Strategy

2015 - 2020 STRATEGY

WE HOPE TO SEE THE WORLD WHERE HUMAN RIGHTS REIGN SUPREME

HIGHWAY LIBERTY strategy for 2015-2020 envisions sustained progress with respect to human rights. This progress ought to be reflected in legislation, but even more importantly, it will have to find its way into the popular conscience as verified by independent surveys.

In accordance with the UN Paris principles, we seek opportunities to promote and protect human rights via lending support to national and international human right networks that have proven themselves efficient.

We will leave no stone unturned in our quest to unlock the hidden potential of international human rights movements and NGOs by offering our organizational expertise and understanding of human rights issues. The upgraded potential of the national institutes will contribute to efficient and all-sufficient national human rights networks across the priority regions.

Our best efforts will be devoted to ensuring that international networks should incorporate human rights standards into their statutory documents, priorities and provisions thus contributing to overall human rights protection and promotion. The inculcation of human rights standards into regional and international standards and legislations will in its turn boost human rights promotion and protection of human rights at the national level.

This theory of change taps into the approach to human rights embraced by the UN. Our partners in this enterprise are holders of formal obligations, and therefore able to ensure that the transformation is effective and meaningful. We seek opportunities to support governments in fulfilling their human rights-related commitments.

For our partners to better implement change at the national level, we will flesh out tools and methodologies to spread relevant knowledge about human rights and their main purposes. At the international level, we will join forces with the key players in the field to formulate standards in the areas where human rights still require reiteration and where we have developed specific working knowledge.

OUR 5 STRATEGIC PRIORITIES

Working contacts with human rights NGOs and civil activists in Canada and former USSR states (2015 – 2016)

Strategic priority 1. The very first thing for a budding human rights NGO to do is to become part of the narrative, establishing contacts with local civil rights NGOs and academia. Our operation in Canada envisions a broad range of initiatives from monitoring of human rights abuse in Canada and abroad (especially in the former USSR republics) to developing partnerships with similar organizations from other countries to outreach initiatives targeting a broader audience. Additionally, we have plans to start a series of events along more academic lines, featuring lawyers, sociologists, law and social sciences professors.

Public awareness campaign: In the light of our aims and objects, our public outreach events will be aimed, first and foremost, at spreading the idea of human rights in their relation to inequality faced by LGBTQ; providing Canadian civil rights activists and all those interested with information about human rights across the former USSR (stressing specifically the state-driven discrimination on religious or political grounds or sexual orientation, gender identity etc.). We expect massive support coming from Canadian LGBTQ organizations. Apart from that, we expect to build interest in our activities among organizations pushing for world without boundaries, freer economic migration and eased migration policies. Events of this kind can take the shape of public lectures, debate clubs or webcasting (video channel, podcasts, social networking).

Strategic Priority 2 (2016 – 2020)

As an independent Canadian not-for-profit organization, HIGHWAY LIBERTY is potentially a good counterpart for civil rights activists and human rights NGOs dedicated to monitoring implementation of human rights commitments by the governments of their countries.

At this stage, we will be interested to develop contacts with the following types of institutions:

 National human rights institutions

We will lend support to emerging LGBTQ rights and human rights NGOs in those countries where such institutions have not yet been created; likewise, we will be prepared to offer cooperation and support to existing organizations. Our particular contribution will be to monitor human rights abuse (especially with regard to LGBTQ in the former Soviet states), report and assess the implementation of relevant recommendations as well as educational initiatives in the realm of human rights; HIGHWAY LIBERTY will also lend support to cultural and social research of human sexuality.

 National public institutions bearing an integrated human rights mandate

We will lend our assistance to public agencies bearing a human rights mandate, such as ministries of justice or internal affairs ministries, in setting out human rights-related provisions and legislation. In addition, we can assist them by preparing a round-up of existing legal networks to help them deal with cases of inadequate human rights protection or inadequate compliance. We will be supportive of any positive developments in monitoring practices and human rights reporting, including data mining and analysis and conducting a dialogue with broad segments of society about human rights and related issues.

