The Rafto Foundation's Executive Director summarizes last year's efforts to promote human rights and support human rights defenders.
2020 did not turn out as planned, for anyone. The global Covid-19 crisis is not just a health crisis, but also a human rights crisis. Emergency laws have been used to suppress human rights defenders. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 83 countries have introduced laws restricting freedom of expression. This often occurs where civil societiy is already under pressure. At the same time, human rights defenders have started to use new and creative tools to be able to continue their work.
Brave resistance to Egypt’s state of fear
The 2020 Rafto Prize, which was awarded to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), spotlighted the reign of terror and continuing absence of a constitutional state in Egypt ten years after the Arab Spring. It shone a light on the brave human rights defenders of the ECRF who, at particular personal risk, document human rights abuses and support those being persecuted by the increasingly authoritarian Egyptian authorities. Because of strict travel and meeting restrictions, both the announcement and presentation of the Rafto Prize were made digitally. What started off as a challenge became an opportunity to reach a wider international audience than ever before.
Support for Rafto Laureates and human rights defenders
The Rafto Foundation continued its targeted efforts to support our Rafto Laureates in a crisis hit Lebanon, in Poland where the pressure on the constitutional state is only growing and in Kashmir where the persecution of human rights defenders is simply alarming. We have also helped the network of Rafto Laureates and our network of women human rights defenders to continue their work by strengthening their digital infrastructure and security. We have supported Rafto Laureates under pressure and highlighted the human rights situation in a number of our Rafto Prize countries, including Belarus, Iraq, Uganda, China and India.
Increasing human rights competence among businesses
Together with businesses, we have continued to develop our sector-specific work in the finance, seafood, construction and maritime industries. We have leveraged the synergies between our local presence in the Human Rights City Bergen and our international partnerships. 2020 saw the launch of FUTURE-PROOF, a regional collaboration platform for business and human rights, for which engagement among businesses in the Bergen region has continued to rise. We scaled up our cooperation with the CEMS network and our first fully digital Masters in Business and Human Rights attracted a record number of participants.
The KAN coalition, which is campaigning to establish Norwegian human rights due diligence legislation for business and which the Rafto Foundation helped found, was officially launched in autumn 2020 with a number of Norwegian businesses as members. The development aid programme to combat modern slavery, to which the Rafto Foundation has contributed, was launched and represents a welcome boost to Norwegian initiatives in this area.
Education adapted to a new era
For our democracy and human rights education, it has been important to support schools and teachers in handling the challenges presented by the pandemic. We have revised our programme to include digital education, outdoor courses and training adapted to infection protection at both the Rafto House and in schools. This has enabled us to reach more than 7,500 students and teachers over the whole of western Norway in the most demanding of years. We have also increased the focus on our education platform, the Rafto model, and signalled the need for more resources to meet the growing demand from schools following the launch of our new curricula.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our employees and volunteers who have contributed to our work, and who have adapted to an increasingly digital world. In a challenging year, we value our supporters and partners in Norway and all over the world more than ever.
Jostein Hole Kobbeltvedt, Executive Director, The Rafto Foundation