Thor Halvorssen (human rights activist)

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Thor Halvorssen Mendoza
Thor Halvorssen.jpg
Thor Leonardo Halvorssen Mendoza

(1976-03-09) March 9, 1976 (age 43) [1] [2]
Alma mater University of Pennsylvania
Organization Human Rights Foundation (Founder and CEO)
Oslo Freedom Forum (Founder)

Thor Leonardo Halvorssen Mendoza (born 1976 [1] [2] )—commonly known as Thor Halvorssen (Spanish pronunciation:  [ˈtoɾ al.ˈβoɾs.sɛ̃n] ) [a] —is a Venezuelan human rights advocate and film producer with contributions in the field of public policy, public interest advocacy, individual rights and civil liberties, and pro-democracy advocacy. The New York Times described Halvorssen in an August 2007 profile as a maverick "who champions the underdog and the powerless." [1] In a 2013 profile Buzzfeed publishes that Halvorssen "possesses a burning desire to right the countless injustices of this world and he has committed himself to this task with an intensity to match that of the dictatorship he has placed in his sights. And he does not care if those injustices are being committed by the 'right-wing' or 'left-wing' regimes." [3]

Venezuela Republic in northern South America

Venezuela, officially the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, is a country on the northern coast of South America, consisting of a continental landmass and many small islands and islets in the Caribbean Sea. It has a territorial extension of 916,445 km2. The continental territory is bordered on the north by the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Colombia, Brazil on the south, Trinidad and Tobago to the north-east and on the east by Guyana. The Venezuelan government maintains a claim against Guyana to Guayana Esequiba, an area of 159,542 km2. For its maritime areas, Venezuela exercises sovereignty over 71,295 km2 of territorial waters, 22,224 km2 in its contiguous zone, 471,507 km2 of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean under the concept of exclusive economic zone, and 99,889 km2 of continental shelf. This marine area borders those of 13 states. The capital and largest urban agglomeration is the city of Caracas. The country has extremely high biodiversity and is ranked seventh in the world's list of nations with the most number of species. There are habitats ranging from the Andes Mountains in the west to the Amazon basin rain-forest in the south via extensive llanos plains, the Caribbean coast and the Orinoco River Delta in the east.

<i>The New York Times</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper based in New York City

The New York Times is an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership. Founded in 1851, the paper has won 127 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The Times is ranked 18th in the world by circulation and 3rd in the U.S.


Halvorssen is founder of the Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual gathering described by The Economist as a "spectacular human-rights festival ... on its way to becoming a human-rights equivalent of the Davos economic forum". [4] Halvorssen is president of the Human Rights Foundation, an organization devoted to global human rights and freedom. He is the Patron of the Czech-based Children's Peace Movement, On Own Feet, [5] and founder of the Moving Picture Institute. [6] Halvorssen bought the traditionally leftist Norwegian news magazine Ny Tid in May 2010. [7]

Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) is a series of global conferences run by the New York-based non-profit Human Rights Foundation under the slogan “Challenging Power.” OFF was founded in 2009 as a one-time event and has taken place annually ever since. One of the key objectives of the conferences is to bring together notable people, including former heads of state, winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, prisoners of conscience, as well as of other public figures in order to network and exchange ideas about human rights and exposing dictatorships.

<i>The Economist</i> English weekly news and international affairs publication

The Economist is an English-language weekly magazine-format newspaper owned by the Economist Group and edited at offices in London. Continuous publication began under its founder James Wilson in September 1843. In 2015, its average weekly circulation was a little over 1.5 million, about half of which were sold in the United States. Pearson PLC held a 50% shareholding via The Financial Times Limited until August 2015. At that time, Pearson sold their share in the Economist. The Agnelli family's Exor paid £287m to raise their stake from 4.7% to 43.4% while the Economist paid £182m for the balance of 5.04m shares which will be distributed to current shareholders. Aside from the Agnelli family, smaller shareholders in the company include Cadbury, Rothschild (21%), Schroder, Layton and other family interests as well as a number of staff and former staff shareholders.

