News / 09.12.18

Leonid Sudalenko – Laureate of French Award for his contribution to defence of human rights

According to the "Gomelskaya Viasna"(Gomel Spring), the National Human Rights Consultative Commission of France has already congratulated the laureate and invited him to the awarding ceremony to take place on Monday, December 10, at 11:30 a.m. at the Ministry of Justice in Paris. The Award will be given by Nicole Belloubet, the French Minister of Justice, and Christina Lazerges, the head of the above Human Rights Consultative Commission. The ceremony and a meeting at the French Foreign Ministry are timed to the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

The French Embassy in Belarus has also joined the congratulations of the laureate. Ambassador Didier Canesse has personally invited Leonid Sudalenko to exchange viewpoints during a joint dinner.

So far, the laureate has refrained from comments, stressing only stressed that he dedicates the award to his teacher Boris Zvozskov, whose name bears the Belarusian Human Rights House in Lithuania (Vilnius).

The Award "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" (Freedom-Equality-Brotherhood), established in 1988, is awarded annually by the French Republic to individuals or organizations for their contributions to the defence of human rights in France and elsewhere in the world. This year, five nominees, including Sudalenko, were selected out of 60 candidates. An official statement can be found on the website of the French Embassy to Belarus.

His Gomel colleagues had nominated Leonid Sudalenko for this award, justifying it by his work as a human rights defender and as a legal inspector of the REP trade union, stressing, namely, his contribution to the fight against the notorious unconstitutional Ordinance No. 3, which introduced forced labour in Belarus. Leonid Sudalenko then became unofficially named as "parasites' advocate".

"How did you know that you have been awarded?"

"I received an e-mail in French: Bonjour, Monsieur, congratulations, you are the winner ... They invited me to the ceremony in Paris on December 10 – on the Human Rights Day. The award will be given at the Minister of Justice. 60 candidates from all countries are pre-selected, and the French Government chooses five of them. I am very pleased that my humble work was recognized in the year when the mankind marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders."

"What was your first reaction?"

"I didn't believe it at first. I thought it was a provocation or a joke. Now, you should expect anything. When you expect provocations every day, you stop believing even in the obvious. And only then: when I received the air tickets, when they called me from the French Embassy and invited me to dinner with the Ambassador, and when Mr Ambassador personally congratulated me – and we know him, as he came to Gomel this February; and he warmly congratulated me – only then I believed that I've really received this award, and that this is not a joke."

"How did France learn about you?"

"Everyone remembers that a French citizen was convicted for a cartridge in Gomel. I monitored this trial, starting from the iron cage, where he was placed at the court session. On the outcomes of the trial, I gave my conclusion, stating a violation of human rights standards. I posted my report on the website of the "Gomel Spring", and before that I handed it over to the official of the French Embassy to Belarus, who also came to the trial, and asked to give it to their lawyer."

"Rights defenders from what countries, apart from Belarus, are this year's laureates?

"I know that earlier it was given to rights defenders Chechnya and Turkmenistan, the countries, where human rights are in a serious crisis. One of the preconditions of the award is the persecutions, to which a candidate is subjected. In my case, these are the events of 2015, when the authorities staged provocations against me, threatened with a criminal case, seized my equipment, and conducted searches at home and in the office ... Also, when I spoke at the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of the mother of Grunov, sentenced to death, I received threats, as well as my family. Maybe the Embassy staff played some role, because earlier Belarusian rights defenders did not receive the award. I am the first Belarusian human rights defender to receive it."

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