Hometown Journey

Thor Halvorssen: Hammering out Worldwide Injustice

Thor Halvorssen was a college freshman when he received the call that would change his life. His father had been imprisoned in Venezuela, in one of the worst prisons in the world, on false charges of terrorism.

Thor Halvorssen immediately began petitioning ambassadors and international organizations. The media firestorm and support from Amnesty International culminated in the release of his father.

This event catalyzed Thor Halvorssen’s lifelong passion for human rights and began his career. Following the campaign, the International Society for Human Rights appointed him director of their Pan-American Committee.

Halvorssen again entered the public eye in 1999, when he championed a campaign pressuring Lucent Technologies to adopt antislavery policies. That same year he became the chief executive officer and executive director for the Foundations for Individual Rights in Education. He headed the group for five years, forming bipartisan coalitions to defend free speech for all.

In 2004 Halvorssen announced a new foundation that would “champion the definition of human rights that originally animated the human rights movement, centered on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny.” The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) was born. HRF conducts programs globally, focusing on education and advocacy.

Some of their largest advocacy campaigns have fought for women in Pakistan and the release of Chinese political prisoner Liu Xiaobo. HRF also works to expose dictatorships, human rights violations, and the people who support them, including Hollywood celebrities. The organization’s Center for Law and Democracy promotes legal scholarship and improvements in international law. Finally, they conduct on the ground humanitarian aid programs to assist activists and citizens.

Thor Halvorssen is only 40 years old and he has changed the world. His tremendous contributions to the fields of public policy, pro-democracy advocacy, and individual rights and civil liberties are truly inspiring.


President of the Human Rights Foundation Thor Halvorssen

Thor Halvorssen is known for being a human rights advocate and film producer. When he was just a young child, he began advocating for human rights in 1989. He organized opposition to South African apartheid in London. Halvorssen’s background is Venezuelan and Norwegian. His father became a political prisoner, which led Halvorssen to become fully involved in the promotion of individual rights. After revealing government corruption while working as Venezuela’s drug czar, his father was beaten and tormented in a Caracas prison.

In 2004, his mother was shot in New York during a political protest and Thor Halvorssen then founded the New York-based Human Rights Foundation. HRF promotes tolerance and democracy in Latin America and is loyal to liberating political prisoners. They have secured the release of seven prisoners of conscience, provided evidence to Truth Commissions and have published two books on individual rights. He is also founder and CEO of the Oslo Freedom Forum, which is an annual festival for human-rights.

Thor had a man named Václav Havel serve as HRF’s chairman until he died in 2011, he was then replaced with Garry Kasparov who was a Russian chess grandmaster and political activist. A year later, Kasparov was carried off by Russian police and repeatedly beaten. He was sentenced two years in prison for singing an anti-Putin song. Kasparov is not the only one to have been beaten for the cause, Thor himself has been as well. In 2010, Thor and a cameraman traveled to Ho Chi Minh City to interview the patriarch of Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. They were able to tape the interview, but on the way out Vietnamese authorities caught them and used Thor as a punching bag. HRF is a smaller human-rights organization, but their sights are set after big fish in order to make a difference in people’s lives.

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