On 25 November 2016 the ceremony of the Right Livelihood Award, also known as “Alternative Nobel Prize”, was held in Stockholm. Other winners of 2016 are Syrian volunteers White Helmets, Egyptian women’s organization Nazra and Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet. We publish Svetlana Gannushkina acceptance speech video and transcript.
It is a great honour for me to be here among you right now, and to receive this award together with those that work for the good of humanity every day—those who risk their lives to help the wounded, those who fight for the rights and dignity of women, and defend freedom of speech.
Unfortunately, it is not happy circumstances that bring us here today.
Military action in Syria and Yemen, the ongoing conflict with armed groups in Afghanistan, conflicts in African countries and the events in Ukraine in which my country is directly involved make all of us think about our responsibility for what is going on.
In which way are European countries, Russia and the USA involved in these conflicts? They don’t just send humanitarian aid to conflict zones. They send their air forces there. Homes are destroyed and children die as a result of these interventions. International humanitarian law is often violated and it can’t guarantee that the right to life is respected and enforce a ban on inhumane and degrading treatment under wartime conditions. For me, the question remains: Is this permissible? Can it be allowed that those who govern every powerful state can decide which side they should support and which military operations they should take part in?
I have no answer to this question. However, perhaps there should be an agreement that completely prohibits the deployment of armed forces or the bombardment of the territory of a different country without the sanction of the UN Security Council. This not being the case leads to the ‘great powers’ using the territories of other States to fight each other.
Migration has been the dominant issue around the world for several years now. The world is going through the greatest migration crisis since the Second World War. The number of refugees and internally displaced persons reached 60 million by the end of last year. There are millions of refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, the countries bordering Syria. Around 8 million Syrian citizens were forced to leave their homes and become those that are routinely referred to as ‘internally displaced persons’. Europe has accepted more than a million refugees. Overall, migration has touched the lives of 240 million people in 2015.
Compared to these six-figure numbers, it shames me to admit that the number of people that received refugee status in Russia is only 770. Around 300 of them are citizens of Ukraine, with a few more citizens of Afghanistan, 50 Georgians and just 2 Syrians.
The institution of asylum does not work in practice in our country. The exception to this are the refugees from Ukraine—400 thousand of them were given temporary asylum, as opposed to refugee status. This is a weak form of protection that only lasts for one year and then requires an extension, which does not guarantee that the same conditions will remain in force as those under which it was initially granted.
1300 Syrian citizens who were mainly residents of Aleppo had temporary asylum by the end of last year. Now, they are being refused an extension for the nonsensical reason that ‘temporary asylum extension has been refused as the grounds for which it was originally granted no longer exist’. Even though we see horrific scenes of destruction in Aleppo every day, on every TV channel.
Migration creates a multitude of extremely complex economic and cultural issues which are constantly being discussed. However, new approaches to finding solutions for these issues have recently been developed. The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants adopted by the UN General Assembly in September this year gives me hope in this regard.
For the first time ever, it was declared that there is no clear difference between refugees and migrant workers, but there is an uninterrupted range of conditions in which migrants find themselves. And all of them need to have their rights recognised and protected, even if it is to different extents. The spirit of the Declaration is also supported by the recent entry of the International Organization for Migration into the United Nations system.
The Declaration calls upon countries to see migration as something that stimulates social development, to base their attitude to migrants on adherence to human rights, to care for their adaptation and integration as well as to uphold the principle of shared responsibility.
I sincerely hope that the New York Declaration will give impetus to positive agreements between countries regarding migration and asylum.
At the same time, the political trends we are witnessing today cause great alarm. Right-wing political forces are becoming stronger around the world. The rhetoric of their leaders is built upon anti-immigrant sloganeering, as they posit themselves as the defenders of the people in their countries. They threaten to deport millions of migrants and accuse migrants of being criminals that should be put behind bars. Radicalism has become a serious challenge to civil society. I am talking about civil society as one undivided whole, as I think that there have been no borders between us for a long time and, with this, we could set an example to the governments of our countries. We strive to convince people to be kind to each other and to understand that the world is diverse, and that this is what makes it beautiful.
The award that we are receiving now is yet another proof of our unity and solidarity. I would like to thank the Right Livelihood Award Foundation for this recognition, as well as my colleagues in human rights, peacekeeping and charity work and all those that stand by my side here and beyond this venue, this city and this country.
Thank you for your support, thank you for your solidarity and thank you for your courage. We must keep our Earth safe for the future, for all the children in the world.