‘We all have the opportunity to be a Human Rights Defender’

‘The significance of civil society in upholding human rights, democracy, and accountability in Ukraine,’ was a Nobel Lecture Roundtable hosted by the Foundation in collaboration with Uppsala University on 14 December 2022.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Sasha Romantsova from the Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine, Alena Laptionok and Aliaksei Kolchyn from Belarus representing political prisoner Nobel Laureate Ales Bialiatski  visited the Foundation’s headquarters in Uppsala. The laureates led a discussion session with select members of Uppsala University and the Swedish government. In societies where human rights are being violated Human Rights Defenders step forward to speak for those affected, fight for the rights of civil society and defend institutions that uphold international law. Even though severely challenged, the importance of courageous, tenacious civil society organisations seeking solutions to peace and democracy is tremendous. This year’s prize winners face challenges on many levels,  striving to maintain dignity whilst playing a key role in protecting human rights and strengthening civil society.

These two questions provided kick-off points for the discussion:

How can the multilateral system and its mechanisms to defend human rights and to protect against gross violations be activated to play a meaningful role in bringing peace to Ukraine?

How can the international community most effectively support civil society actors in their efforts to build a peaceful and democratic Ukraine, including through the documentation of human rights violations and abuses of power in the pursuit of accountability?

Henrik Hammargren, Executive Director, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation hosted the program with participation from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Uppsala University, the Swedish United Nations Foundation, Human Rights Watch, the Folke Bernadotte Academy, ACT Church of Sweden and the Global Challenges Foundation.

The Roundtable session was followed by a visit to Dag Hammarskjöld’s grave to lay a wreath and take a moment of reflection. Later in the day, Sasha Romantsova delivered the Nobel Peace Lecture at Uppsala University’s Aula Magna. Alena Laptionok and Aliaksei Kolchyn joined her for a panel discussion after her speech.

The Foundation also took the opportunity to ask Nobel Laureate Sasha Romantsova from the Center for Civil Liberties about the role of the youth in human rights advocacy.


The Nobel Peace Prize Laureates representatives visited our headquarters in Uppsala for a roundtable. The discussion centred on strategies to support the work of civil society organisations working for human rights in Ukraine and Belarus. Representatives of academia, international development organisations and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs were present for the event.

Sasha Romantsova, representative of Nobel Peace Prize winner Center for Civil Liberties and Henrik Hammargren, Executive Director of the Foundation, led the way for a wreath-laying ceremony at Dag Hammarskjöld’s resting place.

Representatives for Ukraine and Belarus Laureates paid their respects to 1961 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dag Hammarskjold. 

The laurel wreath that adorned the Second Secretary-General’s grave bears the Ukrainian flag colours and a banner reading ‘Courage – for the sake of peace, truth and justice’. 

Sasha Romantsova, Alena Laptionok and Aliaksei Kolchyn enaged in a panel discussion moderated by Professor Joakim Palme from the Department of Government at Uppsala University.


Text by: Jemina Holmberg and Simone Hagfeldt.

Photos and video by: María Langa.