Osman Kavala is awarded the 2023 Václav Havel Human Rights Prize

Osman Kavala is awarded the 2023 Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, which honors outstanding civil society action in defense of human rights, by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. The prize was presented at a special ceremony on the opening day of the autumn plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg, on 9 October 2023. During the ceremony, Prof. Ayşe Buğra accepted the award on behalf of Osman Kavala and delivered a speech conveying Osman Kavala's message. 



Below is the full text of Osman Kavala's message:

Dear President and the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the selection committee of the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize,

I am honoured by the decision of the jury to include me in the list of shortlisted candidates. This Prize which bears the name of Havel has a very special meaning for me. Charter 77, the pathbreaking civil initiative demanding the government to respect human rights and freedoms in compliance with the international agreements to which it had been signatory has been an inspiring document for us in Turkey although the regime and the political motivations behind human rights violations were of different kind in our country.

Havel’s lifelong political and civic engagement is a testimony of concern about all people persecuted or threatened by persecution. For him, the attack on the rock group Plastic Band’s freedom to play their music was not different from the attack on the freedom to express and defend social and political ideas; it was essentially a threat to plurality of the ways of life and different means of using one’s potential for self-realisation. His appeal to “living in truth” in his very influential essay “Power of the Powerless” is related to the importance of a sense of solidarity among people who are different in their attitudes toward life.

Havel believed in the possibility of creating a human order based on responsibility, solidarity, trust, openness and love. He considered humanism as a viable alternative to ideology. I think we should not give up our hopes for the realisation of such an order worldwide. The ethos of a new and genuinely universalist humanism which entails advocating humane living and working conditions on a world scale could be the steering force in this direction. This would also require the consolidation of international law to protect individuals and groups from persecution.

As revealed by the fact that I will be completing my sixth year in prison this month despite the two rulings of the European Court of Human Rights demanding my immediate release, there is a necessity for the development of new means and mechanisms in order to strengthen the authority of the European Court and reinforce the moral and practical power of the European Convention on Human Rights. The practice of non-compliance with the judgements of the European Court nurtures the ways of thinking which devalue the universal norms protecting human rights.

Regretfully, in my country there is an increase in the number jurists who feel themselves free from the obligation to substantiate charges and verdicts with concrete facts and evidence. Putting people behind the bars on the basis of speculative accusations in line with the prevalent political discourses has become a common practice.

However, I do not think that my country will shift to a closed authoritarian regime akin to what Havel experienced and wrote about. I rather believe that Turkey will become a genuine democracy where the rule of law will exist in the not-too- distant future. Such a development in Turkey could then support also the dynamics toward democracy in our region. 

Today, we are faced with the rise of disturbing authoritarian nationalist trends in many countries. The values of responsibility and solidarity emphasized by Havel are surely important for fighting against the damage caused by these trends.

As Havel wrote to his wife Olga from prison in 1980, “The most important thing of all is not to lose hope. This does not mean closing one’s eyes to the horrors of the world. In fact, only those who have not lost faith and hope can see the horrors of the world with genuine clarity”. The Vaclaw Havel Award reminds me, and I am sure everyone else here, this significant truth.

I have felt privileged to be shortlisted with Ms. Justyna Wydrzynska and Mr. Yevgeny Zakharov and I express my solidarity with them. In case the award is given to me, I would like to share this great honour with my citizens who are unlawfully kept in prison, including the four civil activists who were sentenced on bogus charges of conspiring with me against the government, and I would dedicate the award to them.