 Institutions of the system of justice

We will be concentrating, first and foremost, on the three types of agencies associated with the three main branches of the system of justice: preliminary investigation, prosecution and punishment execution (e. g. Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Justice and the Federal Service for Execution of Punishment). We may contemplate assisting police academies in developing their syllabi and educational materials covering human rights related topics. We will try to contribute to a better engagement between formal and informal systems of justice and making human rights part and parcel of their work to guarantee equal access to justice for all.

NGOs, independent expert communities, political parties and civil rights activists

Academic events organized by HIGHWAY LIBERTYwill include workshops and conferences devoted to social and cultural topics.

A distinct line of activity will be direct or vicarious non-violent pressure on specific public agencies and/or office-holders whose misconduct brings discredit upon the government’s duty of policing human rights standards. The particular tools of such pressure can range from direct requests to the relevant public agencies and/or their leaders, to requesting checkups by auditing agencies, to backing independent NGOs and civil rights activists reporting violations, to pointed questions during press conferences or media scrums given by heads of those agencies, to picketing their headquarters etc.

A quite separate area of HIGHWAY LIBERTY operation will be setting up museums both in Canada and the target countries; another option would be a series of exhibitions devoted to the discovery and perception of human sexuality over course of human history in its relation to legal practices and public institutions.

Our research experience and working expertise will make us instrumental in conducting performance assessment of national and regional law enforcement authorities. We will seek ways to improve existing assessment routines via bolstering up institutional potential of the international network of human rights NGOs and operating, where possible, through their local branches. The top-priority areas to be monitored and assessed we selected are those where the challenges were most urgent – legislation and/or law enforcement dismissive of human rights standards at the national level; encroachments upon freedom of speech; we were also motivated by the search for gaps bedeviling the formulation or interpretation of human rights standards that create loopholes for abuse.

WHEN SELECTING RELEVANT TOPICS WE PAID ATTENTION TO THE FOLLOWING CRITERIA:

  • Whether the topic was consistent with the global human rights narrative
  • The relative maturity of specific human rights protection related norms, provisions and systems
  • Whether the topic was relevant to our partners in the target countries
  • Whether we considered our potential sufficient to achieve substantial and measurable impact during the strategic period
  • Whether we could bring our own experience in the area to the table

The topics we have selected for the 2015-2017 are as follows:

Human rights and sustainable development:

It has been a while since the international community drafted the ‘sustained development’ priorities. For our purposes what matters is that human rights principles should remain rock-steady throughout the implementation of the program.

 The universal nature of human rights

In the present-day global context, the legitimacy and consistency of the human rights principles, not least, freedom of speech, are being increasingly called into question, oftentimes citing ‘multiculturalism’, ‘cultural relativism’, or protection of groups against verbal or ‘microaggression’. However, we believe that discrimination, sexuality, religion and gender equality are all legitimate topics for free public discussion, and any genuinely free discussion inherently fits the framework of human rights. Creating consensus where contention currently reigns is a sine qua non of human rights promotion amid the pluralistic context of contemporary world.

