I had the honour and the privilege to take part in the annual Rafto Foundation Human Rights Award on 13-14 November 2021. The prize this year went to The Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) for its work on bringing scientific and statistical evidence on mass violations of human rights to bear on justice and accountability.
I have followed the work of HRDAG and its founder Dr Patrick Ball since 2002. It has been involved in the work of many different truth commissions around the world, such as in South Africa, Peru, Sierra Leone, and East Timor. It has provided evidence and given testimony in legal proceedings against General Efrain Rios Montt in Guatemala and Slobodan Milosevic in the Former Yugoslavia. It is currently engaged in work on violence in Colombia, disappearances in Mexico, and police violence in the United States.
The Rafto Prize recognises and celebrates the huge contribution that HRDAG has made to the advancement of human rights. In the arcane world of statistics, HRDAG has advanced our understanding of how to analyse patterns in data for traditionally 'hard to find' populations typical in the field of human rights.
For the Rafto events, I provided a key note speech 'Seeing the Unseen World,' setting out HRDAG's work in context, emphasizing the rigor and focus of its work, and the ways in which its approach is applicable to other human rights issues, such as modern slavery and human trafficking, revealing what is known by some and estimating what has been previously unknown by many.
In addition to speeches from Patrick Ball, I was joined by Sofia A.E. Hogestol (Associate Professor of Law, University of Oslo), Wendy Betts (Director of eyeWitness to Atrocities in London), and Morten L. Dahlback (Head of Insight and Analysis at Faktisk in Norway). Each in their own way is dedicated to using his or her knowledge and expertise to fight for human rights.
We gathered in the great Aula of the University of Bergen on 13 November for an in situ and live-streamed event covering many different aspects of human rights evidence and accountability. The content was rich and moving, with tributes from partners and Rafto Laureates from around the world.
On Sunday evening, The Rafto Foundation hosted a formal awards ceremony at the 1850 Den Nationale Scene theatre in the heart of the city, home to Henrik Ibsen as one of its most famous artists in residence. The event featured speeches from HRDAG Executive Director Megan Price and performances from the ESC Youth Company, Lykke Kristine Moen, Tor Jaran Apold, Michael Ophara/Doriansgrave, Ole Paus, Fredrik Saroea and Bit20, and Caja.
The events culminated in a torchlight walk through the city with hundreds of us wending our way through the streets holding our flames high, shedding light on injustice, and symbolising so many souls lost to state and non-state violence around the world.
Running through the events, geography, history, and topography of the city of Bergen is a strong magical element. The port city is nested in base of the mountains, covered in pine trees with jutting stone formations. The Bryggen district comprises historical and charming architecture emblematic of the Hanseatic period. In a larger context, Norway is home to a rich tradition of mythology and rune lore dating from 400 CE, evident throughout the nooks and crannies of Bergen.
In walking the cobblestone streets, looking up at the mountains, and breathing in the Nordic air, one feels this history and this magic, which whispers mystery through the city if only one stops to listen to it. This whisper was most captured by the haunting performance from Tor Jaran Apold at the awards ceremony. Dressed in black, surrounded by smoke and atmospheric lighting, Tor cut a striking figure with the most beautiful Norwegian folk melody conjured from within his 1760 Cuypers violin.
Taken together, the solemnity of the theme of seeing the unseen world through data and statistics combined with the magic of Bergen, the events and surroundings remind us all of our humanity, our struggles for dignity and rights, and the continued need to fight for justice.
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