Human Rights Foundation non-profit organization

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a non-profit organization that describes itself as promoting and protecting human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. HRF organizes the Oslo Freedom Forum. The Human Rights Foundation was founded in 2005 by Thor Halvorssen Mendoza, a Venezuelan film producer and human rights advocate. The current chairman is Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, and Javier El-Hage is the current chief legal officer. The foundation's head office is in New York City.

Halvorssen's opinions have appeared in The New York Times , The Wall Street Journal , The Washington Post , National Public Radio, Time magazine, The Nation and National Journal , and he has appeared on television outlets such as al-Jazeera, BBC News, [8] Fox News Channel’s The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity & Colmes , MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews , CNN, and HBO. Thor Halvorssen was a speaker at TEDx at the University of Pennsylvania in October 2010. [9]

<i>The Wall Street Journal</i> American business-focused daily broadsheet newspaper based in New York City

The Wall Street Journal is a U.S. business-focused, English-language international daily newspaper based in New York City. The Journal, along with its Asian and European editions, is published six days a week by Dow Jones & Company, a division of News Corp. The newspaper is published in the broadsheet format and online. The Journal has been printed continuously since its inception on July 8, 1889, by Charles Dow, Edward Jones, and Charles Bergstresser.

<i>The Washington Post</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper published in Washington, D.C.

The Washington Post is a major American daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C. It has the largest circulation in the Washington metropolitan area. Daily broadsheet editions are printed for the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.

Time is an American weekly news magazine and news website published in New York City. It was founded in 1923 and originally run by Henry Luce. A European edition is published in London and also covers the Middle East, Africa, and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong. The South Pacific edition, which covers Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands, is based in Sydney. In December 2008, Time discontinued publishing a Canadian advertiser edition.

Halvorssen testified to Congress that he was the target of a smear campaign by Fusion GPS. Halvorssen provided testimony to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2017. [10] [11]

Fusion GPS is a commercial research and strategic intelligence firm based in Washington, D.C. The company conducts open-source investigations and provides research and strategic advice for businesses, law firms and investors, as well as for political inquiries, such as opposition research. The "GPS" initialism is derived from "Global research, Political analysis, Strategic insight".


Halvorssen was born in Venezuela to Hilda Mendoza, a descendant and a relative, respectively, of Venezuela's first president Cristóbal Mendoza and liberator Simón Bolívar. His father is Thor Halvorssen Hellum, who served as a Venezuelan Ambassador for anti-Narcotic Affairs in the administration of Carlos Andrés Pérez and as special overseas investigator of a Venezuelan Senate Commission. His family was prosperous and on his father's side he is the grandson of Øystein Halvorssen, who served as Norway's honorary consul-general in Caracas [12] and who "built a family dynasty as the Venezuelan representative for corporations including Dunlop, Alfa Laval and Ericsson." [1] His cousin is Leopoldo Lopez. [13] a Venezuelan politician, activist, and a political prisoner after called for peaceful protests in February 2014.

Cristóbal Mendoza President of Venezuela

José Cristóbal Hurtado de Mendoza y Montilla, commonly known as Cristóbal Mendoza, was a Venezuelan lawyer, politician, writer, and academic. Cristobal is best known for serving as the first official President of Venezuela from 1811 to 1812. After earning a master's degree in philosophy in Caracas and his doctor utriusque juris in the Dominican Republic, early in his professional career he served in various law firms in Trujillo, Mérida, and Caracas. He moved to Barinas in 1796 to practice law, and in 1807 was elected Mayor of Barinas. In 1810, Mendoza joined the insurgent movement started by wealthy Caracan citizens against the Spanish crown, and in 1811 was elected to represent the province of Barinas in the newly founded Constituent Congress of Venezuela. Days later he was appointed the first president of the First Republic of Venezuela, a role he shared as part of a triumvirate. Until his term ended in March 1812, Mendoza began the war for independence against the parts of Venezuela that still supported the Spanish monarchy, authored the Venezuelan Declaration of Independence, and also took part in constructing the first Constitution of the Republic of Venezuela.

