An Overview of Thor Halvorssen’s Thoughts on Celebrities Stance on Human Rights

In an article on Time, Thor Halvorssen (president of Human Rights Foundation, New York)explored the issue of entertainers learning the hard way about the consequences of celebrating dictators. This was after Erykah Badu performed for King Mswati III, an African dictator. At the same time seven Swazi nationals were apprehended for having on t-shirts that appeared to be criticizing the king. Swaziland has no political parties and criticizing the government is against the law. In the jail that the seven were thrown, there is an iconic human rights attorney and journalist (Thulani Maseko), who have leg irons on their feet.

PR Disaster

Erykah Badu’s management team did not respond to the concerns raised by a number of human rights groups and foundations and the artist was quick to brush off HRF and other groups. She retweeted a comment claiming that she does not owe anyone an explanation on her performance in Swaziland. This erupted a lot of commentaries and she was quick to attack her critics. She went on for a record eight hours attacking her critics on twitter. She later on claimed that she did not know about the political climate in the kingdom and that she donated her pay to the servants in the house she was hosted in.

Changing Times

In the past it was easy for entertainers to entertain human rights violators and get a small fortune off it. However, times have changed due to the advent of social media and smart phones. This has made it harder for such shows to be kept under wraps and it leads to PR meltdowns for such performers. The tyrants who hire such entertainers are also not spared from the unwanted attention they get from the whole debacle.

Way Forward

Thor Halvorssen notes that there are people who argue that artists are often apolitical and cannot play an active role in human rights struggle. He however, argues that some have taken the oppressor’s side. He advises that celebrities can leverage their celebrity power and take a public stand denouncing dictatorship. A single tweet from a celebrity would be enough to show solidarity and prove inspirational to people living under tyrannies. It would also serve as a warning shot to human rights oppressors.

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