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Joint statement celebrating the Belarusian Human Rights Centre "Viasna” as they receive the fifth Democracy Defender Award

28.04.2021  17:01

René DND

As delivered by the Permanent Representative of Denmark to the OSCE, Ambassador René Rosager Dinesen, at the virtual Democracy Defender Award Presentation & Seminar on 28 April 2021.

Dear colleagues. Dear friends of democracy. Dear Viasna.

I am honoured to deliver these remarks on behalf of the core group behind the Democracy Defender Initiative: The OSCE ambassadors of Canada, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and my own country Denmark. The event is also co-sponsored by the following 26 OSCE participating States: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Norway, Portugal, Romania , Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Ukraine.

We are virtually gathered this afternoon – from Minsk, across Vienna and all the way to North America – to celebrate the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” for receiving the 5th Democracy Defender Award. As was mentioned earlier today, the award was established in 2016 and honours a person or a group for their exceptional contributions to the promotion of democracy and the defense of human rights in the spirit of the Helsinki Final Act and other OSCE commitments.

When we decided to award Viasna with the price in the early spring of 2020, we could not foresee what was to come in the following months in Belarus. 

Our goal was to honour Viasna for their longstanding and unwavering efforts of defending human rights and democratic principles in Belarus and for their crucial contribution to building a just and free society for all individuals.

Since their establishment in 1996, they have provided urgent assistance to the repressed; they have contributed to pushing the boundaries for civil society; and they have educated the future human rights defenders of Belarus. What was then a small group of courageous volunteers, is now – 25 years later – one of the oldest and most respected human rights organisations in the OSCE region.

When the news about the Democracy Defender Award was made public in March 2020, Viasna’s Chairperson, Mr. Ales Bialiacki – who is with us today from Minsk – said to Belsat TV: “Unless our goals are achieved, we are not going to give up. The repressions against the Belarusian human rights defenders will not stop our work in support of democracy and human rights in our country.”

This is in our view the core of Viasna’s spirit: Their tireless quest for free and fair elections. Their demand for the right to peaceful assembly. And their fearless work for a society without torture and other ill-treatment. Despite the magnitude and the scope of the challenges they face, they continue their selfless work.

With the developments over the past months, Viasna’s work has only become more important. With the current wave of repression against peaceful protesters and critical voices in Belarus, human right defenders remain a precious source of reliable information and provide indispensable support to victims of human rights violations.

Viasna has used their long-term experience and humble approach to guide the way for peaceful protesters, lawyers, journalists and other human rights defender in the midst of political and humanitarian chaos.

Your work has unfortunately not come without a cost and is far from done. Four of your colleagues are currently in prison and several searches have been conducted at your offices and private homes. 

We would like to take this opportunity to reiterate our full support for the Human Rights Center, “Viasna”, and all their staff and volunteers.

Dear Viasna – today represented by Chairperson Mr. Ales Bialiacki and Deputy Chairperson Mr. Valiantsin Stefanovic:

As you celebrate 25 years of steadfast commitment to defending human rights and fundamental freedoms in Belarus, allow me to send our heartfelt congratulations on your exceptional achievements throughout the past quarter of a century. It is our great honour and pleasure to award you with the 2020 Democracy Defender Award.

Thank you very much.