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Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights lawyer headlined annual foreign policy conference

Apr 28, 2024
Indiana University President Pamela S. Whitten, right, presents the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies Global Voices
Indiana University President Pamela S. Whitten, right, presents the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies Global Voices for Change Award to Ukrainian lawyer and human rights activist Oleksandra Matviichuk, a co-recipient of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, during the America’s Role in the World Conference at IU Bloomington on Thursday, April 4, 2024. (Photo by James Brosher/Indiana University)

Human rights lawyer and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oleksandra Matviichuk recently spoke at the Indiana University Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. Matviichuk gave the keynote address of the 9th annual America’s Role in the World® foreign policy conference, held April 4-5, 2024. The annual conference offers IU students the chance to engage with international affairs scholars, journalists, diplomats, and activists to gain a deeper understanding of global topics.

Matviichuk leads the Centre for Civil Liberties, a human rights organization based in Kyiv, and has extensively documented Russia’s war crimes against Ukraine. At the conference, Matviichuk gave a keynote address, followed by a moderated conversation with Politico Editor at Large, Matthew Kaminski.

In her remarks, Matviichuk described the resilience of Ukrainian people. As part of her work, she has conducted hundreds of interviews to document their experiences.

In the beginning of the full-scale war, “ordinary people started to do extraordinary things,” she said. “It was ordinary people who helped us to survive under artillery fire. It was ordinary people who took people out from the ruined cities. It was ordinary people who broke through to provide humanitarian aid.”

Human rights lawyer and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oleksandra Matviichuk spoke at Indiana University April 4, 2024. Human rights lawyer and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oleksandra Matviichuk spoke at Indiana University April 4, 2024.

Matviichuk discussed the challenges of building a case to prove international crime and her work to gather documentation.

“There are four types of international crime,” she said. “Crime of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Russia has committed all four types. As a lawyer, I know that genocide has very high standards to be proven. But as a human being, it’s obvious that if you work to destroy partially or completely some national group, there is no necessity to kill our representatives. You can forcibly change their identity and their entire national group will disappear. And that is why in his recent interview, Putin said that Ukrainians do not exist.”

Oleksandra Matviichuk speaks with Politico Editor at Large Matthew Kaminski Oleksandra Matviichuk speaks with Politico Editor at Large Matthew Kaminski.Equally important to her documentation, said Matviichuk, is identifying how the evidence will be used.

“For whom do we document these crimes? Who will provide a chance for justice?” she asked. “We need the voice of the United States of America in support of the creation of a Special Tribunal on the Crime of Aggression to hold Putin accountable. Not just for Ukraine. To prevent wars in the future.”

Matviichuk also answered questions from students and attendees. In response to a question on how diplomacy might be used to negotiate a settlement with Russia, she said Ukraine can never stop fighting and compromise is not a viable solution.

“If you stop fighting, you will not get peace. You will get occupation, and occupation is not changing one state flag to another,” she said. “Occupation means torture, enforced disappearances, rape, denial of your identity, forcible adoption of your own children, filtration camps, and mass graves. That’s why we can’t compromise with occupation. Russia will not stop. This is a wrong strategy.”

To illustrate her point, Matviichuk described Russia’s occupation of Crimea in 2014, which Russia used as an opportunity to establish a large military base.

“The main question is how to stop Putin from continuing this war. How to make Putin make the decision to withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine. To sign a peace agreement,” she said.

The Indiana Slavic Choir performed for Oleksandra Matviichuk on April 4, 2024. PhD student Iryna Voloshyna started the choir in the fall of The Indiana Slavic Choir performed for Oleksandra Matviichuk on April 4, 2024. PhD student Iryna Voloshyna started the choir in the fall of 2021.

Matviichuk emphasized the need for continued international support, calling for both political support and helping Ukraine to build soft power.

“I would be glad to speak with any politician in Washington D.C. who would like to speak with me,” she said. “I understand there is an important internal struggle between politicians in the U.S. because you are preparing for a presidential election. But the truth is that the decisions of politicians in America will have an impact on whether or not we have freedom in our country. Whether or not we have freedom in our region. You have a huge role in the whole world.”

Matviichuk emphasized that Ukraine’s defense against Russia is not a singular conflict but a fight for international order that will impact all democratic nations. She described the lack of international response in 2014 when Russia occupied Crimea.

Indiana University student Yaroslav Chalyi, a native of Ukraine, introduces a speaker during the America's Role in the World Conference at I Indiana University student Yaroslav Chalyi, a native of Ukraine, introduces Oleksandra Matviichuk during the America's Role in the World Conference at IU Bloomington on Thursday, April 4, 2024. (Photo by James Brosher/Indiana University)“Russia is always proactive. Russia takes strategic initiative,” she said. “This was very visible in 2014 when Ukraine got a chance for a democratic transition after the collapse of the authoritarian regime due to the Revolution of Dignity. In order to stop us, Russia invaded and occupied Crimea. And in 2014, the international response was so weak … but it’s not too late to change it.”

“If authoritarian countries support each other, democracies must be much more proactive in uniting and defending each other,” she continued. “Democracy must win the war. I think this has to be the main lesson learned for the 21st Century.”

Beyond political and military support, Matviichuk spoke about the need for international voices to counteract Russia’s narrative of the war.

“War has different dimensions. Not only military, but economic, and informational,” she said. “Russia is fighting for your hearts and minds. It has invested billions of dollars to build this informational infrastructure around the globe. Russia has corrupt politicians, and paid journalists. They use the Russian church, and Russian culture — different sources of soft power. The only thing that can counteract it is truth, and truth is not a strong weapon if we’re not mobilizing millions of people to tell it. So, we need your voice.”

Ukrainian human rights Lawyer Oleksandra Matviichuk meets with Indiana University students, faculty, and staff at IU Bloomington on Wednesda Ukrainian human rights Lawyer Oleksandra Matviichuk meets with Indiana University students, faculty, and staff at IU Bloomington on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. (Photo by Wendi Chitwood/Indiana University)

In addition to her remarks at the conference, Matviichuk spoke with students and faculty across IU, including those with special interests in Ukraine and Ukrainian Studies. Matviichuk’s engagements with students and faculty included a visit to the Ukrainian collections in the Lilly Library and a conversation moderated by IU Professor of Anthropology Sarah Phillips, who specializes in Ukraine. Events were organized by the Robert F. Byrnes Russian and East European Institute and faculty in the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures.

Matviichuk’s message to students and event attendees was to use their collective power to request government action.

“Hope is not a strategy. We have to do something,” she said.

Ukrainian lawyer and human rights activist Oleksandra Matviichuk, a co-recipient of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, speaks during the America's Ukrainian lawyer and human rights activist Oleksandra Matviichuk, a co-recipient of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, speaks during the America's Role in the World Conference at IU Bloomington on Thursday, April 4, 2024. Pictured at left is Matthew Kaminski, Editor at Large at Politico. (Photo by James Brosher/Indiana University)When asked how others could help, she raised an envelope.

“I am prepared,” she responded. “This is a letter which you can send to congress and ask for support of Ukraine. Because you are a democracy, your politicians have to follow your will. So please spend five minutes. It’s a small step, but very essential.”


Matviichuk’s keynote address at the America’s Role in the World® foreign policy conference, along with all conference sessions, are available for viewing at arw.iu.edu.

Author

Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies

Sarah DeWeese

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