The Regional Network of Youth Initiative for Human Rights has the great honor to announce that we have received the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize for our work on peacebuilding and reconciliation in the Balkans. The prize was presented at a special ceremony today, 30th September at the Palais de l’Europe in Strasbourg, on the opening day of the autumn plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

This honor is even greater considering that we were awarded and nominated alongside two exceptional and important human rights defenders – Ilham Tohti, a prominent advocate of Uyghur rights in China, and co-founder of the website Uyghur Online, which aimed to promote understanding between Uyghurs and Han Chinese; and Buzurgmehr Yorov, a Tajik human rights lawyer, who has represented and defended many political prisoners in Tajikistan, and for which he had suffered severe state oppression.

The Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize is a prestigious prize awarded to individuals, non-governmental organizations and institutions for outstanding civil society action in defence of human rights in Europe and beyond. It is of immense importance to us that the values of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights have been recognized as crucial for a democratic Balkans, but also, for the strengthening of democracy in Europe.

The Prize is awarded in memory of Václav Havel, playwright, opponent of totalitarianism, architect of the Velvet Revolution of 1989, President of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic and an enduring symbol of opposition to despotism. The first-ever Václav Havel Prize for Human Rights was awarded in 2013 to Ales Bialiatski (Belarus), followed by Anar Mammadli (Azerbaijan) in 2014, Ludmilla Alexeeva (Russian Federation) in 2015, Nadia Murad (Iraq) in 2016, and Murat Arslan (Turkey) in 2017 and Oyub Titiev in 2018 (Russian Federation).

As Ivan Đurić, who accepted the prize on behalf of Regional Network of  Youth Initiative for Human Rights offices, stated in his speech: 

The future we hope for and work towards is one where opinions of others will not be formed through prejudice and lies, but through personal, authentic experiences and knowledge. We want to make it possible, normal, natural for young people to meet, travel, work together, create, make exchanges and fall in love across the countries in the Balkans; just as they do across Europe.”

With this prize, this is something the Youth Initiative for Human Rights will strive to achieve – we will continue to create opportunities for regional exchanges and dialogue through strengthening our regional network as the main platform for youth reconciliation processes in the Balkans. We will continue to build peace and fight any attempts at renewed warfare and hatred. 

In this moment in history, when state actors and nationalist rhetoric threatens to destroy our peace, we are immensely grateful that our work is recognized as important and necessary for a peaceful, European Balkans. 

We thank those who have supported us and nominated us for this award.  

We dedicate this award to the hundreds of Youth Initiative for Human Rights’ present and former activists, volunteers, exchange participants and leaders.