News 2016-04-26

The Chernobyl Secret Protocols: Lies in the Aftermath of Disaster

The Right Livelihood Award Foundation is pleased to present the reflections of 1992 Laureate Alla Yaroshinskaya* on the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

In my journalistic archives there are mountains of classified Chernobyl documents from the USSR Communist Party and Soviet government.  The price paid for these archives is tens of thousands of dead emergency responders and other victims of the fallout, as well as nine million people who lost their health and quality of life and are still surviving in the affected areas.

I only managed to gain access to the top-secret documents in 1991, when I was elected to the USSR Parliament as a representative of Zhitomir, a Ukrainian town just 140 km from Chernobyl. One December day, approaching the Parliament building, I spotted vast archives being loaded onto trucks. It struck me: the secret protocols of Chernobyl are about to be carted away!

I immediately decided to make copies. However, the Parliament’s special section blocked my attempts. It was a shocking revelation: all parliamentarians were evidently being watched by security services. I confronted Anatoly Burko, then the Head of this section, who responded, deadpan, that I would need the authorization of the entity that had originally classified them. Let me remind you that at this time, the Communist Party had already been banned and many of its former members were busy pondering life in KGB prison cells.

Nevertheless, I found a coveted copier at the offices of a daily newspaper. Back in my office, as I carefully returned the originals to a safe, a thought crossed my mind: What will happen to me and my family if the communists return to power tomorrow? I opened the safe again, took out the first protocol — the original — and put a photocopy in its place. (Lord, have mercy!)

It was revealed that the first meeting of the Politburo taskforce on Chernobyl was held on 29 April 1986 — a full three days after the reactor meltdown. Judging by the minutes of this and subsequent secret meetings, the number of affected civilians grew by the hour. From 4 May, information about the hospitalisation of local residents came flooding in, the count quickly reaching the thousands:

Confidential. Protocol no 12. May 12, 1986 (...)

10,198 people are currently undergoing hospital examinations and treatments, of which 345 people have symptoms of radiation sickness.

However, once the number of patients reached 10,000, they began to be discharged en masse. Here is the explanation for their apparent miraculous recovery:

Confidential. Protocol no 9. May 8, 1986 (...)

The USSR Ministry of Health has approved new rules for acceptable levels of public exposure to radiation, which exceed the previous limits by tenfold. In special cases there may be a 50-fold increase compared to the previously acceptable levels.

The Kremlin would stop at nothing to conceal its failure to contain the spread of radiation. Less than two months after the evacuation of civilians from the so-called "black zone", a 30-kilometre radius from the epicentre, the authorities hastily reversed their policy to one of resettlement:

Confidential. Protocol no 29. June 23, 1986 (...)

The taskforce resolves to allow the return of children and pregnant women to settlements where the total estimated radiation exposure will not have exceeded 10 rem during the first year, and, by 1 October 1986, to resettle areas where the estimated radiation exposure will have exceeded 10 rem...

This protocol was signed by the Head of the State Meteorological Committee, who, just one month prior, had reported that such areas were considered dangerous for settlement.

The Politburo’s secret ‘recipes’ for the use of radioactive meat and milk also form a gripping chapter in the Kremlin-Chernobyl saga:

Top secret. Politburo Resolution of May 8, 1986 (…)

During the slaughter of cattle and pigs, it was established that hosing down animals with water, as well as removal of lymph nodes, produces meat suitable for human consumption. 

Confidential. Protocol no 32. August 22, 1986 (...)

The State considers it expedient to stockpile meat with high content of radioactive substances… and to use it in the production of sausages and canned meat at the ratio of 1 to 10 with normal meat. 

Five years after the Chernobyl disaster, in response to my parliamentary inquiry, Deputy Prosecutor General of the USSR admitted: "... from 1986 to 1989, over 47.5 thousand tonnes of contaminated meat and 2 million tonnes of contaminated milk were produced, thus putting in danger the health of some 75 million people...This led to higher mortality rates, as well as an increase in the number of malignant tumours, deformities, hereditary and somatic diseases...”

In the years that followed, states as far from Ground Zero as Bulgaria have prosecuted those who lied about the dangers of radiation. Yet back home, no one has been held accountable for the lawless aftermath of Chernobyl — neither under the reign of the communists who oversaw it nor under any democratic regime since. For 30 years, public prosecutors’ offices have kept their deathly silence — and today they keep it still.

*Alla Yaroshinskaya is a Ukrainian-born journalist and writer. She received the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’, in 1992 for “revealing, against official opposition and persecution, the extent of the damaging effects of the Chernobyl disaster on local people”.

