Rafto Foundation for Human Rights

The Rafto Foundation for Human Rights was established in 1986 in memory of Thorolf Rafto, a professor of economic history at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) and a human rights activist. The main objective of the Rafto Foundation is the promotion of freedom of political expression and enterprise. The work of the foundation consists of different educational and informative projects, including the annual award of the Rafto Prize (Raftoprisen) each November. The foundation is based in Bergen, Norway and run by a small team of professionals and volunteers.


The work of the Rafto Foundation is done by a small team of professionals and volunteers. The major emphasis is made on the presentation of the Professor Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize support of previous laureates as well as educational projects, informative events and lobby initiatives.

In 2018, Ombudsman Adam Bodnar was awarded the Rafto Prize for his work defending minorities rights and judicial independence in Poland.

In 2017, the Rafto Prize was awarded to Ms Parveena Ahangar of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and Lawyer Mr Parvez Imroz of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, recognizing their work to document and defend the rights of victims of enforced disappearances and other human rights violences in the Indian-administered region of Kashmir.

In 2016, the prize was awarded Ms Yanar Muhammed, Chairperson of Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), working to promote women's rights generally, and especially to provide shelter and protection for women left vulnerable during the armed conflict going on in Iraq since 2003, and also motivated by the patriarchal norms of family honor prevalent in the region.

In 2004, Rebiya Kadeer was awarded the Rafto Prize for her efforts to bring to the end social and economic marginalisation of the Uyghur people of Xinjiang. In a promotion of the human rights of the Uyghur people, the Rafto Foundation published a book, “In Our World of Good and Evil”, (2006) and assisted in a production of a documentary, “On a tightrope” (2006).

In 2000, Kim Dae-jung was awarded the Rafto Prize for his tireless fight for democracy and human rights in Korea. Since that time, the Rafto Foundation provides a significant contribution to the annual international conferences held in Bergen, Norway. The foundation supported also a production of a documentary film, “YODOK Stories” about Yodok concentration camp in North Korea.

In 1999, Gennady Grushevoy was awarded the Rafto Prize for his brave work for democracy and human rights under the Lukashenko dictatorship in Belarus. Together with the Norwegian film company Piraya Film, a documentary film, “Belarusian Waltz”, was released in 2007. The film tells the incredible story of a Belurussian painter and performance artist, Alexander Pushkin, and his brave challenges to President Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime.

In 1994, Leyla Zana, the Kurdish Parliamentarian, became the Rafto Prize laureate for her struggle for the human rights of the Kurdish people in Turkey and the neighbouring countries. In her struggle for freedom, Leyla Zana has become a symbol of a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish conflict in Turkey. The Rafto Foundation took an active role in establishing the EU Turkey Civic Commission and series of conferences in Brussels, on the Kurdish minority rights.

In 1990, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Rafto Prize for her peaceful struggle under a military dictatorship. Since 1990 Burma has become one of the main follow up projects of the Rafto Foundation. A close work with the Burmese community in Norway made the Rafto Foundation to take an initiative in setting up of the Norwegian Burma Committee, which at the moment is based in Oslo and runs independently from the Rafto Foundation.


Thorolf Rafto was well known for his political activism in Eastern Europe, especially in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland. During a visit to Prague in 1979 to hold a lecture for students excluded from universities for political reasons, Rafto was arrested and brutally beaten up by the communist security police. Inflicted injuries dramatically weakened his health. On 4 November 1986 Thorolf Rafto died. However, his friends and colleagues agreed to establish a foundation that would continue the Rafto’s work on a promotion of freedom of speech and political expression in Eastern Europe. It was also decided to introduce a prize for human right activists.

Nevertheless, the fall of the Iron Curtain and the consequential democratization of Eastern European states made to reconsider the status of the foundation. Meanwhile it has opened new possibilities to work with other geographical regions in a promotion of human rights. Already in 1990, the Rafto Prize was awarded to a Burmese democratic leader, [ Aung San Suu Kyi] that in the following year 1991 has received the Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.

For the first years, the foundation was based at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration. From 1997, the Rafto foundation was relocated to the Human Rights House of Bergen. The Human Right House was established in a memory of Thorolf Rafto’s son, journalist Egil Rafto (1951-1997) and officially was opened in 1999 by Kim Aris, the youngest son of Burmese diplomat Aung San Suu Kyi and British historian Michael Aris (1946–1999). Beside the Rafto Foundation, several organisations have permanent offices in the house, such as Amnesty International, AFS Intercultural Learning, Médecins Sans Frontières, Norwegian Church Aid's Youth, while other groups use the house for seminars, meetings and social events.


Educational projects are given a high priority too. The house seeks to be a centre of Human Rights expertise, which can serve as a focal point in the local network and take on a coordinating role between the local and the international network. In August, 2008 the Rafto Foundation organised an exhibition and a roundtable on Poverty and Human Rights (with the example of Dalits) for the Summer Research School of the University of Bergen. Among the invited speakers were the 2007 Rafto Prize laureates, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.