Belgrade, Serbia – More than 200 civil society leaders and human rights activists from some 100 countries were seen running through the streets of Serbia toda literally.
The #FreedomRunner event, held at the close of International Civil Society Week (ICSW) 2019, a week-long global civil society gathering, kicked off a global campaign calling on people around the world to run in the name of human rights defenders who are currently jailed, being persecuted, or at risk for their work.
Throughout the ICSW 2019 forum, it was evident that individuals and organisations are increasingly under attack in many countries. Activists, journalists and people who speak out against growing restrictions are often persecuted, and a historic, unprecedented rise of populist leaders continues to erode fundamental freedoms and sow division in many countries.
But brave women and men across the globe are refusing to be silenced.
“In every country, and often in the face of serious risks, people are standing up for their rights. Those of us with the freedom to do so need to stand – or even run – alongside them,” said Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General.
The Freedom Runner campaign will be launched together with the Belgrade Marathon, a major annual event on the city’s calendar, on Sunday, April, 14.
“We are dedicating the first run within this global movement to the Marija Lukic, a Serbian survivor of sexual violence, who is still fighting her struggle for her rights on behalf of all of us,” said Maja Stojanovic, Executive Director of ICSW co-host Civic Initiatives, an association of Serbian civil society organisations.
“The connections that will be made among freedom runners all around the world is a powerful tool for creating more just, inclusive societies,” said Stojanovic.
Over the coming year, runners will sign up to an online platform to track their collective runs, until they have run around the world – with some 40,075 km of running logged in the name of freedom – to arrive “back” in Belgrade.
“Running today is our way of showing how powerful we can be when we work together,” said John.
“We hope that people around the world will join us by running in their own cities and countries, so that we keep the spotlight shining on those whose basic freedoms are at risk.”
Co-hosted by the global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and Serbian civil society association, Civic Initiatives, with support of the Balkans Civil Society Development Network, ICSW brought together more than 900 delegates. This was the first time in almost a quarter century of international convening, that CIVICUS hosted its flagship event in the Balkans – a region of 11 countries and 55 million people.
This year’s theme, “The Power of Togetherness”, set out to explore how people and organisations around the world can, and are, working together to enable and defend spaces for civic action in a world where global transformations are reshaping how civil society functions.