Established in 1988 in honour of Russian nuclear scientist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is the highest tribute to human rights endeavours the European Union accords. The Prize is awarded annually to honour individuals or organisations for their efforts for human rights, fundamental freedoms. The EP awards the Sakharov Prize with its €50 000 endowment at a formal plenary sitting in Strasbourg. Political groups or at least 40 MEPs can nominate candidates, the Foreign Affairs and Development Committees vote on a short-list of three, and the Conference of Presidents chooses the laureate(s).
EU citizens, according to the latest opinion polls, believe that human rights are the value the European Parliament should defend as a matter of priority.
The Sakharov Prize rewards in particular freedom of expression; safeguarding the rights of minorities; respect for international law; development of democracy and implementation of the rule of law. The Prize has been awarded to individuals and to associations: dissidents, political leaders, journalists, lawyers, civil society activists, writers, mothers and wives, minority leaders, an anti-terrorist group, peace activists, an anti-torture activist, a cartoonist, a long-serving prisoner of conscience, a film maker and even the UN as a body.
Some Sakharov Laureates still face harsh political oppression and difficulties in their action: the Belarusian Association of Journalists (Belarus, 2004), Damas de Blanco and Guillermo Farinas (Cuba, 2005, 2010), Aliaksandr Milinkevich (Belarus, 2006), Hu Jia (2008), Memorial (Russia, 2009). Razan Zaitouneh, an Arab Spring Laureate (Syria, 2011) is still living in hiding in wartorn Syria. Nasrin Soutoudeh, one of the 2012 Laureates from Iran, was released from prison, to which she was condemned for 6 years for her defence of political dissenters, only in September 2013. Ms Sotoudeh and fellow Laureate Jafar Panahi are still banned from leaving Iran.
The European Parliament pays particular attention to these human rights defenders through personal contact, monitoring their political situation and committed involvement in action supporting their causes.
Statute of The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought adopted by the Conference of presidents on 15 May 2003
1. The European Parliament will annually award the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought.
2. The prize is awarded for a particular achievement in one of the following fields: - defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly the right to free expression, - safeguarding the rights of minorities, - respect for international law, - development of democracy and implementation of the rule of law. 'Achievement' means any intellectual or artistic composition or active work in the above fields.
3. The prize is EUR 50 000 €. The European Parliament has the right to publish any work for which the prize is awarded.
4. The prize may be awarded to natural persons or to associations or organisations, irrespective of whether or not they have legal personality. The nationality, place of residence or seat of the candidates shall be immaterial.
5. If a written work is submitted in support of an application, it must be in one of the official
languages of the European Union. An achievement within the meaning of Article 2 must be substantiated and verifiable.
6. Applications must secure the support of at least 40 Members, or a political group, of Parliament. Individual Members may support only one nominee. Each proposal must be signed and include supporting evidence.
7. Nominations which meet the formal criteria set out above shall be assessed in a joint meeting of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Development. Following that assessment, the two committees shall proceed jointly to an indicative vote producing a list of three candidates, in alphabetical order, from which the Conference of Presidents shall select one winner.
8. The President of Parliament shall present the prize at a ceremony during a plenary session of Parliament.
9. The procedures for the award of the prize shall be governed by internal implementing provisions to be laid down by the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Those provisions shall be communicated to any candidate at his or her request.
10. The decision on the prize-winner shall be final and may not be challenged in the courts.
June/July - A call for nominations is circulated to the Members of Parliament
September - Closing date for proposing nominees
September - The Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Development jointly:
* Assess the nominations
* take an indicative vote to establish a list of three names in alphabetical order, to be submitted to the Conference of Presidents
October - Decision by the Conference of Presidents on one winner
November/December - Official award ceremony at a plenary sitting (Strasbourg).