The Rafto Foundation for Human Rights was established in 1987 in memory of Thorolf Rafto (1922-1986), and to continue his work for and commitment to human rights.

The Foundation's objective is to work for human rights in the spirit of Thorolf Rafto. As professor and lecturer in economic history at the Norwegian School of Economics in Bergen, Norway, he inspired his students and colleagues with his unwavering commitment to support dissidents, the oppressed and the persecuted.

The Rafto Prize for Human Rights
The Professor Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize for Human Rights (the Rafto Prize) has been awarded every year since 1987. The Rafto Prize is announced at the end of September, and the Rafto Prize ceremony is held each November at The National Stage (Den Nationale Scene) in Bergen, Norway.

The Rafto Prize laureate receives a diploma and prize money of 20 000 USD. More important is the fact that the Rafto Prize has achieved international recognition and that the award sheds light on human rights violations and human rights defenders who deserve the world's attention.

The Rafto Foundation may differ from other similar organisations in that it allocates a certain amount of its resources to follow some of the laureates in their work, also after they receive the prize. In some cases, the Rafto Foundation has followed and supported the laureates and the organisations they represent for a decade or longer.

The Rafto Prize Laureates – Europe – Asia – Africa
During the first few years, the Rafto Foundation was mainly concerned with the struggle for human rights in Eastern Europe; this was also the main focus for the work of Professor Thorolf Rafto himself. After the peaceful democratic revolutions that swept over Eastern Europe in 1989, the Rafto Foundation turned its attention further afield.

The first prize awarded to a recipient working outside Europe was given to Aung San Suu Kyi (Burma) in 1990. Many Rafto laureates are individuals and organisations working for people living in areas strongly influenced by major powers such as Russia, China and India. Other laureates have addressed problems that are truly international, such as organised crime in different forms, or the plight of the Roma people.

There are no geographical or issue constraints regarding the individuals or organisations that may receive the prize, except that the recipient should have carried out significant work to promote human rights.