This is what I have realized after attending the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway. As I have written previously, the term “human rights” makes libertarians quite suspicious because of its arbitrary nature as well as the common hidden agendas of increasing governmental intervention with foreign aid, economical sanctions, and a huge governmental financed NGO-sector. The Human Rights Foundation and their three-day event are totally different in their approach. The Oslo Freedom Forum is one of the best events I have ever attended — apart from SFL conferences, of course!
Humberto Prado at the Oslo Freedom Forum delivering a lecture entitled "Condemned to Venezuela's Prisons"
At the Forum, I learned about so many current atrocities that I had never heard about before. For example, there are more slaves throughout the whole world today than at any other given point in history. 70-100 people get killed every day in Syria. West-Papua New Guinea is a colony of Indonesia which is violently oppressed. Human trafficking is a common problem in most areas of the world. Speaker Kimmie West was thrown on a big pile of dead bodies because people thought he already died from Malaria as a little boy in a refugee camp. To hear Somaly Mam speaking about her life as a sex slave and her fight against it, I realized that there is hope for humankind when a crowd of 250 people were silently weeping while listening to these atrocities. All the videos are recorded and can be watched online www.oslofreedomforum.com.
The friendships and relationships made at the conference are similarly unique. I do not think I have met a single person who was not interesting or inspiring. For instance, I talked with an Afghan who lived through the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. His story will forever stick with me. I looked into his pain-filled eyes when he told me his experiences of how over 50 members of his family got slaughtered, some of them in front of him when he was a little boy. The pain and the memories are of course still a part of him. When you had a conversation with such a person, you will not watch the news about all the bombing and killing in the same way. This extraordinary gentleman runs today a website for human rights. Despite all his suffering and the pain he had to go through, he still advocates for peaceful solutions. He does not want revenge. This guy is a true hero and not the people who are wearing medals for killing people. If you think this is naïve you should check the governmental record of foreign interventions and if they are successful (check out Chris Coyne’s After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy).
From left to right: Edward Stringham, Garry Kasparov, and Wolf von Laer
At the press conference, one of the main statements which stick with me was: “Western governments are not the solution of the problem. They are part of the solution but not more.” The developed world has to step down from its high horse and make a reality check. The hubris is tremendous and is expressed in the best way in the power point slide for Afghanistan which shows how the national building process has to get done. This is more than the pretence of knowledge. This is totally unworldly.
Development has to come from the bottom up and not from the top down. Libertarian thought has a lot to say about this and tools like spontaneous order, methodological individualism, and social entrepreneurship can be perfectly used to approach violations of human rights. The Oslo Freedom Forum brings extraordinary individuals together, and they make contacts, they become friends, they come up with plans. This network helps them in their daily life and gives them security. If an internationally well-connected community stands behind you, it is much harder for power hungry dictators to arbitrarily arrest you. The Oslo Freedom Forum focuses very much on this micro level approach and employs a similar strategy of social change as Students For Liberty does. The ideas of how one goes about finding solutions to end the human suffering in these countries have to be changed. Governments have not been the solution to end murdering, torturing, and suppression. It still happens everywhere in most parts of the world, often with the knowledge and support of Western governments (as in the case of Equitorial Guinea). Libertarians should not shy away from Human Rights but should be open to people who are fighting for it and join the fight. It is about stopping the use of force against peaceful individuals, not about bigger government.