– Svetlana Alekseevna!
A young Syrian man comes running towards Svetlana Alekseevna Gannushkina in the winter cold of the asylum reception center in Kirkenes, Northern Norway.
– How are you doing? So glad to see you here after all these weeks since we met in Moscow, he smiles.
– Ahmed, Gannushkina smiles back – how are you? Did your wife give birth yet?
Svetlana Alekseevna Gannushkina has helped countless refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and victims of human rights abuse in her 74-year long life, but she always sees the individual, remembers the details, and feels with each and every one of them. She enjoys tremendous respect from all those she has helped, from colleagues in her native Russia and abroad, and also from Russian authorities.
Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Svetlana Alekseevna Gannushkina would strengthen the focus on human rights in Russia, and be a recognition of Gannushkina’s lifelong efforts to promote human rights and democratic development in the country. Her exceptional work for migrants and refugees in Russia is also an important indicator of the refugee crisis as a key issue for peace in the world today.
In 2007, Svetlana Alekseevna received the Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award for her work for internally displaced persons and refugees in Russia. She has been a close partner of the NHC for many years, and we consider her one of the most important human rights defenders in Russia. Her tireless commitment to helping individual refugees is outstanding, and Gannushkina’s example should serve as a model to us all.
Svetlana Alekseevna Gannushkina was just recently also awarded the Right Livelihood Award – an award which is also called The alternative Nobel Prize, “for her decades-long commitment to promoting human rights, justice for refugees and migrants, and tolerance between different ethnic groups.” In 2010 she was awarded the French Légion d’Honneur.
The organization she founded and heads, the Civic Assistance Committee, has provided free legal support, assistance and training to more than 50,000 migrants, refugees and internally displaced since 1990. In the absence of an effective asylum and reception system in Russia, her organization also created temporary shelters for the most vulnerable in several places around the country. Not unexpectedly, the Civic Assistance Committee has been put on the list of the so-called “foreign agents” in Russia.
Svetlana Alekseevna’s involvement and role also came to light last winter when for the first time thousands of refugees were crossing the border from Russia into Norway over the northern border of Storskog. Together with us in the Norwegian Helsinki Committee she visited refugees on both sides of the border, interviewed them and offered assistance in case of their being returned to Russia. She also had meetings with Norwegian and Russian authorities about the situation. During the heated atmosphere that occurred in Norway related to this unprecedented situation, she was by far the best source of information about the refugees’ lack of legal protection in Russia, reminding Norwegian authorities of the international conventions Norway is signatory to and holds other states accountable to. She was a pivotal corrective to the understanding of to what minimal extent refugees have the right to obtain refugee status and protection in Russia, even after having lived in the country for years.
There is no doubt that Gannushkina is influential – unusually influential – for a Russian human rights defender. She served on the President’s Human Rights Council until she decided to withdraw in 2012, and makes use of her strong network of high-level contacts in the country. Gannushkina and the organization she heads has advocated for the protection of immigrants and prevented the deportation of thousands of refugees from Russia to Central Asian countries, to the Caucasus and to other countries, thus preventing the imprisonment and torture of many dissidents or others who have been entitled to protection.
Gannushkina has also been active in fundamental human rights issues in the Caucasus, including in the North Caucasus with emphasis on Chechnya; as well as Nagorno-Karabakh as the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia experienced ethnic cleansing and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes. This fall she showed a new side, when she listed as a candidate for the opposition party Yabloko in Chechnya’s capital Grozny, the very lion’s den for a human rights advocate like her. It was a strong showing by Gannushkina – knowing that she did not stand a chance to be elected she used the occasion to draw attention to the dismal human rights situation under current head Ramzan Kadyrov.
A Nobel Peace Prize to Svetlana Alekseevna Gannushkina would be a clear signal to President Putin that his undermining of human rights in Russia is being noticed. His regime attacks basic human rights such as freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of association; it undermines civil society and does not tolerate political opposition. Gannushkina stands rock solid in the defense of all those rights on behalf of each and every one.