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.
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.
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.
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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Around the world dictators and oppressive governments have been stripping away the human rights of their people, but in the 21st century the complex figure of Thor Halvorssen has come forward to become a thorn in the side of these difficult government officials. Halvorssen has not taken the usual route to success as a human rights activist as the latest in a long line of diplomats and political figures in his native Venezuela and ancestral home of Norway. Halvorssen’s father was himself arrested and tortured when he was given the role of drug czar in Venezuela and uncovered a large amount of corruption running through law enforcement agencies.
Over the course of his career Thor Halvorssen has been looking to bring human rights abuses to the attention of the media and public of the world no matter where they are committed; this stance has often put Halvorssen in a difficult situation with others ion the human rights activism community who do not believe socialist governments should be part of the work of activists. In contrast, Thor Halvorssen has looked to bring each and every government to account for their human rights problems, including the socialist rulers of Cuba he feels are just as dangerous as any other that takes part in stripping individuals of their human rights.
According to Time, Thor Halvorssen does not limit himself to working in the human rights activism field and has embarked upon a career as an important member of the Hollywood community in his role as a film producer. Halvorssen has worked with many of the most famous names in Hollywood, including Quentin Tarantino and Lucy Liu on a number of documentary projects; recently, the graduate of the University of Pennsylvania has been working on projects in the fiction genre with high profile directors.
Unlike many of his contemporaries in the human rights activism community Thor Halvorssen is willing to step into what would normally be seen as new environments not deemed friendly to liberal viewpoints. The owner of Norway’s Ny Tid newspaper has given his views to news outlets, such as Fox News and The Huffington Post.