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Human Rights

Statement by the President of the European Parliament concerning the winners of the 2009 Sakharov Prize

Strasbourg -
22/10/2009
President Jerzy Buzek
President Jerzy Buzek

First of all, I have an important announcement about the 2009 Sakharov Prize. At its meeting this morning Parliament's Conference of Presidents awarded the 2009 Sakharov Prize to Oleg Orlov, Sergei Kovalev and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who work for the organisation Memorial, and to all human rights defenders in Russia, as represented by that organisation. It is our firm belief that the award of this year's prize to Memorial will help to ease the climate of fear, insecurity and violence which is being used as a weapon of oppression against human rights defenders in the Russian Federation.

Our intention, in awarding them the prize, was to reinforce our message that activists in civil society organisations throughout the world must be free to exercise their most basic rights, such as freedom of opinion and freedom of expression, including freedom of written expression. We must all be free to express our thoughts, because this is vital to the process of seeking the truth.

I should like to share with you my immense satisfaction at being able to announce the award of this prize not only as President of the European Parliament, but also as a person shaped by his experiences in the Solidarnośc movement. In those days we faced serious problems very similar to those now confronting our friends and partners in the Russian Federation. I am delighted to be able to say that, ultimately, truth and freedom always triumph, as was the case in many countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The fact that Russians seeking the truth are not able to pursue that aim freely is a serious problem for the whole of Europe and a personal tragedy for the individuals concerned. The award of this prize must serve as an expression of the unstinting support which we, as Members of the European Parliament, are lending to their efforts.

(Applause)

I should also like to add a few general remarks. Since 1988, in other words for more than 20 years, the European Parliament has awarded, in memory of Andrei Sakharov, an annual prize for freedom of thought honouring persons or organisations who devote their lives to defending human rights and fundamental values.

Today, we are also honouring all the exceptional individuals who, through their efforts and commitment to the cause they have chosen, combat the scourges of oppression, persecution and exile. They are often ordinary people who display exceptional courage and devotion. They often put many things, including their own lives, at risk. We have awarded this prize to writers, to journalists, to politicians, to professors, to lawyers, to organisations fighting for the freedom to work and even to an association of women protesting against the 'disappearance' of their children. Freedom of thought is a universal value.

I should like to take this opportunity to add that the two nominees not awarded this year's Sakharov Prize showed themselves to be worthy of our full support and that we should also single them out as persons whose fate has touched our hearts. The fact that we have discussed their nominations, that they were with us in spirit during so many conversations, bears eloquent witness to our immense admiration for what they have achieved. Accordingly, not only the winners of the prize, but also all those persons who were nominated, deserve our fullest respect and our fullest admiration.

(Applause)

The Sakharov Prize award ceremony will be held on Wednesday, 16 December 2009 in Strasbourg.