This year celebrates the 75th anniversary of Roosevelt’s four freedoms speech. With WWII ongoing at that time, Roosevelt believed that these four freedoms would diminish the security threat America was facing. The Roosevelt Foundation in Middelburg (where Roosevelt’s ancestors were originally from) and the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute in New York work together to inspire others to keep Roosevelt’s legacy alive. To show gratitude to people and organizations who are fighting for these values, the Four Freedom Awards are held annually.
On 22 April, one day after the Awards in Middelburg, The Hague Institute and the Roosevelt Foundation are organizing the ‘Roosevelt in The Hague event’ at the Peace Palace. The laureates will present themselves and the extraordinary work they are carrying out. This year, the awards go to Mazen Darwish (freedom of speech), Archbishop Nzapalainga, Imam Layama, and The Rev. Guérékoyame-Gbangou from the Central African Republic (freedom of worship), Dr. Denis Mukwege (freedom from want), and Human Rights Watch (freedom from fear). They exemplify the values that are still relevant today.
The freedom of speech and expression has taken many forms over the years, especially with social networks providing the opportunity for everyone’s voice to be heard. On the one hand, society condemns the lack of freedom of speech in countries like Syria, where journalists such as Mazen Darwish are unfairly imprisoned for reporting on the ongoing conflict and mass atrocities. On the other hand, we take that same freedom for granted by thinking it allows us to make offensive comments, as we have seen during America’s presidential debate.
Throughout human history, religion has played a major role in conflicts, resulting in terrible humanitarian consequences. The Global Peace Index has listed increased terrorist activity as the main reason for a decline in peace (p. 1). In fact, twenty of the most religious countries are less peaceful than the international average (p. 12). It’s quite the contradiction that religion is often the motivator for conflict, while at the same time great peacebuilders like the three clergymen from Central African Republic demonstrate the positive role religion can play in bringing societies together to build peace.
With peace being inextricably related to freedom, Roosevelt believed that true freedom could not exist without having an adequate standard of living. Roosevelt’s four freedoms speech greatly influenced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was drafted under the chairmanship of his wife. The freedom from want became the main inspiration for including the right to social security and medical care in the UDHR?. Unfortunately, medical care is not always accessible in countries such as The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where women in conflict are often victims of sexual violence as a military tactic. To protect and help victims and survivors, Dr. Denis Mukwege dedicates his work to providing medical and psycho-social care for women in DRC to help them reintegrate into society. Working towards gender equality is beneficial to society as a whole, and this can be achieved when we empower women and break down the huge barriers and inequalities they are facing.
When Roosevelt created the fourth freedom, the freedom from fear, he wanted to make sure that no country would be in a position to start ‘an act of aggression’ against another country. In today’s globalized world, just by reading the newspaper we know that this freedom is not a given. From refugees risking their lives at sea hoping to find a better future for their children, to racially motivated acts of violence and terrorist attacks, fear can have an immediate impact during a conflict and long-lasting impacts on societies. We should be grateful for our freedoms and the fact that they are protected by law, and organizations like Human Rights Watch stand strong for those who are oppressed.
In an ever-changing world, there will always be new challenges to overcome. In today’s globalized society, our lives are so intertwined with one another, that one’s freedom often depends on another person’s freedom. Therefore, it is more essential than ever to teach the next generation the importance of freedom to bring about change. As Roosevelt stated: “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”