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“This award is a great support to us in our mission.” Viasna awarded The Albie Awards 2022

2022 2022-09-30T11:50:26+0300 2022-09-30T11:53:24+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Alina Stefanovich (in the center) accepted the award in place of her imprisoned husband, Viasna leader Valiantsin Stefanovich. |

Viasna received the Albie Awards 2022 established by the Clooney Foundation in the “Justice for Democracy Advocates” category.

“Human rights group has been the voice of resistance in Belarus for nearly 30 years as it has led a brave campaign for freedom and democracy against president Lukashenka's regime.  In the run-up to and following the fraudulent 2020 presidential elections, the group has paid a high price for the work; seven Viasna members have been detained on trumped-up charges and both of the organization's leaders are in jail,” the organizers said.

“These are people that willingly go to prison because they believe so strongly in the fight for independence, in the fight for democracy. They are real heroes,” said George Clooney on CBS before the award ceremony.

Alina Stefanovich, the wife of political prisoner and Viasna human rights defender Valiantsin Stefanovich, received the prize. In her speech she noted:

“For more than two decades my husband and I and our brave colleagues have fought for democracy in Belarus. As a leader of Viasna it should have been him standing here today and receiving this outstanding award. As you've heard, he cannot, as he is behind bars. I managed to escape Belarus to save our children and I am very honored to accept this award on behalf of Viasna.”

Alina also read a letter from Valiantsin, that he wrote for the ceremony:

Valiantsin Stefanovich managed to sneak out a letter from prison, that he asked his wife Alina to read at the ceremony.

“Ladies and gentlemen.

Let me express my sincere gratitude for the award on behalf of the Human Rights Center Viasna. My name is Valentin Stefanovic, I am 49, and I am a member of the Board of Viasna, as well as Vice President of FIDH—International Federation for Human Rights.

For over a year I am in the cellars of a gloomy 200-year-old prison in the center of Minsk.

At various times, it held prisoners of Russian tsarism, victims of stalinist Great Terror, of the Nazis, and now—political prisoners of the Lukashenka regime.

In Belarus, this current human rights crisis has been going on for 2 years now. It is on a scale approaching the worst times of our past—the times of the communist totalitarianism. Thousands of political prisoners are being held, thousands of ordinary citizens—men and women, students, pensioners, journalists and human rights activists—are deprived of their freedom just for expressing their opinions, demanding fair elections, and reporting on what is happening in the country.

People are still being held in appalling conditions of detention centers, subjected to inhuman and cruel treatment, thousands of people throughout the country were tortured in August 2020 and later. All these acts have never been denounced. The perpetrators were not punished but received high posts and titles. Belarus' legal system has completely degraded and is unable to protect the rights of its citizens. At the same time, the state media and TV are trying to convince us that human rights and democracy are an invention of the “collective West” that is “alien to our traditional values.” That we have some kind of special understanding of them, our “special way,” that we are almost a “separate civilization.” But in fact, this cheap demagoguery and populism have one goal—to justify the 30 years of rule by one person and the absence of democracy—competitive elections and self-governance, pluralism of opinions and ideas. This is what democracy is, and it cannot be “western”, “eastern”, or “southern”. The country's either a democracy or not. 

Regrettably, even in the 21st century, Belarusians still have to fight for a seemingly simple thing, democracy. Now, the autocracies of Russia and Belarus strive to impose their “separate civilization” on other peoples, even by waging wars. This is why the work of human rights defenders becomes especially important, as human rights are a culture of peace, not war.

Human rights are universal, inalienable, and belong to us from birth because we are humans. They do not depend on the will of individual autocrats, who cannot take them away from us.

In this difficult situation, Belarusian human rights defenders dare to keep on with their work. So does Viasna.

This award is a great support to us in our mission. A support to the members of Viasna who were thrown behind bars for their peaceful, legitimate human rights activities, those who paid a great price for that—their personal freedom: Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Labkovich, Leanid Sudalenka, Marfa Rabkova, Tatsiana Lasitsa, and Andrei Chapiuk.

I would like to end with the words of our classic, Maksim Bahdanovich: Belarus, your people will see its golden bright days!

Thank you so much,

Valianstin Stefanovich”

The freshly established Albie Awards is named in honor of Justice Albie Sachs, who is revered for his heroic commitment to ending apartheid. It is aimed to shine a spotlight on courageous people fighting for justice despite great personal risk.

The Clooney Foundation for Justice was founded in late 2016 by George and Amal Clooney to advance justice in courtrooms, classrooms, and communities around the world.

The festive ceremony in New York was attended by singers, actors, actresses, businessmen, and models, including Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, John Oliver, Dua Lipa, John Krasinski, and Cindy Crawford.