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Sergei Kovalev

For the boxer, see Sergey Kovalev (boxer).
Sergei Kovalyov in 2011

Sergei Adamovich Kovalyov (also spelled Sergey Kovalev; Russian: Серге́й Адамович Ковалёв; born 2 March 1930) is a Russian human rights activist and politician and a former Soviet dissident and political prisoner.

Early career and arrest

Kovalyov was born in the town of Seredyna-Buda in Ukraine, near Sumy. In 1932, his family moved to Podlipki village near Moscow. In 1954, he graduated from Moscow State University. He was awarded a PhD in biophysics in 1964. As a biophysicist, Kovalyov authored more than 60 scientific publications. From mid-1950s, he opposed Trofim Lysenko's theories favored by the ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Kovalyov was one of a group of about 14 activists who constituted the Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR in 1969.[1]:343 The group composed a first samizdat (self-published) human rights bulletin, the Chronicle of Current Events.[1]:343

He was arrested in Moscow on December 27, 1974, tried in Vilnius, and charged with "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" (Article 70 of the RSFSR Penal Code) and served seven years in labor camps in Perm region and Chistopol prison, and later three years in internal exile at Kolyma. Upon his return, he settled in Kalinin (now Tver). He moved back to Moscow in 1987.

During perestroika

During perestroika initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev, Kovalyov was allowed to return to Moscow (in 1986). In that period, he continued his activism and participated in the founding of several key humanitarian organizations and initiatives:

  • The human rights society Memorial, dedicated to the memory and rehabilitation of victims of political repression in the Soviet Union. Kovalyov has served as its co-chairman since 1990.
  • The Moscow branch of Amnesty International.
  • The International Humanitarian Conference (December 1987)
  • Press-club "Glasnost"

In 1989, Andrei Sakharov recommended him as a co-director of the Project Group for defense of Human Rights, later renamed the Russian-American Human Rights Group.

Post-Soviet Russia

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kovalyov turned to official politics. In January 1991, he coauthored the Declaration of Human and Civil Rights in Russia and was a major contributor to Article 2 (Rights and Liberties of Man and Citizen) of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

From 1990 to 1993, he was an elected People's Deputy of the Russian Federation, and a member of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Russian Federation. He served as the chairman of the President's Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Commissioner for the Russian parliament, the State Duma.

From 1993 until 2003, Kovalyov was a member of the Russian State Duma. From 1996 to 2003 he was also a member of the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and a member of the Assembly's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

In 1993, he co-founded the movement and later, the political party Choice of Russia (Выбор России), later renamed Democratic Choice of Russia (Демократический выбор России).

Since 1994, Kovalyov, then Yeltsin's human rights adviser, has been publicly opposed to Russia's military involvement in Chechnya, cooperating with the rebels and urging Russian soldiers to give up. From Grozny, he witnessed and reported the realities of the First Chechen War. His daily reports via telephone and on TV galvanized Russian public opinion against the war. For his activism, he was removed from his post in the Duma in 1995.[2] In 1994, he was awarded the Homo Homini Award for human rights activism by the Czech group People in Need.[3]

According to Russian General Troshev, during the Battle of Grozny, Kovalyov offered Russian soldiers to give up. He promised that their life, health and honor would be preserved. But most of those who gave up were martyred and killed.[4] The mother of Yevgeny Rodionov, Lyubov Vasilievna, asked help Kovalyov in finding her kidnapped and later killed son in 1996, but he roared in response: "Why did you come to me? You raised the murderer", according to Alexander Prokhanov's Zavtra.[5]

Kovalyov has been an outspoken critic of authoritarian tendencies in the administrations of Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. In 1996, he resigned as head of Yeltsin's presidential human rights commission, having published an open letter to Yeltsin, where Kovalyov accused the president of giving up democratic principles. In 2002, he organized a public commission to investigate the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings (the Kovalyov Commission[6]), which was effectively paralyzed after one of its members, Sergei Yushenkov, was assassinated,[7][8] another member, Yuri Shchekochikhin, allegedly poisoned with thallium,[9][10] and its legal counsel and investigator, Mikhail Trepashkin, arrested.[11][12]

In 2005, he participated in They Chose Freedom, a four-part television documentary on the history of the Soviet dissident movement.

In March 2010, Kovalyov signed the on-line anti-Putin manifesto of the Russian opposition "Putin must go".


Kovalyov is a recipient of numerous awards and honorary titles. In 2004, he was awarded the Victor Gollancz Prize by the Society for Threatened Peoples, for documenting Russian crimes in Chechnya. On 13 January 2012, he was honored with the Lithuanian Award of Freedom for his adherence to democratic values and ideals of freedom.[13][14]


See also


  1. ^ a b Hegarty, Angela; Leonard, Siobhan (1999). A human rights: an agenda for the 21st century. Routledge. p. 343. ISBN 1-85941-393-5. 
  2. ^ Vadim J. Birstein. The Perversion Of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science. Westview Press (2004) ISBN 0-8133-4280-5
  3. ^ "Previous Recipients of the Homo Homini Award". People in Need. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Terror-99
  7. ^ "Yushenkov: A Russian idealist". BBC News. April 17, 2003. 
  8. ^ "Russian MP's death sparks storm". BBC News. April 18, 2003. 
  9. ^ Terror-99
  10. ^ Агент Неизвестен
  11. ^ The Trepashkin Case
  12. ^ Russian Federation: Amnesty International calls for Mikhail Trepashkin to be released pending a full review of his case | Amnesty International
  13. ^ "Российскому правозащитнику Сергею Ковалеву вручена первая литовская Премия Свободы". Radio Liberty. 13 December 2012. Retrieved 15 January 2012. 
  14. ^ "В Литве "Премия свободы" присуждена российскому правозащитнику Сергею Ковалеву". Radio Liberty. 13 December 2012. Retrieved 15 January 2012. 

Further reading

  • Emma Gilligan. Defending Human Rights in Russia: Sergei Kovalyov, Dissident and Human Rights Commissioner, 1969-96 (BASEES/Curzon Series on Russian & East European Studies) RoutledgeCurzon. 2003. ISBN 0-415-32369-X Link to Internet version

External links

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