WROCLAW, POLAND (June 1) – The Atlantic Council today hosted the 2012 Freedom Awards in Wroclaw, which recognizes international leaders and organizations that are fighting for freedom around the world. The honorees have each changed the course of history with their courageous defense of democracy and human rights:

  • Wladyslaw Bartoszewski – a prisoner of Auschwitz, a soldier of the Home Army, former Polish minister of foreign affairs, and currently the chairman of the Council for the Protection of Memory of Struggle and Martyrdom who has been an outspoken defender of basic human rights, government accountability, and independent media.
  • Emma Bonino – a member of Italian Parliament, former EU commissioner for health and consumer protection, and current board member of the Arab Democracy Foundation who has devoted decades to freedom and human rights promotion, with a particular focus on the Arab world.
  • President Moncef Marzouki on behalf of the people of Tunisia – for courageous defense of democracy during the Arab awakening that began last year. 
  • National Endowment for Democracy – an American non-governmental organization that fosters the growth of a range of democratic institutions abroad. President Carl Gershman accepted the award on behalf of the organization.

A special tribute to imprisoned Belarusian human rights activist Ales Bialiatski was delivered by Polish actor and director Andrzej Seweryn and Bialiatski’s wife, Natalia Pinchuk. Chairman of the human rights center Viasna and a 2011 Atlantic Council Freedom Awardee, Bialiatski was arrested by Belarusian authorities just two months after accepting his award and sentenced to four and a half years in prison.

“Many people in Belarus feel solidarity with Ales. But we must not forget that international solidarity is very important for his release as well,” said Pinchuk in Belarusian. “I hope that all democratic states that perceive freedom and human rights…will help us in all possible ways to liberate Ales and political prisoners in Belarus.”

“This is a somber moment for all of us. Our hearts truly go out to Ales and his family, as well as to the many other human rights activists in Belarus and around the world who have been imprisoned by oppressive regimes, simply for standing up for their rights,” said Atlantic Council President and CEO Frederick Kempe. “At the same time, this is a proud moment. We are proud to be able to celebrate the work that these activists have done and continue to do.”

Convened in one of Central Europe’s most dynamic cultural and entrepreneurial hubs, the Freedom Awards is the capstone event of the Wrocław Global Forum, an annual initiative that brings together important decision-makers and business leaders from the United States and Europe to discuss Central Europe’s role as a critical partner in US efforts to promote political, security, and economic ties across the Atlantic. The Atlantic Council is a co-organizer of the Forum and annually hosts the Freedom Awards in Wroclaw.