Simón Bolívar Venezuelan military and political leader, South American libertador

Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte-Andrade y Blanco, generally known as Simón Bolívar and also colloquially as El Libertador, or the Liberator, was a Venezuelan military and political leader who led the independence of what are currently the states of Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama from the Spanish Empire.

Carlos Andrés Pérez President of Venezuela

Carlos Andrés Pérez Rodríguez also known as CAP and often referred to as El Gocho, was a Venezuelan politician, President of Venezuela from 12 March 1974 to 12 March 1979 and again from 2 February 1989 to 21 May 1993. His first presidency was known as the Saudi Venezuela due to its economic and social prosperity thanks to enormous income from petroleum exportation. However, his second period saw a continuation of the economic crisis of the 1980s, and saw a series of social crises, a popular revolt and two coup attempts in 1992. In May 1993 he became the first Venezuelan president to be forced out of the office by the Supreme Court, for the embezzlement of 250 million bolívars belonging to a presidential discretionary fund.

Halvorssen attended the University of Pennsylvania and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude, with concurrent undergraduate and graduate degrees in Political Science and History.

University of Pennsylvania Private Ivy League research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania is a private Ivy League research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is one of the nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence and the first institution of higher learning in the United States to refer to itself as a university. Benjamin Franklin, Penn's founder and first president, advocated an educational program that trained leaders in commerce, government, and public service, similar to a modern liberal arts curriculum.

Phi Beta Kappa Honor society for the liberal arts and sciences in the United States

The Phi Beta Kappa Society (ΦΒΚ) is the oldest academic honor society in the United States, and is often described as its most prestigious honor society, due to its long history and academic selectivity. Phi Beta Kappa aims to promote and advocate excellence in the liberal arts and sciences, and to induct the most outstanding students of arts and sciences at American colleges and universities. It was founded at the College of William and Mary on December 5, 1776 as the first collegiate Greek-letter fraternity and was among the earliest collegiate fraternal societies.

Father's imprisonment

When Halvorssen was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania [6] in 1993, his father was arrested while investigating the Medellín cartel for money laundering and bank fraud. His father was tortured, beaten, and in danger of being murdered [14] during his 74-day incarceration in a Caracas jail on "trumped-up" charges of terrorism. [15] [16] [17] Halvorssen led the campaign for his father’s release, garnering help from Amnesty International [6] which issued protests along with other International organizations. Halvorssen was eventually found innocent of all charges. After his release the United Nations-affiliated International Society for Human Rights appointed him director of their Pan-American Committee. [14] [18] [19]

Mother's shooting

While attending a peaceful protest of the Venezuelan recall referendum of 2004, Halvorssen's mother, Hilda Mendoza Denham, a British subject, was shot. [20] Images of government supporters firing upon the demonstrators were captured by a live television broadcast. [21] [22] The Wall Street Journal published an article written by Halvorssen about the shooting of his mother by members of the Venezuelan government security apparatus. [23] The gunmen were later apprehended, tried, had their sentences revoked, tried again, found guilty, and received 3-year sentences for murder and for bodily harm. [24] [25] They were released after serving six months in prison. [26]


Halvorssen has a specialty on matters regarding dictatorships, human trafficking, slavery, and threats to democracy. He has lectured widely on the subject of human rights including at Harvard Law School, the New York City Junto, the United Nations Association in New York, and the American Enterprise Institute. [27] [28] [29] [30] Halvorssen has also spoken at the British parliament. [31]

Lucent Technologies

In 1999, Halvorssen spearheaded a campaign on the floor of the Lucent Technologies annual shareholder meeting appealing for the creation of an anti-slave labor policy whereby Lucent would require China to certify that Lucent's products were not fabricated using slave labor. China's Laogai camps allegedly imprison eight million men, women, and children in 1100 factories, farms, and other facilities producing a wide range of consumer products. [32]

