Kyiv, Ukraine – Head of the Center for Civil Liberties (CCL), a human rights organization based in Kyiv Awards The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, said the award will strengthen them in their fight for human rights.
“We were shocked; even this morning, we knew nothing,” Oleksandra Matviychuk told Al Jazeera.
“We are grateful for this award because we have made a great effort at the altar of peace, democracy and freedom; an effort is still ongoing,” Matviychuk who is currently returning to Ukraine after an event in New York.
The organization was originally established in 2007 to tackle high levels of corruption and promote democratic rights in Ukraine.
In 2013 and 2014, CCL established the EuroMaidan SOS project, which documented human rights abuses at Kyiv’s Maidan Square protests by security forces under the pro-Russian government led by President Vladimir Putin. at that time was Viktor Yanukovych in charge. The project also provides legal support to the protesters.
Following the change of government, CCL began implementing legislative initiatives to reform the country’s key institutions, including the security service, the judiciary, and the police force.
During this period, the CCL also began documenting human rights abuses committed by Russia, documenting numerous cases of torture, kidnapping and murder by Russian forces and pro-Russian separatists in Crimea and region east of the Donbas since fighting began in 2014. Russia annexed Crimea in a step widely seen as a violation of international law.
Matviychuk, the head of the CCL, told Al Jazeera that war crimes committed during this period, without being punished by the international community, led to the “sanctions cycle” continuing after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of the country in February. 24.
Since then, CCL volunteers have relentlessly sifted through testimonies, medical documents and other evidence from people who say they were victims of or witnessed crimes committed by Russian troops.
In light of the recent media attention CCL has received since the award was announced, Matviychuk took to social media to call for Russia’s removal from the United Nations Security Council. She also called on the United Nations and countries to engage in large-scale reform of the international peace and security system.
Matviychuk, who has studied human rights abuses for 20 years, describes war crimes committed by Russia since 24 February as varying in “scale and brutality”.
Negotiating the release of civilian hostages
At CCL’s offices in a secluded street in the bustling center of Kyiv, CCL is currently working to negotiate the release of civilian hostages held in Russia or Ukrainian territory currently occupied by Russia. .
Natalia Yashchuk, national projects coordinator at CCL, said the organization has recorded 671 cases of forced abduction of civilians, of which 205 have been released. It is currently working with a Russian-Ukrainian bilateral legal group.
Yashchuk, speaking to Al Jazeera, said Russia, in a “serious violation of humanitarian law”, failed to distinguish many civilians held in detention centers from prisoners of war.
However, CCL recently oversaw the release of Viktoria Andrusha, a teenager added from the Chernihiv region in March 2022 after being accused by Russia of sharing information about troop movements with Ukrainian authorities.
Olga Scherba said she recently discovered that her brother, husband and friend, who went missing in February, are currently being held in Crimea. The 25-year-old said she received help from CCL.
Speaking from a security room in central Kyiv, she said that Yashchuk’s success in releasing Andrusha had given her “new hope” that the three men would also be allowed to return home.
In the social media post, Matviychuk also called for the creation of an international tribunal to bring the Presidents of Russia and Belarus Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, whom she describes as war criminals, “to justice. “.
In May 2022, Matviychuk told Al Jazeera that Ukraine needed more international support in prosecuting war crimes committed by Russia because its domestic capacity was already overwhelmed. “At the international level, there is only one effective mechanism that can provide justice, and that is the International Criminal Court,” she said, “but they only look at a few cases.”
Since 2013, Ukraine has accepted the jurisdiction of the courts for crimes committed on its territory.
The Nobel Peace Prize was also awarded to Memorial, a Russian organization, and Ales Bialiatski, a jailed Belarusian activist.
Matviychuk said that the Nobel Peace Prize would “invigorate and inspire us in further endeavors”.