Strategic priority 3: LGBTQ rights protection

Being fully aware of the scope of the issue and the limited resources of any one charitable organization, HIGHWAY LIBERTY proposes to focus on one particular region – those of the former USSR republics that have not become part of the European Union – and within that region, on one group whose rights are being increasingly abused. The vast part of the ex-Soviet territory has remained among the most backward places on the planet with respect to human rights in general. However, even there different groups of individuals suffer differently when it comes to human rights abuse. Lately, some groups have been increasingly treated by authorities as political footballs, or scapegoats and the ‘fifth column’ who the governments sense are ideally placed to take the blame for the governments’ political fiascos and economic failures. LGBTQ in the region fall invariably within these increasingly embattled minorities. According to numerous reports, LGBTQ in the region face such problems as denial of equal legal status to same-sex partnerships, workplace discrimination, difficulties getting a job in the public sector. Oftentimes police and investigators openly deny help to victims of homophobic violence; brutal break-ups of LGBTQ-rights rallies; and, last but not least, a bunch of newly enacted laws that de facto plead a special case for LGBTQ marking them off as a special ‘group’ whose rights by definition can be abridged compared to other citizens. HIGHWAY LIBERTY has a mind to transform the intellectual and legal Zeitgeist prevailing in the region. In addition, HIGHWAY LIBERTY will be trying to throw a lifeline to individual victims of wrongful acts or omissions on the part of the authorities. HIGHWAY LIBERTY will be doing its best to protect not only adults but children and youths as well against sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination.

Not desirous of pitting itself against other human rights NGOs, HIGHWAY LIBERTY would feel privileged to be able to bring our own innovative expertise to the table and to add new substance tothe discussion of human rights and equality. Our contribution will include:

  • Direct civil rights activism;
  • Offering economic opportunities to individuals and NGOs;
  • Combatting discrimination;
  • Providing relief for victims of discrimination and police brutality;
  • Attempting to influence decision making at various levels;
  • Educational and social initiatives aimed at furthering of democratic values;
  • Active human rights advocacy;
  • Supporting various LGBTQ rights-related initiatives aimed at social, creative, cultural and spiritual self-actualization of LGBTQ including LGBTQ youth;
  • Creating a positive image of LGBTQ in society through the media;
  • Framing adequate responses to homophobic and transphobic messages in the state-owned media;
  • Educational initiatives and outreach to challenge and blow up misguided assumptions, orthodoxies, established notions and popular myths about LGBTQ through backing academic research of human sexuality; organizing an educational campaign to bust popular myths about LGBTQ that may still be pervasive among employees of private enterprises or not-for-profit organizations.
  • Arranging and hosting public events fitting in with our aims and principles.

Strategic priority 4 (2015 – 2020)

Our capacity for problem-uncovering, roadmap development and resource allocation are defined by our expertise in the relative fields.

We drive impact through our project and research experience, as well as the hands-on experience built up in Canada and internationally. Our mandate involves pooling academic knowledge and practical expertise. We are able to combine our research in the field of human rights with practical knowledge of geographical, political and economic milieu of our target regions. Our goal is to pool together a bunch of real experts in local issues. Building on the foundation of our consistent legal philosophy, we will turn the data amassed by our experts on the ground into a set of targeted recommendations to deal with specific local issues.

Throughout this strategic period, we will be concentrating on three kinds of expertise:

1. Legal assessment of human rights-related norms and standards.

2. Specific knowledge of local dynamics.

3. Methodological assessment of technological, organizational and political processes.

It is essential that these three types of expertise should be embarked on simultaneously, if we are to bring about the changes we have in mind.

To reinforce impact, prominence will be given to the following priorities:

1. Partnerships with private charities and civic society forces in the target countries, since partnerships with government authorities charged with policing human rights issues are inherently more unwieldy; worse yet, they are extremely susceptible to the vagaries of politics. Presence on the ground of our experts is a necessary precondition for more cohesive and stable cooperation and trust.


Our criteria for selecting priority countries requiring local presence of or experts:

– The applicability of our philosophy of change to the local context and its compatibility with the operational mode of local governments and public services
– The political will of local authorities to embrace human rights reform
– Enthusiasm for reform on the part of our potential partners in the region
– The involvement of the given country in the regional dynamics
– The observable demand for our philosophy of impact and change
– The vailability of long-lasting resource base

  1. The importance of strategic partnership

 If we are to channel our expertise into supporting democratic institutions, it will be essential that we engage in strategic partnership with the civic society, private economic sector and academia, especially with the respected voices that carry weight with both the broader audience and policy makers.

