Common questions about HRF's mission and work
When was HRF established?
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) was established in 2005, and opened its offices in New York in 2006. HRF was founded with the moral support of numerous freedom champions who resisted peacefully and/or were prisoners of conscience under dictatorships of all colors, including the dictatorship of the Third Reich, such as Elie Wiesel, and the totalitarianisms of the Soviet bloc, as is the case of Vladimir Bukovsky and Václav Havel.
Where does HRF have offices?
HRF is headquartered in New York, at the Empire State Building. However, HRF personnel work from a variety of places such as Oslo and San Francisco.
Who are HRF’s funders?
We, as any other not-for-profit organization, rely primarily on the generous donations and support of individuals and foundations, who believe in our mission and care about the promotion of freedom and democracy across the globe.
What is our budget?
Approximately four million dollars for 2016.
What does HRF do?
We promote and protect human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
What is a closed society?
Countries ruled by authoritarian regimes. Countries where civil society is asphyxiated by government abuse; where there’s no independent media, no free and fair elections, no independent judiciary, and the political opposition cannot operate freely. In closed societies, you cannot speak up your mind, freely associate with others and criticize the government without fear of retaliation.
We promote freedom where it’s most at risk. We promote human rights and democracy in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes.
How does HRF do this?
a. By supporting activists and providing them the resources, skills, contacts, and the attention they need to make a difference in their countries;
b. By popularizing the struggle for freedom and democracy, and against dictatorship, and by bringing human rights into the mainstream of public affairs;
c. By producing international legal reports, public letters, and op-eds that can influence institutions, policymakers, and the public at large in the direction of better protecting individual rights in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes.
What are HRF’s main programs?
Read information in our website about: the Freedom Forum conference series, Disrupt North Korea, celebrities and dictators, Free Speech Unlimited, HRF Center for Law and Democracy, the Havel Prize, Flash Drives for Freedom, Oslo Scholars, tech and human rights, and the Your Human Rights Guides project.
How is HRF different from other human rights groups?
We’re different from most organizations in the human rights movement in that we fundamentally focus on closed societies and dictatorships, as opposed to democracies. We do this because we believe our work is most needed in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes. This is very different from most establishment international human rights organizations, which focus a significant portion of their advocacy on democracies. We believe that, as an international human rights organization, our resources are most needed and make a greater impact in countries under authoritarian rulers where independent media, activists, think tanks, opposition parties, and NGOs are under permanent threat. On the contrary, democratic governments, even though they are always imperfect, allow for the correction of legitimate public policy problems through the action of thousands of individuals and organizations that are allowed to operate freely. If we operated in democracies, we would be doubling the work already conducted by civil society, whereas in dictatorial countries, any work we do tends to be more impactful.
HRF has exposed abuse and human rights violations in most competitive or fully authoritarian regimes across the globe and we intend to cover every single country suffering the yoke of authoritarianism. Today, 52% of the world’s countries are ruled by authoritarian regimes, and 37% of countries by full-fledged dictatorships (approximately 2.8 billion people, which represent also 37% of the world’s population, are living under a tyrant, king, strongman, or military junta). The number of people living under dictatorship exceeds the combined number of people who are affected by extreme poverty, lack of clean water, natural disasters, war and conflict, terrorism, and the refugee crisis, so dictatorship is a bigger and more urgent problem worldwide, especially because a lot of these other crisis are a direct consequence of dictatorial rule.
How do you determine if a state is authoritarian or democratic?
We use a categorization developed by two prominent political science scholars (Steven Levitsky from Harvard University, and Lucan Way from Toronto University) in their book Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War. Levitsky and Way classify political regimes in three different categories: Democracies, competitive authoritarian regimes, and fully authoritarian regimes.
Broadly speaking, democracies are open societies where there’s independence between the different branches or government, free and fair elections take place regularly under a multi-party system, civil liberties are respected, and there’s a vibrant civil society which organizes and operates freely to pursue its own goals.
On the other hand, fully authoritarian regimes are, broadly speaking, generally one-party systems without free and fair elections, where there’s no independence between the powers of the state, no independent media or NGOs, no vibrant civil society, where civil liberties are not respected, and where the government cracks down on dissent in a systematic way.
Halfway between democracies and full authoritarianisms lie competitive authoritarian regimes (a form of “hybrid regime”). These are places where opposition parties are largely allowed to exist legally and to operate partially, but they often do not pose a significant opposition to the government because they suffer pervasive harassment and judicial persecution. Elections take place, but they are neither free nor fair because the electoral playing field is significantly lop-sided. The opposition has very little or lacks any access to the media, it’s often difficult for them to put a campaign forward, and they are often disqualified or faced with insurmountable obstacles to run for office by government-controlled electoral bodies. There’s some independent media, but critical journalists and outlets are constantly harassed or threatened with lawsuits for reporting or criticizing the government — the same with public intellectuals. NGOs usually do not get legal recognition by the government or face obstacles to get it. In competitive authoritarian regimes, the judiciary is subservient to the Executive, almost in the same degree as fully authoritarian regimes. However, from time to time, the opposition in competitive authoritarian regimes may be able to halt government abuse through some independent members of the judiciary.
Read about HRF’s Disrupting North Korea program
Read about HRF’s Exposing Dictatorship program
Read about HRF’s legal work that influence the media and domestic discourse
How can I get involved?
We always need help from creatives and technologists. We always need donations to keep our work going. We also need media attention and pro-bono services. In any of these ways, people can assist HRF and our mission.