Sergei Kovalev

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Sergei Adamovich Kovalyov
Sergei Kovalyov in 2011
Native name Сергей Адамович Ковалёв
Born (1930-03-02) March 2, 1930 (age 85)
Seredyna-Buda, Ukrainian SSR
Nationality Russian
Citizenship  Soviet Union (1930–1991) →  Russian Federation (1991–present)
Alma mater Moscow State University
Occupation biophysicist, politician
Known for human rights activism with participation in the Moscow Helsinki Group, Memorial and the Moscow branch of Amnesty International
Movement dissident movement in the Soviet Union
Awards Geuzenpenning, Légion d'honneur, Sakharov Prize, Victor Gollancz Prize, Olof Palme Prize, Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana, Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Lithuanian Freedom Award

Sergei Adamovich Kovalyov (also spelled Sergey Kovalev; Russian: Серге́й Ада́мович Ковалёв; born 2 March 1930, Seredyna-Buda, Ukrainian SSR) is a Russian human rights activist and politician and a former Soviet dissident and political prisoner.

Early career and arrest[edit]

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 activists who set up the Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR in 1969, the first such independent body in the Soviet Union.[1][2]:343 While the 14 members of the group and 38 supporters signed their Appeal to the UN Human Rights Commission a number of them were also becoming involved in the samizdat (self-published) human rights bulletin, the Chronicle of Current Events (1968-1983).[3] The members of the Action Group came under pressure from the authorities [4] and ceased their activities.

After the arrest of Pyotr Yakir the Chronicle did not appear for over a year. On 7 May 1974 Kovalyov, Tatyana Velikanova and Tatyana Khodorovich gave a press conference for foreign journalists, declaring their determination to renew publication of the bulletin and distributing three postponed issues.[5] As a consequence Sergei Kovalyov was arrested in Moscow later that year, on December 27, 1974,[6] tried in Vilnius, and charged with "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" (Article 70 of the RSFSR Penal Code).[7] He served seven years in penitentiary facilities for political prisoners — the labor camps in the Perm Region and Chistopol Prison — followed by three years of internal exile in Kolyma in the Soviet Far East. Upon his return, he settled in Kalinin (now Tver). He moved back to Moscow in 1987.

During perestroika[edit]

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[edit]

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.[8] In 1994, he was awarded the Homo Homini Award for human rights activism by the Czech group People in Need.[9]

Sergei Kovalyov was accused by Russian General Troshev, that during the Battle of Grozny, Kovalyov offered Russian soldiers to surrender. He promised that their life, health and honor would be preserved. But most of those who gave up were killed.[10] However, Mr.Troshev is the only source of this information. Russian nationalist Alexander Prokhanov in his Zavtra newspaper also accused Kovalyov in mistreatment of soldier Yevgeny Rodionov mother, Lyubov Vasilievna. According to Prokhanov, she asked Kovalyov's help 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".[11]

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[12]), which was effectively paralyzed after one of its members, Sergei Yushenkov, was assassinated,[13][14] another member, Yuri Shchekochikhin, allegedly poisoned with thallium,[15][16] and its legal counsel and investigator, Mikhail Trepashkin, arrested.[17][18]

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. In 2011, he was honored with the Lithuanian Freedom Award for his adherence to democratic values and ideals of freedom.[19][20]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ A Chronicle of Current Events No 8, 30 June 1969 — 8.10 "An Appeal to the UN Commission on Human Rights".
  2. ^ Hegarty, Angela; Leonard, Siobhan (1999). A human rights: an agenda for the 21st century. Routledge. p. 343. ISBN 1-85941-393-5. 
  3. ^ A Chronicle of Current Events (in English).
  4. ^ A Chronicle of Current Events No 10, 31 October 1969 — "Persecution of the Action Group for the Defence of Civil Rights in the USSR".
  5. ^ A Chronicle of Current Events No 30, 31 December 1973 — 30.1 "The Trial of P. Yakir and V. Krasin. (Statement by the Action Group on Human Rights)."
  6. ^ A Chronicle of Current Events No 34, 31 December 1974 — 34.1 "The arrest of Sergei Kovalyov".
  7. ^ A Chronicle of Current Events No 38, 31 December 1975 — 38.3 "The trial of Sergei Kovalyov".
  8. ^ Vadim J. Birstein. The Perversion Of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science. Westview Press (2004) ISBN 0-8133-4280-5
  9. ^ "Previous Recipients of the Homo Homini Award". People in Need. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Terror-99
  13. ^ "Yushenkov: A Russian idealist". BBC News. April 17, 2003. 
  14. ^ "Russian MP's death sparks storm". BBC News. April 18, 2003. 
  15. ^ Terror-99
  16. ^ Агент Неизвестен
  17. ^ The Trepashkin Case
  18. ^ Russian Federation: Amnesty International calls for Mikhail Trepashkin to be released pending a full review of his case | Amnesty International
  19. ^ "В Литве "Премия свободы" присуждена российскому правозащитнику Сергею Ковалеву". Radio Liberty. 13 December 2011. Retrieved 12 September 2015. 
  20. ^ "Российскому правозащитнику Сергею Ковалеву вручена первая литовская Премия Свободы". Radio Liberty. 13 January 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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[edit]