A separate area of pursuit will be establishing contacts with justice system institutions in the priority regions. In addition, we are planning to establish robust strategic cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross and its regional branches, international organizations operating under the aegis of UN, civil rights NGOs, research institutes and businesses.
In order to maintain steady operation rate, we will be building a pool of donors and conduct uninterrupted crowdfunding campaign to raise private funding.

  1. Impact assessment

Assessing the impact an NGO is making on human rights environment region-wide, let alone worldwide, is no easy task. We want our future members, partners, beneficiaries and donors to be positively certain that we take our accountability and transparency very seriously. Besides, such accountability is the chief means of establishing institutional knowledge and heritage.

– Every aspect of our activity will be put up on our website, including statutory documents, mission, the organization’s history, contact details of all our branches, event calendar and write-ups and videos of every event hosted, arranged or attended by our members; complete financial reporting.

– Our postbag. We are equally open to positive reviews and criticism, and will gladly answer every relevant question concerning the organization’s history, philosophy and plans.

 

Strategic Priority 5 (2015 – 2020)

The more opinions make it into the public spotlight, the more viable a democracy is. This is the reason why freedom of speech is held in such high regard by the civilized humanity. That said, political hypocrisy can blur even the most transparent concept. Therefore Highway Liberty will be setting a special stress on unpacking this idea. In recent years, lawmakers in multiple countries have been increasingly worried that freedom of speech ought to be practiced ‘within reasonable limits’. Interest groups, sometimes with support from the academia, keep churning out pretences that could be used to squelch freedom of speech, from the war on terror to spiritual and psychological health of the younger generation to honour and dignity protection to protection of minorities against ‘microagression’ to countering ‘extremism’. Results of this ballyhoo are only too well known – they include Russia’s ‘gay-propaganda’ and ‘religious sentiments protection’ laws, censorship in state-owned media, banning books, articles, films or theatre productions, jail time for bloggers, breakups of peaceful political rallies, persecution of non-conformists and dissidents.

The ethical and humanitarian idea behind freedom of speech is that any opinion, even the most hard-hitting one, must be suffered to be expressed. Those who would like to appeal to the government to crackdown on the alleged offenders tend to cite their ‘right to not be offended’; they ought to be reminded however that historically freedom of speech is precisely freedom of hard-hitting criticism and even verbal insult. If ever human communication could be reduced to pleasantries, the concept of freedom of speech need never have arisen in the first place.

There is a practical side to this issue as well. In reality, the hurt sensitivities of influential ‘interest groups’ serve as a powerful pretext for screw-tightening, particularly so in the emerging democracies. On the more pragmatic side, a society that strives to limit the number of opinions to be voiced runs the risk of missing the emergence of some really dangerous, truly extremist forces altogether.

+ STEP 1

Working contacts with human rights NGOs and civil activists in Canada and former USSR states (2015 – 2016)

Strategic priority 1. The very first thing for a budding human rights NGO to do is to become part of the narrative, establishing contacts with local civil rights NGOs and academia. Our operation in Canada envisions a broad range of initiatives from monitoring of human rights abuse in Canada and abroad (especially in the former USSR republics) to developing partnerships with similar organizations from other countries to outreach initiatives targeting a broader audience. Additionally, we have plans to start a series of events along more academic lines, featuring lawyers, sociologists, law and social sciences professors.

Public awareness campaign: In the light of our aims and objects, our public outreach events will be aimed, first and foremost, at spreading the idea of human rights in their relation to inequality faced by LGBTQ; providing Canadian civil rights activists and all those interested with information about human rights across the former USSR (stressing specifically the state-driven discrimination on religious or political grounds or sexual orientation, gender identity etc.). We expect massive support coming from Canadian LGBTQ organizations. Apart from that, we expect to build interest in our activities among organizations pushing for world without boundaries, freer economic migration and eased migration policies. Events of this kind can take the shape of public lectures, debate clubs or webcasting (video channel, podcasts, social networking).

