Yelena Bonner is a human rights activist in the former Soviet Union and widow of the late Andrei Sakharov. She has been credited as one of the main inspirations in encouraging Sakharov, a prominent Soviet physicist, to use his position to attack the Soviet human rights record. Together with Sakharov, Bonner became one of the key moral forces who used the so-called "third basket" of the Helsinki Accords effectively to promote greater freedom in the Soviet Union. Their efforts helped set the stage for the policies of glasnost and perestroika during the Gorbachev era.
Unlike Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov could not be easily portrayed as a dissident, since he had lived a life of privilege within the Soviet scientific establishment. He demonstrated the moral authority of the single individual who stands on principles, like truth and justice. In the end, it was not bullets that brought down the Soviet Union, or even Western resolve, although it played a part. It was the rise of strong moral forces outside the country, like Pope John Paul II and Reverend Sun Myung Moon, supporting the courageous movement for human rights and democracy inside the country that undermined it moral authority.
Bonner is a recipient of many international human rights awards, including the Rafto Prize. The Professor Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize is a human rights award established in a memory of a Norwegian human right activist, Thorolf Rafto. The Prize is awarded annually by the Rafto Foundation for Human Rights, which was founded in the humanistic tradition of the Helsinki Accords in order to promote the fundamental human rights of intellectual and political freedom. Other winners include former Nobel Peace Prize winners Aung Sun Suu Kyi and Kim Dae-jung.
Bonner is also the recipient of the European Parliament’s Robert Schumann medal, the awards of International Humanist and Ethical Union, the World Women’s Alliance, the Adelaida Ristori Foundation, the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy, the Lithuanian Commemorative Medal of January 13, and the Czech Republic Order of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk among others.