Remembering Sergei Kovalev

Sergei Kovalev at his home in Moscow in 2005. Photograph: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

It is with great sadness that we at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience note that prominent human rights defender, Soviet dissident, and one of International Memorial’s founders, Sergei Kovalev, passed away on August 9, 2021, at the age of 91

In 1968, Kovalev first became involved in the human rights movement after becoming editor of the Chronicle of Current Events, a post-Stalin USSR samizdat newspaper, after its first editors were arrested for protesting against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

In the spring of 1988, Kovalev became acquainted with individuals from what is now International Memorial, often known as “Memorial,” one of Russia’s leading human rights organizations and a long-standing member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. In 1992, Kovalev became chairperson of Memorial and would serve in that role until his passing. 

Throughout his lifetime, Sergei Kovalev showed unwavering strength and immense dedication as a staunch defender of fundamental rights—he spent seven years in a prison camp and three years of forced internal exile on charges of disseminating anti-Soviet propaganda. Despite these experiences, Sergei continued and even deepened his human rights work in Russia, in addition to frequently traveling outside the country to document and expose human rights abuses elsewhere. Kovalev served as one of the founding board members of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience and later served as a board member emeritus.

The Coalition is deeply saddened by the news of Sergei Kovalev’s passing. We extend our deepest condolences to his loved ones and we join all those across the globe who are honoring his memory and sustaining his remarkable legacy.