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

In 1999, Halvorssen became the first executive director and chief executive officer of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a U.S. civil liberties organization. As head of FIRE, Halvorssen formed coalitions that brought together the conservative and libertarian advocacy organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, Feminists for Free Expression, the Eagle Forum, with more traditional free speech defenders such as the ACLU. Halvorssen has a track record of defending individuals both on the right [33] and on the left of the political spectrum. [34]

In 2001, Halvorssen stated that, "Liberty of opinion, speech, and expression is indispensable to a free and, in the deepest sense, progressive society. Deny it to one, and you deny it effectively to all. These truths long have been ignored and betrayed on our campuses, to the peril of a free society." [35] In a 2003 moderated chat, he said, "History has taught us that a society that does not respect individual rights, freedom of conscience, and freedom of speech will not long survive as a free society in any form." [36]

Human Rights Foundation

Halvorssen stepped down as head of FIRE in March 2004 to join its Board of Advisors and announced the creation of an international group 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." [37] HRF was incorporated in 2005, opening its headquarters in New York City in August 2006. Its International Council includes several well-known prisoners of conscience such as Elie Wiesel, Harry Wu, and Vladimir Bukovsky. It also includes democracy activists such as Mart Laar, and Garry Kasparov. Its chairman until his death in December 2011, was Václav Havel.

At the helm of HRF Halvorssen has repeatedly lobbied and advocated for the release of Chinese political prisoner Liu Xiaobo. [38] [39] In 2010 Halvorssen was special guest of Liu Xiaobo at the Nobel Prize ceremony awarding the prize to Liu Xiaobo in absentia. [40] [41] [42] Halvorssen is identified as a supporter of Chinese Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer and has sharply criticized the Tawainese Kuomintang government for its banning visits by Kadeer. [43] Halvorssen has supported UN-level action to address the violations of Uyghur rights in China.

Halvorssen appears as a frequent critic of Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni and, in particular, the legislative efforts in Uganda to punish homosexuality with the death penalty. [44] Halvorssen is a critic of Hugo Chávez, [45] and has written on Venezuela’s anti-Semitism and the assault on democracy and individual rights in Latin America. [46] Halvorssen's criticisms have also been directed at U.S. Republicans such as Jack Kemp [47] as well as Democrats including John Conyers and Jose Serrano. [48] In a symposium published by the American conservative magazine National Review , he condemned Augusto Pinochet for his human rights abuses. [49] [50] Halvorssen led a campaign to expose Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov’s human rights violations and ultimately created a firestorm for Hollywood actress Hilary Swank after she accepted a cash payment to celebrate Kadyrov’s birthday. [51] [52] In the same manner Halvorssen has exposed payments from dictators to Jennifer Lopez, Erykah Baduh, Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, and 50 Cent. [53] [54] [55]

Other advocacy campaigns include Panama’s president Ricardo Martinelli on freedom of speech violations; political prisoner cases in Venezuela, Vietnam, Cuba, and Bolivia; as well as the rights of human rights defenders in Colombia.

Oslo Freedom Forum

In 2009, Halvorssen founded a global gathering of human rights advocates called the Oslo Freedom Forum. It has taken place in Oslo annually since then. According to Wired Magazine , "if the global human-rights movement were to create its own unified representative body, it would look something like this." [56]

Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang called it a "Gathering of Heroes". [57] The Economist calls it the "Davos of Human Rights." Participants include Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Aliokhina, Sudan's Lubna al-Hussein, Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, China's Ai Weiwei, Tahrir Square protest organizer Wael Ghonim, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, Iran's Marina Nemat, Peter Thiel, Julian Assange, Václav Havel, Garry Kasparov, Leopoldo Lopez, Nobel laureate Lech Walesa, and Russian political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovskii.

Children's Peace Movement

Since 2009, Halvorssen is listed as "Patron" of the Children's Peace Movement, On Own Feet. Known as the "Centipede Movement" it is a Czech-based group that facilitates bilateral relations between children and adolescents in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Canada, and Norway with children in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. [58] [59] The previous Patron was former Czech president Václav Havel.


