The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) announced on August 25 that human rights activists from Russia, Afghanistan, and the Balkans have been named as the finalists for the 2015 Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize.
The finalists for the 60,000 euro ($66,000) prize are Lyudmila Alekseyeva, an 88-year-old campaigner for human rights in Russia, the Afghan nongovernmental organization Women For Afghan Women, and the Balkan regional Youth Initiative for Human Rights.
Alekseyeva is a veteran human rights defender who joined the Soviet dissident movement in the 1960s before going on to become a founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Group.
Forced to emigrate from Russia to the United States in 1977, she returned to her homeland in 1989 to continue her work and became the president of the International Helsinki Foundation.
She is widely praised for fighting against repression for half a century, from the Soviet era to the presidency of Vladimir Putin.
Women for Afghan Women is the largest shelter-providing nongovernmental group in Afghanistan.
The group works in 11 Afghan provinces to protect the rights of disenfranchised Afghan women and girls.
It has assisted young women who have suffered mutilation, torture, attempted murder, and rape.
In addition to running shelters for women, the group also operates family guidance centers, children support centers, and reintegration centers for women leaving prison.
The Youth Initiative for Human Rights works to reestablish bonds between young people with different ethnic and religious backgrounds in the Balkans.
Its goals include helping rights activists in isolated communities, encouraging dialogue on human rights, and working to rebuild mutual trust between communities in the Balkans.
The group has projects aimed at protecting the victims of human rights abuses.
It also promotes transitional justice -- a set of legal and social measures aimed at redressing the legacies of massive human rights abuses that were committed during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.
The three nominees have been invited to attend a ceremony at which the winner will be announced as PACE opens its autumn session on September 28 in Strasbourg, France.
PACE President Anne Basseur chairs the selection panel, which also includes six independent human rights experts.
Basseur said in Prague on August 25 that the panel was "deeply impressed by the courage and dedication of all three" shortlisted nominees, noting that they all work in "very difficult conditions."
Named after the late Czech President Vaclav Havel, the award is now in its third year.
It is sponsored by PACE, the Czech government, the Vaclav Havel Library in Prague, and the Charter 77 Foundation.
The 2014 Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize was awarded to Azerbaijani human rights activist Anar Mammadli, who is serving a 5 ½ year prison sentence in Baku on corruption and tax evasion charges after criticizing Azerbaijan's 2013 presidential election.
The 2013 prize went to Belarusian human rights activist Ales Byalyatski.
Byalyatski spent nearly three years in a Belarusian prison on tax evasion charges before his unexpected early release in 2014.
International rights groups say the charges against Mammadli and Byalyatski were politically motivated.