For building sustainable democratic institutions in Ukraine and modelling a path to international accountability for war crimes.
Oleksandra Matviichuk is one of the most prominent human rights defenders in Ukraine striving to achieve a full democratic transition and ensure justice. As Chairwoman of the Center for Civil Liberties (CCL), she and the organisation have been instrumental in strengthening Ukrainian civil society and national institutions for over a decade, while also pushing to further the rule of law and adherence to international law. Their work of documenting war crimes and human rights violations is paving the way to accountability, gaining increasing importance since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
CCL was founded in 2007 to promote human rights, democracy and solidarity in Ukraine and Eurasia. The organisation rose to prominence in 2013 by documenting human rights violations and providing legal assistance during the violent crackdown on the Euromaidan protests. The organisation has also launched initiatives to monitor various government agencies for civil rights violations, provide education on human rights, document pressure on civil society and map persecutions of human rights defenders.
In the realm of international law, Matviichuk and CCL have long advocated for Ukraine to join the International Criminal Court. This work has become especially important in the context of Russia’s war on Ukraine, setting an example for documenting war crimes and human rights violations. Through their work, Matviichuk and CCL ensure accountability and build a democratic future for Ukraine.
CCL received the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with fellow Right Livelihood Laureates Ales Bialiatski from Belarus and Memorial from Russia.
Oleksandra Matviichuk and CCL have fought for democracy and human rights in Ukraine since 2007. Their work of documenting abuses has gained even more importance due to Russian aggression in Ukraine. Matviichuk and CCL are now part of a ground-breaking international effort to ensure accountability for war crimes and other violations. Under extreme circumstances, they keep the focus on victims on the ground and strengthening democracy.
Ukraine’s post-independence experience has been marked by bouts of authoritarianism, revolution and democratic transition. The election of former President Victor Yanukovych in 2010 marked a rise in authoritarian governance, which culminated in the 2013-14 Euromaidan and ensuing “Revolution of Dignity”. However, almost immediately following the revolution, Russian forces invaded and annexed Crimea, and instigated a proxy war in the Eastern Donbas region. The conflict has continued since 2014 and has once again been thrust into the spotlight with Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
During this period of upheaval, Matviichuk and CCL have emerged as leading civil society actors contributing to the development of sustainable democratic institutions in Ukraine. CCL was founded in 2007 as an initiative of leaders of human rights organisations from post-Soviet countries to promote human rights, democracy and solidarity in Ukraine and the wider region. In spite of the challenges posed by Ukraine’s ongoing democratic transition and Russian aggression, Matviichuk and CCL have tirelessly fought to align Ukraine's legal system with some of the highest and most forward-looking international legal standards.
Euromaidan and the push for democratic transition
In response to the violent crackdown on Euromaidan protestors in 2013, CCL organised the initiative Euromaidan SOS. Recognising a gap between those having their rights violated and those offering legal protection, the initiative provided legal aid and other assistance to persecuted protesters throughout Ukraine. The Euromaidan SOS initiative actively documented human rights violations during protests and played an important role in creating an advocacy network, as well as coordinating international solidarity actions. They also contributed to reforms of the police and the security services, which had been responsible for such violations. With the end of the active stage of protests, the Euromaidan SOS initiative began monitoring human rights violations in the Russian-occupied territories of Crimea and Donbas.
CCL has also developed interactive maps to track enforced disappearances and the persecution of civil society in Ukraine. This is the first online tool in Ukraine that made it possible to monitor the actions of state bodies and evaluate the effectiveness of investigations into cases against human rights defenders, journalists, activists and representatives of local government bodies.
CCL’s activities extend across many aspects of civic space in Ukraine. One such activity is the OZON group, which was established in 2013 and carries out public monitoring of law enforcement agencies, courts and local self-government bodies in various regions of Ukraine. Recognising the importance of public awareness and engagement in the human rights movement, Matviichuk and CCL have sought to broaden public participation, both domestically and internationally. One example of this is the Kyiv School of Human Rights and Democracy, launched in 2017. The school is a free educational platform that hosts courses and discussions on human rights in Kyiv and other cities. So far, more than 2,000 people from two dozen countries have taken part in its trainings and events.
Advancing international criminal law in Ukraine
One of CCL’s most significant efforts is their ongoing campaign for the ratification of the Rome Statute, using awareness-raising and advocacy campaigns. Ratification would see Ukraine become a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and align Ukrainian domestic law with international criminal law. Amendments made to the Constitution in 2016 removed legal barriers to accepting the jurisdiction of the ICC. CCL secured a promise from a head of the office of incoming President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to ratify the Rome Statute after his election campaign in 2019. However, despite the prominent role of the ICC during the ongoing conflict and occupation, Zelensky’s administration has not yet ratified the treaty.
In parallel, CCL has actively pursued domestic policy changes that would align Ukrainian law with many facets of international law. Notably, they have played a prominent role in the campaign to pass draft law 2689 (“the law of war criminals”), which offers an effective domestic recourse to justice for victims of atrocities. This law would establish responsibility for crimes against humanity and equip Ukraine with universal jurisdiction to effectively combat impunity and achieve accountability for international crimes. This campaign, coordinated through the “Human Rights Agenda Platform” resulted in the Ukrainian Parliament voting to adopt the law and submitting it for presidential approval in June 2021. Despite continued efforts, the draft law remains on the President’s desk awaiting signature.
Documentation of war crimes and human rights violations during conflict
Following the Russian occupation in 2014, CCL was the first human rights group to send mobile monitoring groups to Crimea and the Donbas region. From the information gathered, they created a list of political prisoners held in occupied territories, which has since been combined and maintained jointly with other civil society organisations. These teams were once again organised in 2022 to collect testimonies from Bucha, Irpin and other recaptured towns that have come to epitomise war crimes in the country. CCL continues to advocate for political prisoners, civilian hostages and prisoners of war, whose numbers have drastically increased since the 2022 invasion.
In response to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Matviichuk and CCL swiftly resumed the work of the Euromaidan SOS initiative. The initiative has documented human rights and war crimes violations committed on the ground, thereby securing crucial testimony from victims across the country. CCL together with partners has established a regional network with the ambitious goal of maintaining a database of violations of the Rome Statute. To date, this database established under the “Tribunal for Putin” initiative has documented over 18,000 cases of violations by all sides during the conflict.
Combined, all of these efforts contribute to the development of a sustainable democratic system. Matviichuk and CCL are working tirelessly to defend human rights under exceedingly challenging circumstances. By doing so, they are defending a rights-based system with a focus on victims, and their human value and dignity - something that is often lost among the vast statistics of conflict.