According to The Hollywood Reporter , Halvorssen is currently producing the film adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's science fiction novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. [60]

Halvorssen co-produced the film Freedom's Fury which was executive produced by Lucy Liu, Quentin Tarantino, and Andrew Vajna. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. [61] [62] The film relates the story of the popular uprising against dictatorship that occurred in Hungary in 1956.

Halvorssen executive produced Hammer & Tickle, a film about the power of humor, ridicule, and satire as the language of truth under Soviet tyranny—jokes as a code to navigate the disconnect between propaganda and reality and as a means of resisting the system despite the absence of free speech. This film premiered at Tribeca in 2006 and featured Lech Wałęsa, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev and Roy Medvedev. [61] The film won Best New Documentary Film at the Zurich Film Festival. [63]

Halvorssen is listed as producer of the documentary Indoctrinate U , "a documentary about left-wing bias on college campuses" [64] which targets "the anti-intellectual, intolerant culture of [the USA's] campuses". [65] American literary theorist Stanley Fish wrote in the New York Times "the academy invites the criticism it receives in this documentary" [66] and the film received positive reviews from the Wall Street Journal, London Telegraph, New York Post, and CNN. [65]

Halvorssen is producer of the film The Singing Revolution, a film about Estonia's peaceful struggle for political independence from Soviet occupation. [67] The film premiered at the Black Nights Film Festival in December 2006 where it received a 15-minute standing ovation. [68] Since then, it has become the most successful documentary film in Estonian box-office history. [69]

Halvorssen produced The Sugar Babies, [67] a film about human trafficking in the Dominican Republic and the plight of its migrant farm workers. The targets of the documentary are wealthy and politically connected sugar barons who live in West Palm Beach: The Fanjul Family. [70] The film previewed at Florida International University where a heated exchange with the Dominican diplomatic envoy resulted in police presence. It received numerous negative reviews claiming the film's portrayal of big business and its relationship with the Dominican government was part of a campaign against the country's reputation. Death threats against the film's director and a bribery scandal involving the Dominican embassy have made the film a subject of intense media interest. [71] [72]

He is listed as sole producer of 2081 , the film adaptation of author Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron", a dystopian film about a future in which a tyrannical government arrests, imprisons without trial, and tortures those who disagree with the government policy of enforced sterilization and enforced handicapping. It premiered at the Seattle Film Festival and stars Academy Award nominee Patricia Clarkson, Julie Hagerty, James Cosmo, and Armie Hammer. The film's music was composed by Lee Brooks and recorded by Kronos Quartet.

Awards and recognition

University of Pennsylvania president Judith Rodin honored Halvorssen's achievements by awarding him the Sol Feinstone Award for protecting student speech. [73]

In 2010 Romanian leader Emil Constantinescu presented Halvorssen with a presidential silver medal to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Romanian Revolution of 1989. "On behalf of those who fought and died for freedom, I present this medal to the Oslo Freedom Forum founder, and remind those here that even if Romanians live in democracy now, we cannot feel entirely free as long as other people – who live under dictatorial and repressive regimes anywhere in the world – are not also be free." [74]

In 2018, Halvorssen was awarded the Millennium Candler Justice Prize, honoring leadership in effecting positive social change [75] , presented at the Millennium Gate Museum. The prize was previously awarded to Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and to Prince Jean of Orléans, Dauphin of France. [76]



a Halvorssen Mendoza is known commonly as Thor Halvorssen. Per Venezuelan naming conventions, his full legal name includes both his father's (Halvorssen) and mother's (Mendoza) surnames. His full, legal, Venezuelan name distinguishes him from his father, Thor Halvorssen Hellum. (See Thor Halvorssen - Presidente. The Human Rights Foundation. Retrieved on July 21, 2007. (in Spanish) Also see re: Francisco Usón—Political Prisoner and Prisoner of Conscience. Human Rights Foundation. Retrieved on July 21, 2007.)

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