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The war in Ukraine and human rights


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Diario de Navarra

Juan Cianciardo

Director of the Master's Degree in Human Rights of the University of Navarra

Saint Augustine defined peace as "the tranquility of order". Those who share this definition will not be surprised that the Nobel Peace Prize is almost always awarded to those who in one way or another contribute to political or legal order, requirements without which there can be no peace within or between states. This is the case this year, when the human rights organizations Memorial (Russia) and the Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine) and the imprisoned Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski were awarded yesterday. Berit Reiss-Andersen, president of the Norwegian Nobel Prize's committee , said the laureates "made an extraordinary effort to document war crimes, human rights abuses and abuse of power. Together they demonstrate the importance of civil society for peace and democracy".

It has not always been the case, however, that, as in this case, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize directly affects an ongoing international conflict. While it is true that the laureates have been working for a long time (Reiss-Anderssen emphasized that "the laureates of the award Peace Prize represent civil society in their home countries and have for many years promoted the right to criticize power and to protect the fundamental rights of citizens"), it is also true that their work is taking place in what is today one of the most tense areas on the planet. No matter how much effort the president of committee has deployed to point out the contrary ("this award is not addressed to President Putin either for his birthday [which is today] or in any other sense. Except that his government and the government of Belarus [led by Alexander Lukashenko] represent an authoritarian government that represses human rights activists"), the fact is that the Academy has thus inserted itself into current international politics by taking a firm stand. 

This contribution should not be underestimated, although at first sight it may seem symbolic. There is room for a political speech , a legal speech and even a religious speech , but all of them are ultimately written request based on a moral conception of human rights. Without a widespread consensus on the moral unacceptability of the use of force in Russia and Belarus, among other countries that could be mentioned, economic and legal sanctions and military response would lack justification.