No Government can ultimately be a true friend of Human Rights: Alex Gladstein
Can You tell us a little about the Oslo Freedom Forum?The Oslo Freedom Forum is a connection point for people who are engaged in non-violent struggle for free speech, peaceful movements, democracy and for human rights to gather, to network, brain-storm, and share resources. We come together once in a year in Oslo bringing people together from dozens and dozens of countries from around the World. We come together and design a framework that allows people to teach each other strategies of what they know, share each other’s stories, bear witness to other people’s struggles, and participate in workshops. We have talks, and we have performances in there and that makes it an experience that people look forward for. It is not just a conference it is something that you really, really look forward to. A lot of people hate conferences, some of them even find it boring. Ours is the opposite, you really look forward to it, its not place where you listen to someone and then you leave. Its a place, when you also meet the speakers and interact with them. At our conference when someone gives a speech, for example Bassem Youssef from Egypt, when he gets off the stage and there is a coffee break you get to meet him, hang out with him, you can talk to him you can share stories. We have music, we have comedy, we have great food and drinks and we have amazing attendees from all over the World. Everybody who is here is doing something relevant and interesting, they might be from Google or they might be working in journalism in Afghanistan for example, but whatever they are doing is on the same trajectory towards greater freedom. We have people who have participated in successful non-violent struggles, successfully overthrown dictators in a peaceful way, we have people who are carrying sensitive information about corrupt regimes, we have people who are endangered, whether they are reporters working in Mexico or even documentary filmmakers in a place like Singapore, so it’s a shelter point and a resource centre. You are saying that it is a shelter point, who supports The Oslo Freedom Forum financially? Well, our major financial sponsors are Brin Wojcicki Foundation, created by Sergey Brin one of the co-founders of the Google foundation, the Teal Foundation created by Peter Teal, someone who was an early investor in Facebook and the co-founder of pay pal, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, The City of Oslo and Fritt Ord which supports freedom of expression. Is OFF an independent Foundation or is it a part of the Government? It is part of the Human Rights Foundation and I work for the Human Rights Foundation. We are a global civil liberties group and the Oslo Freedom Forum is our biggest project. We have lots of other things that we do at ‘The Human Rights Foundation’; we help release political prisoners, we conduct campaigns to expose human rights violations and to expose people in the west that help dictators. Recently there has been much talk about the violations of human rights by the Putin administration and governments in central Asia. Do you think the United states government is any better, have they not violated human rights? Of course every government violates Human Rights. If you had heard our founder’s talks and his remarks at the press conference, he explained that, no government is ever going to be ultimately be a true friend of human rights, it’s impossible — they have different agenda. What I mean is that they are operating on a different framework, they are looking at economy and fuel, energy and keeping the peace and stability. Human Rights is never going to be their overarching goal, we just have to live with that. That’s a fact of history. That’s why civil society is so important, that’s why creating this space is so important. Infact dictators get together all the time like at the UN, 25 percent of the UN’s Human Rights Council seats are filled by dictatorial regimes like Saudi Arabia, Cuba, China. The dictatorships sit on the human rights council so we wanted to create an alternative, where people who are not in government could come and talk and share ideas. This is a school, a place where people can teach their experiences to others. There were people outside the conference venue on the first day of the conference protesting against the Forum. According to them The Oslo Freedom Forum was created by the United states government, what do you have to say about this? Okay, those protestors don’t believe in individual rights, they have their own agenda. They support dictatorial regimes like Cuba. So they are pro-Castro, so we obviously disagree with them. We would like democracy, balance of power, independent judiciary, a legislature and an executive branch that balance each other out– free expression and rule of law. The people on the street protesting don’t believe in these things. So that’s good I am glad that they disagree with us and they are out there protesting. How many members do you have in your team? At the Human Rights Foundation we have 12 full time people. Our team on the ground here is 28 this includes translators and all the event people from all over the World and most of them are from elsewhere, we bring them in from out of Norway.
Do you have representatives from the Muslim community on your team? Amir Akhmed Nassir, a very famous author from Sudan who wrote a book on Islam, is part of the Human Rights Foundation’s board. However my team is mostly from Latin America.
So don’t you have anyone from Asia?
Well, one of my colleagues Salim is from the Arab World.
What do you have to say about the Arab springs?
I think its devastating, depressing there has been a counter-revolution, we had all been inspired by some of the protests that occurred , but ultimately a lot of them seemed to fail and now there is dictatorship in Egypt again.
Do you believe that Egypt is now under a dictatorial regime?
Of course, it’s a military offensive who could argue otherwise
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