The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated and crystallized the social problems and dilemmas affecting the whole of humanity. Interests of society conflict with rights of the individual, unlimited freedom of expression versus fake news and disinformation, social responsibility in the face of deepening inequalities… And in the midst of all this comes the full-scale human rights crisis in Afghanistan. It cannot be ignored and has brought the issue of choice and responsibility to the forefront to all in Czech society. The international conference held at Prague Crossroads during the 2021 Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize event offered a forum to discuss these dilemmas.
This year marked the 9th edition of the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize. Belarusian flutist and conductor Maryja Kalesnikava, who, as head of the election team of former presidential candidate Viktar Babaryk, became one of the leading women of the Belarusian opposition won the award. Kalesnikava was kidnapped in Minsk, September 2020 to force her abroad from Belarus. However, she instead ripped up her passport at the Ukrainian border. Maryja was subsequently detained and found guilty of conspiracy to seize power by unconstitutional means, calling for action to damage national security and creating and leading an extremist group. When handed an 11- year sentence by the court, Maryja smiled at the journalists present and made a heart symbol with her hands.
The Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize is awarded annually by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in cooperation with the Vaclav Havel Library and the Charter 77 Foundation. The prize recognizes ‘outstanding civil society action in defense of human rights in Europe and beyond.’ The award includes a sum of €60,000, a trophy, and a diploma. Maryja’s sister, Tatyana Khomich, participated in the first panel of the Prague Crossroads international conference and accepted the prize on her behalf.
At the event, organized by the Vaclav Havel Library, representatives of two other nominees – for the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF), her director Pierre Haski, and the Burundian human rights defender Germain Rukuki his sister Scholastique Rukuki. In addition, Michael Žantovský, Tereza Engelová, Lenka Zlámalová and Jakub Szántó took on the role of moderators who interviewed distinguished guests and personalities at the conference.
The panel Covid Dilemma: Rights against Responsibilities featured constitutional lawyer Jan Kysela, Supreme Administrative Court judge Petr Mikeš, Mendel University rector Danuše Nerudová and Marek Orko Vácha, head of the Institute of Ethics and Humanities at the 3rd Medical Faculty of Charles University.
Another discussion was devoted to the human rights crisis in Afghanistan. In addition to the Czech-Afghan journalist Fátima Rahimi, the panel chaired by Jakub Szántó featured Jiří Pribáň, professor of law at Cardiff University, Tomáš Vlach, journalist and humanitarian worker of People in Need in Afghanistan, and Václav Pecha, former head of the civilian part of the Czech Provincial Reconstruction Team’s mission in Logar.