The Oslo Freedom Forum is a global conference series produced by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) that brings together the world’s most engaging human rights advocates
The theme of the 15th edition of the Forum in 2023 is Celebrating Solidarity to underscore the enduring alliances, partnerships, and support for
human rights and democracy activists since the forum was initiated in 2009.
It features insightful commentary from renowned academics, thought leaders,
journalists, political dissidents, change agents, artists, technologists, security
specialists, and a number of activists.
The forum undoubtedly offers a distinctive
global platform for people and organizations wanting to contribute to the burgeoning struggle against tyranny.
It is organized into a variety of thematic panel discussions, action-oriented workshops, art
exhibitions, theatre lectures, live music performances, among others.
Being an internationally recognized conference for democracy and human rights, the Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) has continually strived to amplify the voices of courageous dissidents while equally exposing the threats to liberal democracyacross the globe.
As a result, many people look forward to this annual event for the special networking opportunities, rich empirical revelations (on a variety of issues), and innovative solutions it offers with a view to promoting human rights and democracy in their countries as well as creating freedom movements and exposing injustice wherever it occurs.
The 2023 OFF draws representatives from various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Civil Society Communities working on peace, freedom, human rights, and democracy issues. This is because civil society organizations and frontline human rights defenders often seize the opportunity to expand their collaborative reach through strategic engagements and efforts to raise awareness about what they do or events in their countries.
The African Media Association, Malta (AMAM), which is supported by SOS Malta through the Iceland- Liechtenstein-Norway Active Citizens Fund, is a participant at this year's forum.
During the conference, AMAM represented by Dr Mike Omilusi, has the exceptional opportunity to participate in the complete series of interactive sessions, stage talks, and other relevant dialogues as a recognized member of the media.
Speakers for the 2023 Oslo Freedom Forum include Francis Fukuyama, a renowned scholar and author, Gulbahar Haitiwaji, a Survivor of Chinese concentration camp, Philippa Thomas, an international journalist and academic known for her high-profile career with the BBC, Víctor Navarro, a Venezuelan journalist, human rights activist, and former political prisoner, Lisa Yasko, a
member of Ukraine' s Parliament, Mzwandile Masuku, a Swazi Human Rights lawyer, Nazanin Boniadi, a British actress and activist, Toribia Lero Quispe, a Bolivian politician and activist for indigenous rights and democracy, Abraham Jiménez Enoa, a freelance Cuban journalist, Pastor Seungeun Kim, a prominent human rights advocate and the head of Caleb Mission in South Korea, among many others.
Take home message
One of the essential takeaways from the Oslo Freedom Forum is that over thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which symbolized the triumph of democracy, this system of government is currently entangled in perennial blatant attacks.
Assumptions about the future trajectory of liberal democracy have been challenged by emboldened autocrats and burgeoning populists, both in countries where it has yet to thrive and those where it appeared to be firmly established.
Thus, for numerous critical intellectuals, independent media, civil society and democracy defenders, the ongoing tensions between democratic countries and autocratic ones continually serve as a reminder of the Cold War. Today, the degree of contentment with democracy differs considerably between and even within countries. For instance, people's assessments of how well democracy functions vary greatly, considering their partisan affiliations and economic beliefs.
The second takeaway is that there appears to be a correlative relationship between the increase in troubled democracies or authoritarian regimes across the globe and the growing number of determined freedom fighters, who strive to protect democracy and ensure that citizens’ right to freedom is respected.
A significant representative of this beleaguered community- young persons, women, men and LGBTQIA+- at the Oslo Freedom Forum attests to this fact, showcasing how the actions of certain human rights activists, and civil society leaders have brought about greater freedom and equality in some countries, and how their work can be replicated or further enhanced in other countries.
The anonymous whistle-blower of brutal conditions for migrant labourers in Qatar. The survivor of solitary confinement in Nicaragua. The elegiac narration of a close friend and colleague of the late Al Jazeera Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh. The chilling account of survivor of China’s genocide and eyewitness to the camps. The serial persecution of women’s rights, and pro- democracy advocate from Bolivia. The arbitrarily detained journalist from Venezuela. And many more.
Their stories encapsulate the resilience of freedom fighters and pro-democracy activists across regions and political systems. It is a lesson of determination, courage, and compassion in the face of incredibly challenging circumstances, unimaginable adversity, and other harsh realities of
authoritarianism. A stark reminder of the common brutal strategies of dictators; the global battle between liberty and repression and a mix of tears, joys, and blood in the tortuous journey toward anticipated freedom.
Another takeaway is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to addressing long- term decline in global freedom, democratic recession (stagnations, breakdowns, erosions) or the deepening of democratic culture or coordinated struggle against authoritarian foes and state-sanctioned human rights violations.
Nevertheless, informed, and active citizenry, dogged civil society organisations as well as
independent media are regarded as key pillars for the advancement of universal human rights. In pursuing this, liberal democracy is also considered a necessary foundation, particularly how the global fate of freedom is shaped.
Diverse roadmaps to reversing the deterioration of democratic norms and institutions or
building democratic resilience must be given serious consideration including global leadership and solidarity from democratic states. As earlier pointed out, there are many interesting sessions at the Oslo Freedom Forum on a variety of pressing issues affecting the human rights and democracy community.
Link between the 15th Oslo Freedom Forum and the possible political inclusion of migrants in Malta's decision-making processes
The African Media Association considers the 15th Oslo Freedom Forum significant at this moment, when we plan to empirically examine the normative framework that might ensure the political inclusion of migrants in Malta' s decision-making processes. Like many European countries, Malta's laws and regulations do not favour migrant political engagement, particularly when it comes to voting and running for office.
For instance, third country nationals who are long-term residents in Malta have never been allowed to participate in elections. We strongly believe that democracy thrives through the diversity and active engagement of all citizens, and to function properly and engender social inclusion, it must engage all members of the political community through deliberate political
Our participation at the Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) has further equipped us with the contemporary advocacy strategies to investigate the ways in which the voices of migrants (constituting 22 percent of the population in Malta, for instance) can be amplified, and how to meaningfully engage the government with a view to fostering a vibrant and inclusive democracy. In other climes (emerging democracies) such engagements can, in the long run, enhance conditions conducive to democratic consolidation if political actors imbibe the responsibility to implement policies that
protect democratic practices.
It suffices that even in the face of adversity, democracy is still an attainable goal and that freedom fighters, with commitment to shared values and international solidarity by democratic societies, must remain determined to achieve it.
No doubt, meeting with people who work on human rights and democracy issues across the globe has a unique way of stimulating logical inquiry, activating multiple advocacy strategies, effective mitigating mechanisms, and providing practical solutions to nutty ideas around the subject matter.
The OFF: an intellectual hub
This is what the 2023 Oslo Freedom Forum has offered. Based on comparative analysis, the conference’s panel discussions and other interactive sessions readily provide an intellectual hub
to learn about the values that can be entrenched to foster democratic ownership, expose threat to liberal democracy and promote the rule of law.
For AMAM, this forum provides innovative ideas on how to create and disseminate knowledge
around the subject in the course of our advocacy and research endeavours as it will enhance our capacity to address the gap between policies and practices in the context of democracy and human rights in Malta, particularly as they affect African migrants.