Human Rights Foundation condemns 'disheartening and shameful' violinist

Human Rights Foundation condemns 'disheartening and shameful' violinist


norman lebrecht

October 18, 2011

The HRF has issued a statement attacking those actors and musicians who performed for the Putin-appointed Chechen president on his 35th birthday. The Foundation points out that President Ramzan Kadyrov is responsible for many alleged ‘disappearances’.

Vanessa-Mae was singled out, along with Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme for their participation.

The Colombian singer Shakira was praised for her withdrawal. Full statement here.

Below: Kadyrov with Van Damme at his birthday. (photo: Ria Novosti)


  • I can certainly understand criticisms of Ramzan Kadyrov. And I can see a huge irony in Vanessa-Mae’s initiation since she is known for her rather revealing attire while Kadyrov has been a proponent of Islamic dress codes. What’s up with that? What did she wear for the performance?

    I haven’t looked closely into the matter and so I might be completely wrong, but there is something that doesn’t seem quite right about the Human Rights Foundation. Their advocacy so often seems to align with the interests of the US government even though its foreign policy also often leads to human rights abuses. As a sort of alibi, the HRF criticizes old US allies like Pinochet who are long gone, but remains relatively quiet about current abuses aligned with US interests. Their definition of human rights also seems to be biased toward libertarian, free-market perspectives and the forms of harmfully unmitigated capitalism it creates. As I say, I’m not sure about this, since information about the HRF is strangely limited. Perhaps there are others here who know more than I do and can alleviate my skepticism.

  • I got curious about the Human Rights Foundation so I did a little more research. The HRF’s founder is Thor Halvorssen Mendoza. He was also the first Executive Director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education which is involved with countering “liberal bias” on university campuses. This interview of Halvorssen by Sean Hannity on Fox News says something about his political orientation:

    Thor also founded a documentary film company called the Moving Picture Institute. The New York Times provides an amusing description of their work:

    “At a time when the most successful documentaries on political or social issues all seem to be anti-corporate, anti-Bush, pro-environmentalist and left-leaning, the Moving Picture Institute has backed pro-business, anti-Communist and even anti-environmentalist ones. The latest, “Indoctrinate U,” follows the first-time filmmaker Evan Coyne Maloney as he turns Michael Moore’s guerrilla interview tactics on their head to address what he sees as political correctness on campus. In one scene, Mr. Maloney strolls into the women’s studies centers on several campuses and, playing innocent, asks directions to the men’s studies center.” (“A Maverick Mogul, Proudly Politically Incorrect,” August 19, 2007.)

    Thor’s father, Thor Halvorssen Hellum, who comes from one of the richest families in Venezuela, was the drug czar during the administration of Carlos Andrés Pérez in the seventies where he worked closely with the DEA and CIA. He also worked with the CIA in El Salvador and Nicaragua during the dirty war of the eighties and was a close collaborator of Contra leader, Adolfo Calero. Ironically, the Contras were known for their brutal abuses, which only adds to the suspicions surrounding his son’s Human Rights Foundation and who it’s anonymous backers might be. Anyway, I don’t think Vanessa-Mae is the only one being “disenheartening and shameful.”

  • If what Wikipedia’s article on the Human Rights Foundation says is true, it seems a perfectly credible organization.

    It seems to me that we need to acknowledge that music has always received patronage from many sources. All the arts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance were funded by patronage, much of it from people we would now consider odious, I’m sure. But how does, or should, that affect our evaluation of the art itself?

    I just believe that we should preserve a distinction between the aesthetic quality of the music and the source of the funding. Sure, Vanessa-Mae is not an admirable musician, but not because she played for Kadyrov.

    I got into these issues in this post:

  • Thanks go to William Osborne for his thorough criticism of HRF. Let me address these head-on:

    Information about the Human Rights Foundation is hardly limited (we even include a list of our funders on our website). There are thousands of hits on google, dozens of original white papers and policy positions by HRF, and numerous articles about HRF’s work and HRF’s positions. I can tell you from an insider’s perspective that the office is a collection of individuals from across the political and ideological spectrum. We are hardly biased in our perspectives and we have a track record of being equal opportunity critics of human rights violators.

    We believe that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience.

    Mr. Osborne, how is this “not quite right,” “bias” or strange?

    HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes former prisoners of conscience Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Václav Havel, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Ramón J. Velásquez, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu. In what organization can you find victims of Hitler, of Stalin, of Mao (to name three opposites) standing shoulder to shoulder in consistent defense of human rights?

