OSLO FREEDOM FORUM SPOTLIGHTS THE GLOBAL STRUGGLE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
In early May, I had the privilege of attending the annual Oslo Freedom Forum, a three-day gathering of human rights and democracy activists, dissidents, policy experts, and media representatives from around the world, organized by the Human Rights Foundation. Beginning in 2009, the forum has aimed to highlight the impact that a single individual can have on the world around them.
The Oslo Freedom Forum brought together several hundred advocates and activists, making it one of the largest gatherings of its kind in the world. Through speeches, presentations and panel discussions, speakers sought to bring human rights issues to public attention, publicize the stories and efforts of democracy and human rights activists, build a network of advocates, and exchange ideas on lessons learned and best practices. This year’s theme was “Out of Darkness, Into Light,” and the organizers placed a special emphasis on encouraging and inspiring activists in the world’s most difficult environments to continue their efforts.
Participants from across the greater Middle East and North Africa discussed the amazing progress and formidable challenges ahead for the Arab Spring. Signs of hope from places like Tunisia and Egypt stand in sharp contrast to continued violence and repression in countries like Syria and Bahrain. The forum highlighted ongoing global problems such as prison conditions, censorship, slavery and sex trafficking. This year’s Oslo Freedom Forum honored three courageous activists – Ai Weiwei from China, Manal al-Sharif from Saudi Arabia, and Aung San Suu Kyi from Burma – with the inaugural Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent.
Several of the speakers were particularly compelling to me. Jestina Mukoko is a former journalist turned civil society activist from Zimbabwe. Her efforts to improve her country’s dismal human rights record angered the regime, which abducted and tortured her. Now a former political prisoner, Jestina Mukoko continues her efforts for non-violent change in Zimbabwe.
Tutu Alicante is an attorney and human rights activist from Equatorial Guinea. Rich in oil, Equatorial Guinea has a per capita income rivaling developed nations. But rule by a corrupt dictatorship means that most in the country live on less than a dollar a day. Despite a violent, seemingly entrenched regime, Tutu Alicante remains optimistic and confident that things will improve in his homeland.
For activists like Jestina and Tutu, the Oslo Freedom Forum is a rare opportunity to publicize the difficult conditions in their countries. For me, the forum offered a chance to learn from and interact with some truly inspiring individuals.
Lindsay Lloyd is the Program Director of the Freedom Collection.
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