Oslo Freedom Forum
|This article is outdated. (August 2012)|
|Oslo Freedom Forum|
|Inaugurated||2009 (Oslo, Norway)|
|Organised by||Human rights foundation|
Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) is an annual human rights conference founded by Thor Halvorssen Mendoza, CEO of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation. The forum aims to bring together world leaders including former heads of state, winners of the Nobel Peace Prize and prisoners of conscience as well as a number of other prominent figures in order to network and exchange ideas.
The Oslo Freedom Forum is supported by Fritt Ord, the City of Oslo, the Thiel Foundation, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Sundt AS, the John Templeton Foundation, the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Fredskorpset, Amnesty International Norway, Human Rights House Foundation, and Ny Tid. It is endorsed by several groups including the Nobel Peace Center, the University of Oslo, the Norwegian Author's Union, and the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights. It also received financial support from the government of Norway. The conference was funded with a grant from the Templeton Foundation.
2009 Forum 
Thor Halvorssen the conference’s 33-year-old founder explained to the Wall Street Journal in 2009: “We all should want freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom from torture, freedom to travel, due process and freedom to keep what belongs to you.” Unfortunately, he explains, “the human-rights establishment at the United Nations is limited to pretty words because so many member countries kill or imprison or torture their opponents.” John Fund writing in the Wall Street Journal about "Human Rights Beyond Ideology" said it "was unlike any human-rights conference I've ever attended. As at other such gatherings, racism and gender discrimination were on the minds of plenty of participants. But there was no desire to blame such problems on the U.S. or other Western nations. The emphasis was on promoting basic rights in all nations at all times." The article by Fundamentions that "Even Oslo's leftist newspaper Klassekampen (Class Struggle) overcame its initial skepticism, declaring the forum "an impressive assembly of people."
2010 Forum 
Participants at the 2010 forum included Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer, North Korean dissenter Kang Chol-Hwan, former FARC hostage Clara Rojas, and Sudanese reformer Lubna al-Hussein. World leaders like Poland's Lech Walesa, Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim, and Estonia's Mart Laar presented, as did technology pioneers such as Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and entrepreneur Peter Thiel. Other notable speakers included Russian democracy advocate and chess master Garry Kasparov, Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, abolitionist and explorer Benjamin Skinner, former Cuban political prisoner Armando Valladares, and Chechen lawyer Lidia Yusupova, hailed as the bravest woman in Europe.
The Economist called the 2010 Forum "a spectacular human-rights festival" and described it as "on its way to becoming a human-rights equivalent of the Davos economic forum." Standpoint magazine says that the Oslo Freedom Forum "provides an intimate space for dissidents and human rights defenders from around the world to meet each other, to talk to internet entrepreneurs, academics, politicians, journalists and to draw inspiration and encouragement." Elsewhere coverage and mentions of the 2010 Forum can be found at CNN, Al Jazeera, Forbes, The Huffington Post, The Associated Press, The National Review, The Daily Beast, Reason Magazine, Foreign Policy, Front Page Africa, Standpoint Magazine, Aftenposten, Real Clear Politics, Radio Free Europe, TEDFellows, Current TV, Illume, and SBS Dateline.
2011 Forum 
The third OFF took place in May 2011 in Oslo. Supporters included the City of Oslo, Color Line AS, the Thiel Foundation, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Fritt Ord, the Nobel Peace Center, Helly Hansen, and Voss Water.
Speakers at the 2011 conference included Iranian Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, Ghanaian economist George Ayittey, former president of Colombia Belisario Betancur, North Korea expert and journalist Barbara Demick, Egyptian analyst Mona Eltahawy, American neuroscientist James Fallon, Chinese dissident Yang Jianli, Harvard political theorist Steven Levitsky, Canadian free speech champion John Ralston Saul, Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist Jody Williams, and Bahraini rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja. Bahraini activist Ali Abdulemam was invited to speak and had confirmed his attendance in the forum, but went missing in Bahrain a month beforehand and was unable to participate. Egyptian internet activist and Tahrir Square protest organizer Wael Ghonim gave his presentation live from Cairo via satellite.
According to the Economist, the 2011 OFF was “a glittering gathering of veterans of human-rights struggles.” Peter Thiel (of Facebook, Paypal, and Linkedin) praised the Oslo Freedom Forum “because [its] focus on dissidents engages the intellectual debate as well as the moral cause.
The 2011 conference was streamed live in its entirety online and broadcasted live in part on Norway’s TV2. The event and its speakers were featured in a range of global publications including The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, El Pais, The National Review, The Weekly Standard, Verdens Gang, Finansavisen, Aftenposten, El Clarín, Svenska Dagbladet, Die Presse, and O Estado de São Paulo.