+ STEP 2

Strategic Priority 2 (2016 – 2020)

As an independent Canadian not-for-profit organization, HIGHWAY LIBERTY is potentially a good counterpart for civil rights activists and human rights NGOs dedicated to monitoring implementation of human rights commitments by the governments of their countries.

At this stage, we will be interested to develop contacts with the following types of institutions:

 National human rights institutions

We will lend support to emerging LGBTQ rights and human rights NGOs in those countries where such institutions have not yet been created; likewise, we will be prepared to offer cooperation and support to existing organizations. Our particular contribution will be to monitor human rights abuse (especially with regard to LGBTQ in the former Soviet states), report and assess the implementation of relevant recommendations as well as educational initiatives in the realm of human rights; HIGHWAY LIBERTY will also lend support to cultural and social research of human sexuality.

 National public institutions bearing an integrated human rights mandate

We will lend our assistance to public agencies bearing a human rights mandate, such as ministries of justice or internal affairs ministries, in setting out human rights-related provisions and legislation. In addition, we can assist them by preparing a round-up of existing legal networks to help them deal with cases of inadequate human rights protection or inadequate compliance. We will be supportive of any positive developments in monitoring practices and human rights reporting, including data mining and analysis and conducting a dialogue with broad segments of society about human rights and related issues.

 Institutions of the system of justice

We will be concentrating, first and foremost, on the three types of agencies associated with the three main branches of the system of justice: preliminary investigation, prosecution and punishment execution (e. g. Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Justice and the Federal Service for Execution of Punishment). We may contemplate assisting police academies in developing their syllabi and educational materials covering human rights related topics. We will try to contribute to a better engagement between formal and informal systems of justice and making human rights part and parcel of their work to guarantee equal access to justice for all.

NGOs, independent expert communities, political parties and civil rights activists

Academic events organized by HIGHWAY LIBERTYwill include workshops and conferences devoted to social and cultural topics.

A distinct line of activity will be direct or vicarious non-violent pressure on specific public agencies and/or office-holders whose misconduct brings discredit upon the government’s duty of policing human rights standards. The particular tools of such pressure can range from direct requests to the relevant public agencies and/or their leaders, to requesting checkups by auditing agencies, to backing independent NGOs and civil rights activists reporting violations, to pointed questions during press conferences or media scrums given by heads of those agencies, to picketing their headquarters etc.

A quite separate area of HIGHWAY LIBERTY operation will be setting up museums both in Canada and the target countries; another option would be a series of exhibitions devoted to the discovery and perception of human sexuality over course of human history in its relation to legal practices and public institutions.

Our research experience and working expertise will make us instrumental in conducting performance assessment of national and regional law enforcement authorities. We will seek ways to improve existing assessment routines via bolstering up institutional potential of the international network of human rights NGOs and operating, where possible, through their local branches. The top-priority areas to be monitored and assessed we selected are those where the challenges were most urgent – legislation and/or law enforcement dismissive of human rights standards at the national level; encroachments upon freedom of speech; we were also motivated by the search for gaps bedeviling the formulation or interpretation of human rights standards that create loopholes for abuse.

WHEN SELECTING RELEVANT TOPICS WE PAID ATTENTION TO THE FOLLOWING CRITERIA:

  • Whether the topic was consistent with the global human rights narrative
  • The relative maturity of specific human rights protection related norms, provisions and systems
  • Whether the topic was relevant to our partners in the target countries
  • Whether we considered our potential sufficient to achieve substantial and measurable impact during the strategic period
  • Whether we could bring our own experience in the area to the table

The topics we have selected for the 2015-2017 are as follows:

Human rights and sustainable development:

It has been a while since the international community drafted the ‘sustained development’ priorities. For our purposes what matters is that human rights principles should remain rock-steady throughout the implementation of the program.

