world saturated with information which is doctored, manipulated and deliberately slanted by the forces of authority, money and intolerance? Humanity and societies need 'trusted third parties' to help them make collective and individual choices based on 'the unrestricted pursuit of objective truth', as the UNESCO Constitution puts it.

How do we defend the pluralism of reporting and investigative journalism when the credibility of journalists has, rightly or wrongly, been called into question? By fervently defending journalists' freedom and independence, because these two things are fundamental to the role we expect journalists to perform, namely that of reporting their findings in a free and independent manner. Sadly, we have entered a new era in which the powers-that-be have developed new ways of controlling information and, more generally, the way people think.

Thanks to technology, state, political, economic and religious authorities can put their message across directly anywhere in the world, with no filter, no differentiation. Anything goes: a barbaric propaganda film disguised as a documentary; edited reality dressed up as a decryption of the real truth; the creation or manipulation of desire posing as journalistic investigation. Technology creates areas of freedom, but not everyone can be trusted to use that freedom scrupulously.

It is increasingly difficult for the citizens of any country to distinguish between communication sponsored or dictated by interest groups and information obtained independently and honestly, using methods as close as possible to the journalistic ideal. Pluralism cannot be reduced to a choice between two propagandas, two communications strategies, two 'public relations' machines. We can all see that independent newsgathering everywhere is struggling to develop or even survive. Hence the urgent need for action.

We have entered an era of information wars. Totalitarian regimes used to put their peoples in a glass prison, but at least they had no hold over the rest of the world. Nowadays, it is not only notorious dictatorships but managed democracies as well which are creating their own tame media in an effort to get their 'message' across throughout the world. In dictatorships and democracies alike, spin doctors - who are increasingly numerous and increasingly powerful - feed the media monsters.

In some places it is algorithms which are the new invisible prison bars, whilst in others dank cells and guards who beat up prisoners are still the order of the day. Violence against journalists is still an everyday occurrence. More than 150 reporters remain in prison, a number which doubles if we count bloggers as well. According to the records kept by Reporters Without Borders, 720 journalists have been killed worldwide in the last 10 years. They are seen as inconvenient witnesses to be disposed of, trouble makers who refuse to toe the party line.

Then there is ideology - a terrifying phenomenon inimical to freedom of conscience. When wielded with the aim of imposing a way of thinking on others, the concept of blasphemy or sacrilege poses a huge threat to freedom of speech and of information. Evidence for this is provided not only by the fanatics who, in the name of condemning blasphemy, showed up at the Charlie Hebdo editorial offices in Paris in January 2015; in many countries, cartoons and 'established truths' are being censored in the name of religion or 'traditional values'.

The importance of not offending believers is often cited as a pretext for political censorship, or for keeping silent about economic, social or cultural realities. Between 1999 and 2010, we countered the diplomatic offensive waged by religious regimes wishing to impose the idea of 'defamation of religions'. No fewer than 15 resolutions have been tabled in the UN in the name of 'religious sensibilities'. But if one religion were to demand that everyone honour its sacred tenets, there would be no reason not to demand the same for other schools of thought - political, philosophical, or economic, even. What price freedom of thought then?

Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) - Freedom as evergreen line of defence

By Michal Janczuk, Member of the Board of the 2004 Sakharov Prize laureate Belarusian Association of Journalists

When the USSR - "the empire of evil" as described by Ronald Reagan - fell in 1991, it was a time of real euphoria in the post-Soviet space. We were all young at heart and we were witnessing a historical change in the whole world. More than a dozen European nations rapidly escaped from Soviet ideological domination - and Moscow itself was one of the most progressive players in this process. It was unbelievable - especially seen from today's perspective - but it was true in those days.

But how have we managed to come to such a disaster for freedom in early 2015? Let's count our sins then - because it's high time to do so. The first and most important mistake was ignoring the fact that living in "modern times" or "XXI century" does not mean that we've learned the lessons of history or overcome the shadows of the past. And there's definitely nothing that can be taken for granted forever. We have to admit with all the bitterness of these words on our lips: freedoms not defended will inevitably fall. Our region is the best - or rather the worst - example of this.

Belarus especially was the most peculiar playground of historical irony. First we elected the most anti-democratic president in the most democratic way in 1994, then we decided that democracy will defend itself in the next presidential elections. But it didn't - and 20 years without real elections have passed under the rule of the same dictator-president in a European country.

Zhanna Litvina, Chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists is convinced that even harder times are ahead of us - because with every presidential campaign, the Belarusian journalists' society faces a new wave of repression. Alexander Lukashenko will try to get himself re-elected in November this year. Police searches and fining of independent journalists have already begun. "Belarus has turned into a country with a burned-out political alternative and almost unchangeable political authorities" - said Zhanna Litvina.

But at the same time a certain historical era has recently clearly come to an end. We are all now witnessing the collapse of the post-soviet system in Europe - but what is coming instead? Better times? Sometimes it seems to us that this change is even scarier. Desperate attempts to give new life to the Russian empire at any cost whilst violating all the rules of the civilised world and corrupting all the standards of our profession. Now we, as journalists, are on the new front"illegal production and dissemination of information". Yes, we really do have such an article (22.9) in the Belarusian Administrative Code, because freelance journalism is not allowed according to our national Media Law. You are either a legal journalist of state registered mass media or you are a disseminator of illegally produced information - this is the only alternative for Belarusian journalists today. In addition to this, 62 state organisations, ministries and agencies have the legal right to make any information about their activities confidential - including the Ministry of Culture and State television. And all this is happening in 21st century Europe.

We will not give up, because freedom is the ultimate sweetness of the world and the very essence of human nature. Once you've tasted this ambrosia there's no way back. At least we believe this to be the case and are ready to disseminate this "forbidden knowledge". We will do so whether the Administrative Code of the Belarusian authoritarian regime considers this legal or not quite.

Laura Rawas - ‘We deserve freedom as you do!’

Salima Ghezali - Freedom of expression on… Mars


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© Razan Zaitouneh

On 9th December 2013 the Syrian human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh was abducted from her office in Duma, near Damascus. A journalist and human rights lawyer, Razan is one of the most prominent civilian activists in the Syrian revolution. One year after her abduction she remains missing. The Sakharov Prize Network, together with the European Parliament and former Sakharov laureates, call for her release. #FreeRazan #Sakharov

2014 Laureate

© Courtesy of Stichting Vluchteling

Denis Mukwege is a Congolese doctor who is dedicating his life to rebuilding the bodies and lives of tens of thousands of Congolese women and girls who are victims of gang rape and brutal sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo's ongoing war. Mukwege is an internationally recognised expert in the repair of pathological and psycho-social damages caused by sexual violence.

How is the winner chosen?

In September each year MEPs can nominate candidates for the Sakharov Prize. Each nominee must have the support of at least 40 MEPs, and each individual Member may support only one nominee. Signed nominations accompanied by supporting evidence are then assessed in a joint meeting of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), the Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) and the Committee on Development (DEVE). A shortlist of three candidates is drawn up through a vote by AFET and DEVE committees,and then submitted to the Conference of Presidents for a final vote. The winner is usually announced in October, and the award ceremony takes place in November at plenary sitting in Strasbourg.


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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by the European Parliament as an institution.