2012 Forum 
The 2012 OFF, now in its fourth year, took place from May 7–9, 2012, in Oslo. Supporters included the City of Oslo, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amnesty International, the Thiel Foundation, Fritt Ord, the Nobel Peace Center, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
Some of the speakers at the 2012 conference included Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, women's rights activist Manal al-Sharif, Tunisian activist Lina Ben Mhenni, Moroccan journalist Ahmed Benchemsi, Singapore Democratic Party leader Chee Soon Juan, British journalist and author Nick Cohen, former South African politician Andrew Feinstein, Zimbabwean human rights activist Jestina Mukoko, Cambodian author and human rights activist Somaly Mam, leading Pakistani lawyer Asma Jahangir, and former Canadian Minister of Justice and Attorney General Irwin Cotler.
The inaugural Václav Havel Prizes for Creative Dissent were awarded in a special ceremony during the forum. An HRF initiative, the prize was awarded to three individuals who "With bravery and ingenuity, unmask the lie of dictatorship by living in truth," said Havlova, Havel's widow, and a member of the prize committee. The three recipients were Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Saudi women’s rights advocate Manal al-Sharif, and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
According to Wired Magazine, "If the global human-rights movement were to create its own unified representative body, it would look something like this." They also later wrote, "The power of the event -- whose sponsors include Sergey Brin's and Peter Thiel's charitable foundations -- lies in the seamless mix of grassroots activists, many of whom have risked their lives to speak out, and the top-level policymakers and influencers who can act on what they learn."
The 2012 conference was streamed live and in its entirety online. Despite some mixed feelings from Norwegians about the forum, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry donated $80,000 to the conference this year. Norway's foreign minister Jonas Gahr Støre claimed, "As I see it, this conference lifts the cases of individuals.”
2013 Forum 
The 2013 OFF, now on its fifth year is taking place May 13-15, 2013 in Oslo, Norway. The first day of the event was held at the Grand Hotel located in central Oslo. The Oslo Freedom Forum site provides information on how to watch the event when it is livestreamed on Tuesday May 14th.
Criticism and controversy 
Eighteen Latin America scholars from leading universities and research institutions signed an article in Norway's Aftenposten newspaper criticizing the Oslo Freedom Forum, founded by Thor Halvorssen Mendoza, for "bias" that undermined its credibility as a human rights forum. The scholars noted that despite Latin America having more than 20 countries that faced major challenges, the forum focused criticism only on Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, three countries with leftist governments. The scholars also noted that in previous years, Oslo Freedom Forum had been a site for defending the 2009 coup in Honduras.
In May 2013, award-winning journalist and author Max Blumenthal published an exposé of the funding of the Human Rights Foundation, which is the "producer" of the Oslo Freedom Forum, and of Thor Halvorssen who heads the Human Rights Foundation and is CEO of the Oslo Freedom Forum. Using Internal Revenue Service filings, Blumenthal demonstrated that among the largest sources of HRF's funding are foundations that have been among the main sponsors of Islamophobic organizations including the David Horowitz Freedom Center, Daniel Pipes' Middle East Forum and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. These funders include the Donors Capital Fund, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Thiel Foundation. Based on these funding sources, Blumenthal argued that, "Halvorssen, the founder of the Oslo Freedom Forum, receives significant funding from the same financiers who support the Islamophobes who inspired anti-Muslim Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik. " Blumenthal based this on the fact that Breivik had directly cited Pipes, Robert Spencer and others whose work is directly supported by the same foundations.
- "Official website". Oslo Freedom Forum. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
- "Official website, supporters section". Oslo Freedom Forum. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
- Berg, Thomas (11 March 2010). "Ytringshelter samles i Norge". Ny Tid (in Norwegian). Retrieved 19 June 2010.
- ""Human Rights Beyond Ideology," about the JTF-funded Oslo Freedom Forum News". John Templeton Foundation. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
- Fund, John (5 June 2009). "Human Rights Beyond Ideology". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
- Fund, John. "Human Rights Beyond ideology". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
- "Oslo Freedom Forum video". Youtube. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
- Foreman, Jonathan. "Oslo: Signing OFF on Human Rights". Standpoint. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
- "Ali Abdulemam profile". Oslo Freedom Forum official website. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
- "Huffington Post"
- "Nothing new under the sun". The Economist. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
- Mont, Joe. "Peter Thiel Urges Investing in Human Rights". The Street. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
- "Inaugural Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent Awarded to Ai Weiwei, Manal al-Sharif, and Aung San Suu Kyi". The Human Rights Foundation. Retrieved March 3, 2013.
- Rowan, David (14 May 2012). "Oslo Freedom Forum brings together the global human rights movement". Wired UK. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
- Lake, Eli (11 May 2012). "Oslo Freedom Forum: The Davos For Do-Gooding Dissidents". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 20 May 2012.