Osman Kavala Receives 2023 Václav Havel Prize

Osman Kavala Receives 2023 Václav Havel Prize
Autumn Session 2016 Václav Havel Human Rights Prize 2016 by Council of Europe/ Candice Imbert via Flick


Sofía Medina Sánchez 

International Justice and Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence 

On the 9th of October, the eleventh Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, recognising exceptional civil society efforts in defense of human rights, was bestowed upon Osman Kavala, a prominent Turkish human rights advocate, philanthropist, and civil society figure who is currently incarcerated.

During the opening day of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) autumn plenary session in Strasbourg, the prestigious 60,000-euro prize was presented to Mr. Kavala. He has a long history of supporting various civil society organisations in Turkey.

Mr. Kavala has remained in custody since 2017, following his arrest on alleged ties to the Gezi Park protests. The European Court of Human Rights demanded his immediate release in a 2019 judgment, stating that his detention not only violated his rights but also had an ulterior motive, namely, to silence him as a human rights defender, potentially deterring others. In 2022, the Court's Grand Chamber affirmed Turkey's failure to fulfill its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a heartfelt letter penned from his prison cell, which was read aloud by his wife Ayşe, Mr. Kavala expressed his deep appreciation for the award. He dedicated the Prize to his fellow citizens unjustly incarcerated alongside him. He recalled the words of Václav Havel, who wrote to his wife Olga from prison in 1980, emphasising the importance of not losing hope in the face of the world's atrocities.

The Václav Havel Human Rights Prize is a prestigious recognition presented annually by PACE in collaboration with the Václav Havel Library and the Charta 77 Foundation which aims "to acknowledge exceptional civil society efforts in the defense of human rights within Europe and globally." This prize comprises a monetary award of 60,000 euros, a trophy, and a diploma.

Since its inception, the Prize has been conferred upon remarkable individuals and organisations, including Vladimir Kara-Murza (2022), Maria Kalesnikava (2021), Loujain Alhathloul (2020), jointly to Ilham Tohti and the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (2019), Oyub Titiev (2018), Murat Arslan (2017), Nadia Murad (2016), Ludmilla Alexeeva (2015), Anar Mammadli (2014), and Ales Bialiatski (2013). 

Sources and further readings: 

Council of Europe, Newsroom, 2023 Václav Havel Prize awarded to imprisoned Turkish human rights defender Osman Kavala, 9 October 2023: https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/-/2023-václav-havel-prize-awarded-to-imprisoned-turkish-human-rights-defender-osman-kavala

Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly News, 2023 Václav Havel Prize awarded to imprisoned Turkish human rights defender Osman Kavala, 9 October 2023: https://pace.coe.int/en/news/9229/2023-vaclav-havel-prize-awarded-to-imprisoned-turkish-human-rights-defender-osman-kavala