After a large number of activities as a dissident, he was sentenced to seven years in labor camp and exile. As a politician, he was a Member of Parliament from 1990 to 2003, between 1993 and 1995 he was chairman of the Commission on Human Rights in the Administration of the Russian President.
At the age of two years, his family moved in 1932 to Moscow . In 1954 Kovalyov completed his studies at the biological faculty of the Moscow State University , he subsequently obtained his doctorate in 1964.
Kovalyov was during and after his studies as a dissident involved in various activities.
- 1956: Together with friends he protested the Moskovietse Pushkin Square against the Soviet intervention in Hungary .
- 1962: competed in his scientific opposition to the Stalinist biologist Trofim Lysenko .
- In 1966 he was a witness for the defense in the political process against the Russian writers Andrei Sinjavski and Yuli Daniel .
- In 1968 he collected in his institute signatures against the jailing of dissidents during the Prague Spring had protested and he was a witness in their political processes.
- In 1969: Kovalev joined the Initiative Group for the Protection of Human Rights in the Soviet Union. "
- In 1971 he was co-editor of the samizdat Chronika tekuschtschich sobyti ( Chronicle of current events ), that the human rights violations in the Soviet Union denounced.
Kovalyov befriended Andrei Sakharov and petitions presented together for the United Nations . In 1974 he became a member of the Sovjetse section of Amnesty International . His son and daughter supported him in his activities.
In 1974 he was being put and the following year he was in Vilnius , Lithuania , was sentenced to seven years in labor camp and three years of exile, because of anti-Sovjetse activities and propaganda. His punishment in the camp were spent in Perm and his imprisonment in Tsjistopol . Then he was exiled to the village Matrossowo to the Kolyma . After his term as served, he moved to the city of Kalinin (now Tver ).
His son and daughter met a similar fate. Afterwards, in 1987, they were given permission to emigrate to the United States , Kovalev was allowed to return to Moscow. There he got a job at the Institute "Information Transmission Problems of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR
In 1987 he founded and other human rights defenders press club Glasnost on. In 1988 he became director of the Project for Human Rights of the International Foundation "For the Survival and Development of Humanity."
In 1989 he spent at encouraging Sakharov candidate for the Russian human rights organization Memorial successfully to the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation . From 1990 to 1993 he was chairman of the Committee on the Rights of Parliament ( Duma ). At the same time he became leader of the Russian delegation to the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations in Geneva .
In 1993 he was re-elected for the radical-democratic alliance "Choice of Russia" in the Russian parliament. Again, he was also appointed again as Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission. Boris Yeltsin appointed him the same year as President of the Human Rights Committee in the Office of the President. He went on inspection trips to Siberian prison camps, to Grozny in Chechnya and made laws for the humanization of the Russian penal system.
In about 1995, he spent a brief ceasefire in Chechnya created. After he had made against the abuses of the Russian army in the diatribe First Chechen War , he was voted by a majority of 240 against 75 votes as chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Commission. In the same year he resigned in protest against the Tsjetsjeniëpolitiek from the government of Boris Yeltsin, and he blamed the president for the escalation of the conflict responsible.
In 1995 and 1999 he was a liberal deputy of the Russian State Duma elected. From 1996 to 2003 he was a member of the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe .
Kovalyov received international recognition for its commitment to human rights. Among other things he received the following awards: