Yelena Bonner: A True Human Rights Giant

As I think about the loss of Yelena Bonner, the more I realize how devalued the term “human rights activist” has become.

Bonner and her husband, Andrei Sakharov stood up to the Soviet Union for more than 30 years, at considerable personal cost. Even after the USSR broke up, when Bonner could’ve been excused from activity, she continued  to forcefully speak out against Russian military activity in Chechnya, European anti-Semitism, and the imposition of peace terms on Israel.

She was a heavyweight who could criticize the human rights community’s silence on Gilad Shalit. Speaking at the Oslo Freedom Forum, Bonner pointedly asked:

Why doesn’t the fate of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit trouble you in the same way as the fate of the Guantanamo prisoners?

You fought for and won the opportunity for the International Committee of the Red Cross, journalists, and lawyers to visit Guantanamo. You know prison conditions, the prisoners’ everyday routine, their food. You have met with prisoners subjected to torture . . .

Returning to my question of why human rights activists are silent, I can find no answer except that Shalit is an Israeli soldier, Shalit is a Jew. So again, it is conscious or unconscious anti-Semitism. Again, it is fascism.”

Yelena Bonner sacrificed so much for truth, freedom and dignity. May she rest in peace.


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