 The universal nature of human rights

In the present-day global context, the legitimacy and consistency of the human rights principles, not least, freedom of speech, are being increasingly called into question, oftentimes citing ‘multiculturalism’, ‘cultural relativism’, or protection of groups against verbal or ‘microaggression’. However, we believe that discrimination, sexuality, religion and gender equality are all legitimate topics for free public discussion, and any genuinely free discussion inherently fits the framework of human rights. Creating consensus where contention currently reigns is a sine qua non of human rights promotion amid the pluralistic context of contemporary world.

+ STEP 3

Strategic priority 3: LGBTQ rights protection

Being fully aware of the scope of the issue and the limited resources of any one charitable organization, HIGHWAY LIBERTY proposes to focus on one particular region – those of the former USSR republics that have not become part of the European Union – and within that region, on one group whose rights are being increasingly abused. The vast part of the ex-Soviet territory has remained among the most backward places on the planet with respect to human rights in general. However, even there different groups of individuals suffer differently when it comes to human rights abuse. Lately, some groups have been increasingly treated by authorities as political footballs, or scapegoats and the ‘fifth column’ who the governments sense are ideally placed to take the blame for the governments’ political fiascos and economic failures. LGBTQ in the region fall invariably within these increasingly embattled minorities. According to numerous reports, LGBTQ in the region face such problems as denial of equal legal status to same-sex partnerships, workplace discrimination, difficulties getting a job in the public sector. Oftentimes police and investigators openly deny help to victims of homophobic violence; brutal break-ups of LGBTQ-rights rallies; and, last but not least, a bunch of newly enacted laws that de facto plead a special case for LGBTQ marking them off as a special ‘group’ whose rights by definition can be abridged compared to other citizens. HIGHWAY LIBERTY has a mind to transform the intellectual and legal Zeitgeist prevailing in the region. In addition, HIGHWAY LIBERTY will be trying to throw a lifeline to individual victims of wrongful acts or omissions on the part of the authorities. HIGHWAY LIBERTY will be doing its best to protect not only adults but children and youths as well against sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination.

Not desirous of pitting itself against other human rights NGOs, HIGHWAY LIBERTY would feel privileged to be able to bring our own innovative expertise to the table and to add new substance tothe discussion of human rights and equality. Our contribution will include:

  • Direct civil rights activism;
  • Offering economic opportunities to individuals and NGOs;
  • Combatting discrimination;
  • Providing relief for victims of discrimination and police brutality;
  • Attempting to influence decision making at various levels;
  • Educational and social initiatives aimed at furthering of democratic values;
  • Active human rights advocacy;
  • Supporting various LGBTQ rights-related initiatives aimed at social, creative, cultural and spiritual self-actualization of LGBTQ including LGBTQ youth;
  • Creating a positive image of LGBTQ in society through the media;
  • Framing adequate responses to homophobic and transphobic messages in the state-owned media;
  • Educational initiatives and outreach to challenge and blow up misguided assumptions, orthodoxies, established notions and popular myths about LGBTQ through backing academic research of human sexuality; organizing an educational campaign to bust popular myths about LGBTQ that may still be pervasive among employees of private enterprises or not-for-profit organizations.
  • Arranging and hosting public events fitting in with our aims and principles.
+ STEP 4

Strategic priority 4 (2015 – 2020)

Our capacity for problem-uncovering, roadmap development and resource allocation are defined by our expertise in the relative fields.

We drive impact through our project and research experience, as well as the hands-on experience built up in Canada and internationally. Our mandate involves pooling academic knowledge and practical expertise. We are able to combine our research in the field of human rights with practical knowledge of geographical, political and economic milieu of our target regions. Our goal is to pool together a bunch of real experts in local issues. Building on the foundation of our consistent legal philosophy, we will turn the data amassed by our experts on the ground into a set of targeted recommendations to deal with specific local issues.