    Osborne seems to have a problem with HRF criticizing Vanessa Mae’s involvement with Ramzan Kadyrov but rather than battling this he instead seeks to discredit HRF’s founder.

    With regard to FIRE–it is an organization that has a startling record of consistency defending individual rights of students and professors on campus ranging from Sami al-Arian at University of South Florida to Steve Hinkle, the student in the case Osborne mentions. Nowhere other than in the mouths of inconsistent critics (or those justifying individual rights violations on campus) is FIRE seen as a group that is there to counter “liberal bias.” Nothing in the interview with Hannity says anything about political orientation (unless Osborne believes being on Hannity is a disqualifier–Halvorssen has appeared on Pacifica Radio, has been quoted approvingly in the Nation, and been frequently interviewed by numerous left-of-center media–does that make him biased against the right?). Would you say that the ACLU (whose current executive director, by the way, was one of the endorsers of Thor Halvorssen’s American Green Card) is a bias organization?

    Halvorssen founded the Moving Picture Institute–and he takes full responsibility for the films where he appears as producer. He is no more responsible for the views presented by filmmakers working with MPI than Disney is responsible for the views of the hundreds of filmmakers it works with. Where is Osborne’s praise of the film “The Sugar Babies” where Halvorssen and my colleagues take on the rich sugar barons of the U.S? Have you watched Indoctrinate U? Do you disagree with the films? In either case, it isn’t relevant to HRF. And to seek to discredit HRF on the basis of Halvorssen’s films is, again, trying to put the emphasis where it doesn’t belong.

    With regard to attacking Halvorssen by criticizing his father–is this really a disqualifier? Before more below-the-belt type criticism I suggest Osborne read more about the case. It was when Halvorssen Sr. became a political prisoner that Thor Halvorssen became involved with human rights advocacy in an institutional manner. I am stunned that Osborne engages in such selective (talk about bias!) discredit–putting aside a career that only indicates consistency.

    It may interest you to know that Halvorssen also founded the Oslo Freedom Forum, a program of HRF. That is where Julian Assange, for instance, delivered his most powerful jeremiad against the U.S. government. There you will find speaker after speaker criticizing the human rights violations of government after government regardless of whether they are allies or enemies of the United States (or the West). Is this not enough? See:

    Those wanting to know HRF’s wordlview and positions may want to visit this link:

    And, again, thanks for reading. The discussion of these issues only underlines that a lot more work needs to be done exposing human rights violators and what they do to buy (or rent) credibility. Vanessa Mae should be held to account for personally endorsing Ramzan Kadyrov (for a price, no less!)

    Sarah Wasserman
    Human Rights Foundation
    New York, NY

  • Christy says:

    Anyone who deals in any way with Chechnya can tell horror stories about Kadyrov and his administration.

    Not mentioned above, but the singer Seal also performed. While Vanessa Mae has publicly apologized, Seal has attacked the HRF and defended his right to perform. He says people just don’t understand Kadyrov. Ignorance + arrogance.

  • Hello Sarah. As I said, I have no problem with criticizing Kadyrov. And there is nothing wrong with the ideals you state in the first two paragraphs. My concern is that the HRF largely ignores American abuses of human rights, which is definitely a form of bias.
    If you can list significant and specific examples where the HRF *itself* has clearly criticized American or American sponsored human rights abuses, most of my concerns will be alleviated. By this, I mean such things as the American use of torture in interrogations, special renditions, kidnapping people off the streets of sovereign countries like Italy, and extra-judicial off shore compounds like Guantanamo Bay and black-op prisons in Eastern Europe, Iraq, and Afgahnistan where people are held indefinitely with little hope of fair trials.

    What has the HRF said about major abuses like the US backed genocide against the Mayans in Guatemala which reached its height under the Reagan administration and in which about 300,000 people were mass murdered? (For a brief summary of those horrific events see my comment at this Slipped Disk blog:

    What has the HRF said about the obvious and extensive abuses of human rights the US committed or backed in the recent wars in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Iraq, and Afghanistan? Why has the HRF been so silent about the treatment of the Palestinians while other organizations like Human Rights Watch have expressed serious and reasonable concerns?

    If you can’t provide substantial answers to these questions, the suspicion of bias will remain in many people’s minds. I know the HRF has a reputation for strongly debating its critics. To tell the truth, I hope you can provide a convincing response. We need people to raise awareness about our own American abuses of human rights.