Address on the occasion of the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize award ceremony (anglais uniquement)
Strasbourg, lundi 29 septembre 2014

Dear colleagues, honourable guests representing the nominees,

Today it is the second time that we have the pleasure and the honour to award to one of the outstanding human rights defenders or NGOs the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

I would like to thank from the outset our partners in the award of this prize, the Vaclav Havel Library and the Charta 77 Foundation.

The prize bears the name of one of the most illustrious fighters for human rights, who persistently pursued his combat for our common values in different fields: be it in culture, through the underground art scene, theatre and literature, or in civic activism, through dissidence and, later, through mainstream politics. In all these fields Vaclav Havel remained faithful to our values, he has never chosen an easy way, he has never given up to the temptations of either opportunist populism or "pure art" disconnected from the social tragedies faced by the oppressed.

This year the jury had the difficult task of selecting one prize winner among 56 strong candidates – and I congratulate all of them for their outstanding achievements. On behalf of the Assembly I want to express our gratitude to the members of the selection panel, who fulfilled their duty with commitment, competence, wisdom and intelligence.

I am glad that today I can welcome here in the hemicycle the prize winner of last year's first Vaclav Havel human rights Prize, Mr Alies' Bialiatski. Last year, dear Mr Bialiatski you were unable to attend the ceremony, since you were in prison in your country, Belarus. The very freedom you fought for was taken away from you because of your commitment to human rights. I hope and believe that our prize at least in a small way contributed to your pre-term release three months ago. I know that you will continue your human rights work, and we salute your persistence and commitment. I would like to congratulate you by our applause.

As I mentioned, the selection of the candidates for this year's prize was extremely difficult, but, I think that the shortlist we finally came up with reflects three different areas in which the energy and ardour of human rights defenders are particularly needed today.

B'Tselem is an NGO that brings together Israelis and Palestinians who join forces to protect human rights in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. This objective is both valuable and precious since the widespread violence and permanent risk of conflict makes individuals particularly vulnerable. But their commitment goes beyond, in its work B'Tselem contributes to reconciliation through the respect of human rights – which has always been one of the main missions of the Council of Europe. I would like to highlight that nominations and the prize itself is not restricted to European individuals or organisations. B ‘Tselem is represented here by Mr Hagai El-Ad, Executive director, and Mr Muhammad Sabah, Senior field researcher in Gaza.

The Jesuit Refugee Service Malta is a branch of the global Jesuit Refugee Service. Its efforts are directed towards assistance for those who probably need it the most: refugees, asylum seekers and irregular migrants who come to Europe hoping to find a better life. Often these people face humiliation, abuse and even risk to their lives, in their countries of origin, transit and destination. They become easy targets and scapegoats for populists. But we often tend to forget that when migrants and refugees succeed, they make our society richer in political, cultural, scientific and economic terms. The Jesuit Refugee Service Malta helps such people succeed, regardless of their religious or other background, during the period of their lives when they are the most vulnerable, and Europe should be thankful for it. Dr Katerine Camilleri, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service Malta, represents her organisation today.

Mr Anar Mammadli is an Azerbaijani human rights defender, founder and chairperson of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre. His commitment lies in the area of promoting democratic institutions and civil and political rights. Annar Mammadli is our long-standing partner who shared with our Assembly, but also with other bodies of the Council of Europe, including its Commissioner for human rights, his valuable expertise on the situation in his country. Regretfully, he cannot be with us today, since in May 2014 he was sentenced to five and a half years in prison. Mr Mammadli is represented by his father, Mr Asaf Mammadov whom I want to welcome heartedly. 

Dear colleagues, as you can see, the three nominees, their work and achievements, embody three high priorities for the Parliamentary Assembly - democracy and political and civil rights, reconciliation through human rights and solidarity with the most vulnerable groups. This shows that the Vaclav Havel Prize is more than a symbol of the Assembly's support to activists and NGOs; the Vaclav Havel Prize is our common identity.

Some might say that the combat of the three nominees is hopeless, that their objectives are impossible to achieve and that their vision of the future is nothing but a dream. But I would like to recall what Vaclav Havel said in this hemicycle more than 24 years ago: "Everything seems to indicate that we must not be afraid to dream of the seemingly impossible if we want the seemingly impossible to become a reality. Without dreaming of a better Europe we shall never build a better Europe".

On behalf of the Panel and on behalf of us all, I would like to congratulate once again the three nominees who all merit our highest recognition. All three are going to receive a diploma. But a choice had to be made, which was very, very difficult considering the outstanding merits of the three nominees. After a very long and detailed discussion yesterday, the Jury reached a decision and I am pleased to announce that the 2014 Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize has been awarded to Mr Anar Mammadli.