22 September 2016
Svetlana Gannushkina, chair of the Civic Assistance Committee, has won the Right Livelihood award for 2016, an award widely known as the alternative Nobel prize.
Svetlana Gannushkina was chosen for ‘for her decades-long commitment to promoting human rights and justice for refugees and forced migrants, and tolerance among different ethnic groups.’
The executive director of the awarding Foundation Ole von Uexkull, and a member of its board, Marian Anderson, announced the names of the winners at the International Press-Centre of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Stockholm.
The International jury reviewed 125 nominations from 50 countries.
Commenting on the jury’s decision, Ole von Uexkull said: “Svetlana Gannushkina is not only an outstanding human rights advocate but also a person of immense personal integrity who has fought injustice and indifference her whole life. At a time when xenophobia and intolerance is on the rise in many countries around the world, Gannushkina is an inspiring example of the best in human nature.”
Between 2002 and 2012 Svetlana Gannushkina, as a member of the Russian President’s Council for Human Rights, argued for amendments to the law on citizenship which resulted in more than two million individuals obtaining Russian citizenship. Convinced of the transformative power of education, Gannushkina more than once challenged decisions of the Ministry of Education in the Supreme Court, arguing for the rights of all children in Russia, including migrants and refugees, to attend state schools.
Her personal courage and active involvement in cases both in Russian courts and in the European Court of Human Rights has prevented the forced repatriation of many refugees back from Russia to the countries of Central Asia, where they would almost certainly be imprisoned and tortured.
Svetlana Gannushkina stated: “This award is a great honour and a show of solidarity for me and my colleagues working with migrants and refugees. Sadly, only a very small number of refugees are welcomed in Russia today, and migrants’ rights are routinely violated. Therefore, those who volunteer to help people seeking our support and goodwill carry an even greater responsibility. Thanks to the award money we will be able to provide food, shelter and medical help to those who need it most.”
In 1990, when the first refugees appeared in Moscow, Svetlana Gannushkina was one of the founders of the Civic Assistance Committee, the first non-governmental organization to offer help to refugees and forced migrants [the latter being the widely used Russian term for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) – ed.], and still heads it today. Since its inception, the Committee has helped more than 50,000 forced migrants receive medical, educational, legal, material and other humanitarian aid.
Time and again Svetlana Gannushkina has drawn public attention to human rights infringements in conflict zones, in particular in the North Caucasus. Recently she stood as a Yabloko party candidate in Chechnya in the elections to the State Duma, although she refused to campaign in the region on the grounds that it would be dangerous for her supporters. In 2015, Elena Srapyan of the Committee reports, the Civic Assistance Committee was added to the register of so-called ‘foreign agents’ by the Ministry of Justice.
The Right Livelihood prize has been awarded since 1980 in recognition of and support for those who offer practical responses, worthy of emulation, to the most acute challenges of the contemporary world.
As of today there have been 166 award-winners from 68 countries. The Right Livelihood Foundation not only makes annual awards, it also supports its laureates, especially those who are in danger because of the work they do. The financial value of the prize, awarded to Gannushkina, is 750,000 Swedish crowns (approximately 80,000 euros).
The other award-winners in 2016 are the Syrian volunteers Civic Defence Service, known as the White Helmets, the Egyptian Mozn Hassan and her feminist research organization Nazra, and also the Turkish daily newspaper Cumkhuriet.
Svetlana Gannushkina is the fourth award-winner to come from Russia, the others being the NGO Memorial (2004), the Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee (1996), and Alla Yaroshinskaya.
Translated by Mary McAuley
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