The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded on Friday to the human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski from Belarus, the Russian human rights organization Memorial and the Ukrainian rights organization Center for Civil Liberties, in what was one of the most closely watched announcements in the prize’s recent history as war rages in Europe.
The committee said it had chosen the three laureates because it wanted to honor the champions of “human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence” in the neighboring countries Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
“The Peace Prize laureates represent civil society in their home countries,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. “They have for many years promoted the right to criticize power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens.”
“They have made an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human rights abuses and the abuse of power,” she added.
The award comes on a notable day for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — his 70th birthday.
Kenneth Roth, the former executive director of Human Rights Watch, did not shy away from the award’s political significance. “On Putin’s 70th birthday, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to a Russian human rights group that he shut down, a Ukrainian human rights group that is documenting his war crimes, and a Belarusian human rights activist whom his ally Lukashenko has imprisoned,” he said on Twitter.
Asked whether this year’s choice of winners was “a timely birthday president,” Ms. Reiss-Andersen said, “This prize is not addressing President Putin, not for his birthday or in any other sense — except that his government, as the government in Belarus, is representing an authoritarian government that is suppressing human rights activists.”
The Center for Civil Liberties in Ukraine has engaged in efforts to identify and document evidence of Russian war crimes since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Ms. Reiss-Andersen said, adding that the group was “playing a pioneering role with a view to holding the guilty parties accountable for their crimes.”
The committee praised the organization for taking a stand to “strengthen Ukrainian civil society and pressure the authorities to make Ukraine a full-fledged democracy.”
The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to 137 laureates since its inception in 1901. It is the only Nobel not presented in Sweden.
This year, there were 343 candidates, including 251 people and 92 organizations — the second-highest total ever, trailing only 2016. Those eligible to nominate candidates include heads of state, Peace Prize laureates, university professors and lawmakers from across the world.
Although there was no clear front-runner for this year’s prize, some of the names attracting attention included President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine; Aleksei A. Navalny, a jailed Russian dissident; Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a Belarusian opposition politician; the World Health Organization; and the International Court of Justice.
Mr. Zelensky was the bookmakers’ favorite.
Last year, the Peace Prize was shared by two journalists, Maria Ressa and Dmitry A. Muratov, “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace,” the Nobel committee said. They were the first to receive the award for work in journalism since the German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky in 1935.
Ms. Ressa, a co-founder of the online news platform Rappler, was nearly prevented from attending because of legal cases filed against her in her native Philippines. Mr. Muratov, the editor in chief of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, has been described as one of the most prominent defenders of free speech in Russia.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this year, Novaya Gazeta was forced to suspend publication amid mounting government censorship.