Throughout this strategic period, we will be concentrating on three kinds of expertise:

1. Legal assessment of human rights-related norms and standards.

2. Specific knowledge of local dynamics.

3. Methodological assessment of technological, organizational and political processes.

It is essential that these three types of expertise should be embarked on simultaneously, if we are to bring about the changes we have in mind.

To reinforce impact, prominence will be given to the following priorities:

1. Partnerships with private charities and civic society forces in the target countries, since partnerships with government authorities charged with policing human rights issues are inherently more unwieldy; worse yet, they are extremely susceptible to the vagaries of politics. Presence on the ground of our experts is a necessary precondition for more cohesive and stable cooperation and trust.


Our criteria for selecting priority countries requiring local presence of or experts:

– The applicability of our philosophy of change to the local context and its compatibility with the operational mode of local governments and public services
– The political will of local authorities to embrace human rights reform
– Enthusiasm for reform on the part of our potential partners in the region
– The involvement of the given country in the regional dynamics
– The observable demand for our philosophy of impact and change
– The vailability of long-lasting resource base

  1. The importance of strategic partnership

 If we are to channel our expertise into supporting democratic institutions, it will be essential that we engage in strategic partnership with the civic society, private economic sector and academia, especially with the respected voices that carry weight with both the broader audience and policy makers.

A separate area of pursuit will be establishing contacts with justice system institutions in the priority regions. In addition, we are planning to establish robust strategic cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross and its regional branches, international organizations operating under the aegis of UN, civil rights NGOs, research institutes and businesses.
In order to maintain steady operation rate, we will be building a pool of donors and conduct uninterrupted crowdfunding campaign to raise private funding.

  1. Impact assessment

Assessing the impact an NGO is making on human rights environment region-wide, let alone worldwide, is no easy task. We want our future members, partners, beneficiaries and donors to be positively certain that we take our accountability and transparency very seriously. Besides, such accountability is the chief means of establishing institutional knowledge and heritage.

– Every aspect of our activity will be put up on our website, including statutory documents, mission, the organization’s history, contact details of all our branches, event calendar and write-ups and videos of every event hosted, arranged or attended by our members; complete financial reporting.

– Our postbag. We are equally open to positive reviews and criticism, and will gladly answer every relevant question concerning the organization’s history, philosophy and plans.

 

+ STEP 5

Strategic Priority 5 (2015 – 2020)

The more opinions make it into the public spotlight, the more viable a democracy is. This is the reason why freedom of speech is held in such high regard by the civilized humanity. That said, political hypocrisy can blur even the most transparent concept. Therefore Highway Liberty will be setting a special stress on unpacking this idea. In recent years, lawmakers in multiple countries have been increasingly worried that freedom of speech ought to be practiced ‘within reasonable limits’. Interest groups, sometimes with support from the academia, keep churning out pretences that could be used to squelch freedom of speech, from the war on terror to spiritual and psychological health of the younger generation to honour and dignity protection to protection of minorities against ‘microagression’ to countering ‘extremism’. Results of this ballyhoo are only too well known – they include Russia’s ‘gay-propaganda’ and ‘religious sentiments protection’ laws, censorship in state-owned media, banning books, articles, films or theatre productions, jail time for bloggers, breakups of peaceful political rallies, persecution of non-conformists and dissidents.

The ethical and humanitarian idea behind freedom of speech is that any opinion, even the most hard-hitting one, must be suffered to be expressed. Those who would like to appeal to the government to crackdown on the alleged offenders tend to cite their ‘right to not be offended’; they ought to be reminded however that historically freedom of speech is precisely freedom of hard-hitting criticism and even verbal insult. If ever human communication could be reduced to pleasantries, the concept of freedom of speech need never have arisen in the first place.

There is a practical side to this issue as well. In reality, the hurt sensitivities of influential ‘interest groups’ serve as a powerful pretext for screw-tightening, particularly so in the emerging democracies. On the more pragmatic side, a society that strives to limit the number of opinions to be voiced runs the risk of missing the emergence of some really dangerous, truly extremist forces altogether.

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