Claudia Rosett writes:
The founder and driving spirit behind this forum is 34-year-old Thor Halvorssen, a filmmaker with family ties to Norway and Venezuela. Since 2006 Halvorssen has been running the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, focused on the Americas.
With the Oslo Freedom Forum Halvorssen is casting a far more ambitious net. As he explained over coffee in Oslo last week, his aim is to turn the Oslo Freedom Forum into "the Davos of human rights." Halvorssen observed that regular global conclaves meant to promote human rights too often end up dignifying the violators. Such meetings "tend to be held by people who answer to the name of Your Excellency, and real human rights representatives protest across the street."
He's got a point. In theory the global big top for human rights is the U.N., with a system awash in billions of dollars every year from the world's wealthy democracies and a big meeting chamber in the U.N.'s lavish office complex in Geneva. But the U.N. is a club of 192 governments, prone to horse-trading in state power at the expense of individual freedom. Too many of those governments have an interest in violating the same human rights they pretend to be defending. That's how it happens that in elections to the U.N.'s Commission on the Status of Women, which is supposed to be the U.N's leading body for advancing women's rights, the U.N. has just given a seat to Iran.
The chief cradle for this brand of perversion used to be the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which was chaired in 2003 by Libya. In the name of reform that Commission was replaced in 2006 with the current U.N. Human Rights Council. The Council has been replicating the failings of its predecessor to such a sorry extent that in a General Assembly election of new members, set for May 13, Libya evidently finds it reasonable to enter the running for a seat.
Halvorssen hopes to provide an honest alternative to this farce. Among many riveting presentations was one by a survivor of the Cambodian genocide, Sophal Ear. He described the horrors of Khmer Rouge rule in the late 1970s and juxtaposed tales of the slaughterhouse that was Tuol Sleng prison with a list of people in the West who at the time praised the Cambodian revolution--including Noam Chomsky, a favorite writer of today's Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez. Later in the Oslo program came presentations from Venezuelans, who described how Chávez, with his "Bolivarian revolution," is destroying their country. It occurred to me, watching all this, that if dictators and their acolytes can collaborate, as they tend to do (not least at the U.N.), there may be valuable synergies to bringing together from around the globe some of the individuals brave enough to oppose them.
Can the Oslo Freedom Forum become the iconic human rights gathering that Halvorssen hopes for? Unlike the U.N., with its torrents of taxpayer dollars and convoys of state officials in chauffeured limousines, the Oslo Forum brought together people who tend to be lean on funds. Last week's gathering was underwritten by a range of sponsors, from the City of Oslo to a number of private foundations and individuals. To keep that rolling may be difficult. But in a world where freedom, according to New York-based Freedom House, is now in its fourth consecutive year of decline, this kind of forum is a heck of a good idea.
Read the whole piece here. Thor Halvorssen's contributions to THE WEEKLY STANDARD can be viewed here.