Candidate for the Human Rights Tulip: Viasna Human Rights Center in Belarus
The Viasna Human Rights Center promotes human rights and supports political prisoners in Belarus. A number of human rights defenders associated with the organisation are currently imprisoned, while others have fled the country. The Viasna Human Rights Center is one of the three remaining candidates for the Human Rights Tulip for 2022. This is their story.
What is the Human Rights Tulip?The Human Rights Tulip is a prize that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs awards each year to a human rights defender or human rights organisation to support their important work. The winner receives a bronze tulip and €100,000. This money and the international visibility the prize creates help the winner continue and expand their human rights efforts
The Viasna Human Rights Center is a non-governmental human rights organisation that was founded in 1996 during mass protests by the democratic opposition in Belarus to assist demonstrators who had been arrested and their families. It now has around 100 active members.
What the organisation does
Viasna’s main objective is building a just and free society and ensuring the rights of every person without exception. In practice this means giving Belarusians advice on legal matters, exposing and documenting abuses, and providing relief to victims of political repression. The organisation is also committed to raising awareness of democracy and human rights, for example by organising conferences and seminars and publishing and disseminating information and educational material. Viasna also still actively defends the rights of political prisoners.
Register of political prisoners
Viasna supports political prisoners in Belarus by maintaining a publicly accessible register with the aim of raising awareness among Belarusian citizens and the rest of the world. And to let the Belarusian regime know that these prisoners have not been forgotten.
In 2003 the organisation was outlawed by the Belarusian authorities. In 2021 Viasna was raided and prominent members arrested. Many of them are still imprisoned today.
‘Unfortunately, even in the 21st century, Belarusians are still fighting for something that should be so simple: democracy.’ (Valiantsin Stefanovich, Viasna human rights defender and political prisoner)
Despite this oppression and considerable setbacks, the organisation continues to work from bases throughout Belarus and from abroad, in particular from Vilnius in Lithuania.
In 2022 Ales Bialiatski, founder of the Viasna Human Rights Center, won a Nobel Peace Prize for human rights work, together with the organisations Memorial and the Center for Civil Liberties. On 8 December his organisation could also be awarded the Human Rights Tulip. There are three candidates remaining.
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