News 2016-04-20

Denis Mukwege: Rape As A Weapon Of War In The Democratic Republic of Congo

Dr. Denis Mukwege, awarded the 'Alternative Nobel Prize' in 2013 for his work as a gynaecologist, surgeon, and women’s rights advocate, visited Geneva in March 2016 to take part in the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH). While in Switzerland, Dr. Mukwege presented the film "The Man Who Mends Women," together with its director, Michel Thierry. The film documents his activities at the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Dr. Mukwege was also invited to present his testimony at the 31st meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, where he bore witness to the use of rape as a weapon of war.

Dr. Mukwege has operated on more than 44,000 victims of wartime rape and has put his own life at risk for his courage to raise his voice in defence of their rights. He also advocates addressing the root causes of social discord, such as the exploitation of valuable local minerals, as a means of preventing rape as a tool of terror and population control.

This podcast is being launched today on the occasion of the participation of Dr. Denis Mukwege at the Geneva Health Forum (GHF). The recorded speech was presented at the Swiss Press Club on 7 March 2016. The Right Livelihood Award Foundation would like to thank the Dynasty M. band for kindly providing the background music for the podcast: "Levons-nous (pour le Congo)" (for more on their work please visit their Facebook page).

Click here to listen to the podcast!

News 2016-04-19

New Right Livelihood College Campus Opens in Argentina

The Right Livelihood Award Foundation is pleased to announce the opening of its eighth and newest Right Livelihood College (RLC) campus at the National University of Cordoba in Argentina.

The Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (UNC) was founded 19 June 1613, making it the oldest institution of higher education in Argentina. The University’s Faculty of Psychology, which will host the Right Livelihood College, is home to more than 10 000 students annually. This new campus will serve as a hub for exchange between academics and activists on questions of human rights, environmental protection, and social justice. Its activities will be spearheaded by Raúl Montenegro, environmental advocate and 2004 Right Livelihood Award Laureate, who has been a Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University since 1985.

The official opening of the campus is celebrated with a ceremony on 19 April 2016, followed by a public seminar on multilateral education and criminalization of social protest in Latin America on the 20th. Dr. Monika Griefahn, Chair of the Board of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, will lead the discussion on the unacceptable climate of violence surrounding activists in the region, with 2002 Laureate Martín Almada and other representatives from the Foundation and College in attendance. 

For more information about the new RLC campus in Cordoba, please view the flyer (ES), press release (ES), or visit our campus profiles (EN).

News 2016-04-14

Foundation, Laureate Condemn Killings of Landless Workers in Brazil

On 7 April, two members of 1991 Right Livelihood Award Laureate MST Landless Rural Workers Movement were killed by security forces. The killings took place on public land previously exploited by the Araupel lumber and wood-products company using falsified land titles. A group of 25 workers camped there were fired upon by police and Araupel security guards, according to reports by MST.

 

This attack is only the latest incident of violent territorial conflict in Brazil, where landless rural workers have long been fighting to gain legal access to land and equitable reform in a county where some 2 percent of the population owns 60 per cent of all arable land. The Right Livelihood Award Foundation joins MST in condemning these killings in the strongest terms and calling for international attention to this issue. Read the press release in English, Spanish, and Swedish.

News 2016-03-23

Hate Speech: A New Strategy Against Human Rights Defenders

If hate speech is the weapon in a psychological war to criminalise human rights, its trigger has been pulled more than once, according to the Guatemalan human rights defender and 1992 Right Livelihood Award Laureate Helen Mack Chang. She came to Geneva earlier this month to share her experiences with the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) at the 31st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.  

In this month's exclusive Voices of Right Livelihood podcast, Mack Chang voiced her concerns regarding the increasing use of hate speech against human rights defenders in Central America, citing slain Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres as the latest addition to a long list of victims, including journalists, legal professionals, and other civil society actors, who have raised their voices against human rights violations and suffered the consequences.

Nevertheless, Guatemala’s example can bring hope in putting an end to the culture of impunity in the region. With the support of Helen Mack Chang and the Myrna Mack Foundation, the CICIG has engaged in a fight against all manner of impunity, proving itself a useful tool for any society facing political transition from authoritarian to democratic rule. Born out of a grassroots movement following the 1996 Guatemalan peace agreement, the Commission has enhanced the rule of law across the nation and the quality of its judiciary system. It has granted independent court verdicts, proving that even the worst forms of corruption and organised crime can be exposed and defeated. However slow the pace, Guatemala is moving towards a future of accountability and justice. 

The podcast is available both in Spanish and in English.

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