MEPs nominate the 'brave people' of Ukraine for Sakharov Prize, the EU's top human rights award

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By Jorge Liboreiro
MEPs nominated the "brave people of Ukraine" who are resisting Russia's brutal invasion.
MEPs nominated the "brave people of Ukraine" who are resisting Russia's brutal invasion.   -   Copyright  Andrew Kravchenko/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved

The people of Ukraine resisting Russia's invasion, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Colombia's Truth Commission are this year's finalists for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders.

The award is given every year by the European Parliament and comes with a €50,000 endowment.

The finalists were selected by the MEPs who sit on the committees on foreign affairs and development, based on a pool of different candidates submitted by the parliament's political groups.

The winner will be announced next week and will be formally granted at December's plenary session.

The candidacy for "the brave people of Ukraine" was backed by the three main groups, the European People's Party (EPP), the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), and Renew Europe, giving it a clear edge over the other two finalists.

If Ukraine eventually wins, the prize will be symbolically handed to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy together with the country's elected leaders and civil society representatives.

Since the start of the invasion, the hemicycle has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine, urging national governments to impose sanctions on the Kremlin and step up weapons deliveries.

In early March, mere days after Russian tanks crossed Ukraine's borders, Zelenskyy delivered a rousing virtual speech before the European Parliament in Brussels, and made the case for his war-torn country to join the bloc.

"Do prove that you are with us. Do prove that you will not let us go. Do prove that you are indeed Europeans. And then, life will win over death and light will win over darkness. Glory be to Ukraine," Zelenskyy said.

The Ukrainian president was hailed as a hero and received a standing ovation from lawmakers. The parliament's translator became emotional while interpreting Zelenskyy's words.

Ukraine's campaign paid off in late June when the country was granted EU candidate status.

Assange and Colombia

Besides Ukraine, the finalists for this year's Sakharov Prize include WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Colombia's Truth Commission.

Assange, who was nominated by a group of 41 MEPs, is an Australian activist who faces spying charges in the United States over a large trove of classified documents that his organisation leaked to the public more than a decade ago. The leaks exposed evidence of war crimes, human rights violations and torture.

Assange, who is currently held in London's Belmarsh prison, is battling an extradition order from the UK to the US. His lawyers say he is "being prosecuted and punished for his political opinions" and could be sentenced to up to 175 years behind bars if convicted in America.

The Truth Commission in Colombia, nominated by the Left group, was set up in 2016 as part of the peace agreement that brought to an end the conflict between the country's government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The commission was tasked with reconstructing the six decades of war, establishing the facts behind the human rights violations, and giving voice to the victims. The body's final report revealed that an estimated 450,000 people were killed between 1985 and 2018.

The Sakharov Prize was set up in 1988 to honour individuals and organisations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. The annual award is named in honour of Soviet physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov, an advocate of civil liberties in the former Soviet Union.

The first recipients were Nelson Mandela and Anatoli Marchenko. Last year's prize was awarded to imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.