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Chechen Rights Lawyer Seen Among Favorites For Nobel Peace Prize

Yusupova has already been awarded the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders and Norway's Thorolf Rafto prize.
Yusupova has already been awarded the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders and Norway's Thorolf Rafto prize.
Bookmakers have tipped Russian human rights activist Lydia Yusupova as one of the top 10 contenders for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee will hand the prestigious $1.4 million award in Oslo on October 10 to one of 197 nominees, whose identities are kept secret during the selection process.

An ethnic Russian born in the Chechen capital of Grozny, Yusupova is well known for her tireless work exposing human rights abuses during the two wars in Chechnya.

Lyudmilla Alekseyeva, a veteran Russian rights campaigner, says Yusupova's efforts include the creation of one of Russia's leading rights groups and that she is a worthy candidate for the prize.

"She headed Memorial's local branch, which was the main organization gathering information about human rights violations in Chechnya throughout the war years," Alekseyeva says. "This is a very difficult and dangerous job that Lydia and her colleagues carried out with brio."

The 46-year-old Yusupova founded and ran the local office of Memorial, Russia's leading rights group, between 2000 and 2005.

During this period, she tirelessly collected information about rights violations such as torture, kidnappings, and executions of civilians, traveling throughout the war-battered republic to visit the sites of abductions and murders.

According to Memorial, at least 5,000 people have disappeared in Chechnya since the start of the first war in 1994.

Yusupova has also helped victims report crimes to law-enforcement agencies and take their case before court, helping numerous victims obtain redress at the European Court of Human Rights.

Although Yusupova left Memorial in 2005 to pursue her studies in Moscow, Tatyana Kasatkina, the group's executive director, says she will be eagerly watching the Nobel Peace Prize's announcement.

"This represents international recognition for our work, it is very important for us," Kasatkina says. "It is a great honor for her and for us, Memorial, that our work there at the time is recognized in such a way. But it is also recognition of the work we do today. We are working hard to give a correct evaluation of the situation in Chechnya, and this is very important because very few independent organizations operate there."

Yusupova already holds two human rights awards -- the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, which she won in 2004 earning the jury's praise as "one of the most courageous women in Europe," and Norway's Thorolf Rafto prize, which she received in 2005.

This is the third consecutive time she has been touted as a favorite for the Nobel Peace Prize in the days leading up to the selection.

Last year, the prize was shared by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and the United Nations' panel on climate change.

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