Wife of Jailed Russian Opposition Leader Accepts UN Watch Human Rights Award, Reads Letter From Prison

Evgenia Kara-Murza delivered the following remarks on accepting UN Watch’s 2022 Morris Abram Human Rights Award on behalf of her husband Vladimir Kara-Murza, a political prisoner in Russia, on November 17, 2022, in Geneva, Switzerland.  Click here for UN Watch’s press release on why he was given the award.

Executive Director Neuer, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am here tonight because I am lucky to be sharing my life with a man of integrity. A man to whom decisions come easy because his values are clear. A man who refuses to keep silent in the face of atrocities no matter the risks. A man who has for years been giving his voice to hundreds of political prisoners in the Russian Federation. A warrior, a patriot.

What is patriotism? There are many inspiring definitions with my favourite one being that by Mark Twain who said that “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.”

Without, I’m sure, intending to do so, the current Russian authorities have provided yet another definition of a true Russian patriot: it is a so-called “foreign agent” accused by the State of high treason for denouncing the Russian government’s vile and bloody war of aggression against Ukraine and calling for the use of Magnitsky sanctions against murderers and thieves.

But beside being a true Russian patriot, Vladimir is also the father to our three children, and they say you should lead your kids by example. So every time I feel broken by the pain of Vladimir’s absence, I keep telling myself that this is the father of my children leading them by example, teaching them to stand up for themselves and those they love, to face bullies with courage, to never give up without a fight and to be prepared to risk a lot to defend their principles.

Is it scary to face a monstrous repressive machine? Oh yes, there are no doubts about that. But in the words of US President Roosevelt, “Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear”. I couldn’t be prouder of my husband and couldn’t wish for a better example for my kids to follow.

I consider it the main part of my work today to give a voice to all those Russians, whom the regime so desperately wants to silence through the use of torture, mass repression, torture and punitive psychiatry, and I am happy that I can share something Vladimir wrote for you — because I want his voice to be heard in this room tonight:

Executive Director Neuer, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for the honour of receiving the 2022 Morris B. Abram Human Rights Award and to apologise that, for reasons beyond my control, I am not able to accept it in person. Ambassador Abram’s life exemplified the struggle for civil rights, accountability, and the rule of law, and it is a privilege to receive an award that bears his name – as it is to join the ranks of human rights leaders across the world who have been its past recipients. I also want to take this opportunity to thank UN Watch for its indispensable advocacy over the years – and for serving as a voice of conscience to remind the United Nations Human Rights Council what is was actually set up for.

The last time I had the honour of addressing the Council here in Geneva on behalf of UN Watch was to draw attention to the plight of political prisoners in Russia. Since then, this problem has reached crisis proportions. Vladimir Putin’s Russia has now surpassed the Soviet Union in its later years in the numbers of political prisoners – 497, by the latest and admittedly incomplete count from Memorial, Russia’s most respected human rights organisation and co-recipient of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. In the time of my own imprisonment, I’ve had the opportunity to witness firsthand, just how incomplete this figure really is. And the fastest-growing segment on Russia’s political prisoner list are opponents of Putin’s war on Ukraine

The Kremlin wants the world to believe that everyone in Russia supports this invasion. It points to bogus poll numbers and doctored election results as supposed proof. And too often the free world takes this at face value. But it is not true. And beyond the façade of false unanimity, thousands of Russians have defied near-total censorship, new draconian laws, and the threat of arrest to publicly denounce this aggression. Since February, over 19,000 people were detained by police across Russia for anti war protests. Nearly 5,000 have faced administrative charges – one step away from criminal indictment. Dozens of us are now imprisoned for opposing Putin’s war – journalists, lawyers, artists, priests, politicians, military officers; people of different backgrounds and different vocations who have refused to stay silent in the face of this atrocity, even at the cost of personal freedom.

I want to dedicate this Award to all of them. They are the voices of a better, freer, more hopeful Russia. And it is my hope that when people in the free world think and speak of our country, they remember not just the kleptocrats, the abusers and the war criminals who are sitting in the Kremlin, but also those who are standing up to them. Because we are all Russians too.

Among the initiatives led by UN Watch that I’ve had the honour to participate in was the campaign to stop Putin’s regime from getting a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. We were not heard – and it took a war in the middle of Europe to get the Kremlin expelled. But there will be a different time – when a peaceful, democratic, and Putin-free Russia will return both to its rightful place in the international community and to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Even in this darkest hour, I firmly believe that time will come – and, with strategic and principled global leadership in defence of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, we can all bring that time a little closer.

UN Watch