Thor Halvorssen (human rights activist)

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Thor Halvorssen
Thor Halvorssen Oslo Freedom Forum 2018 (095710).jpg
Halvorssen in 2018
Thor Leonardo Halvorssen Mendoza

(1976-03-09) March 9, 1976 (age 48)
Education University of Pennsylvania (BA, MA)
Organization(s) Human Rights Foundation (Founder and CEO)
Oslo Freedom Forum (Founder)

Thor Leonardo Halvorssen Mendoza (born 1976; [1] [2] Spanish pronunciation: [ˈtoɾ(x)alˈβoɾsen] ) [a] is a Venezuelan human rights advocate and film producer with contributions in the field of public policy.


Halvorssen is founder of the annual Oslo Freedom Forum and president of the Human Rights Foundation, an organization that states their mission as to promote freedom against authoritarian regimes. Halvorssen bought the Norwegian news magazine Ny Tid in May 2010. [3]

Halvorssen has appeared on television outlets such as Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity & Colmes , MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews and CNN. He was a speaker at TEDx at the University of Pennsylvania in October 2010. [4]


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 [5] and who "built a family dynasty as the Venezuelan representative for corporations including Dunlop, Alfa Laval and Ericsson." [1] His cousin is Leopoldo Lopez, [6] a Venezuelan politician who helped organize the 2014 Venezuelan protests. Halvorssen attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude with concurrent undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science and history.[ citation needed ]

Halvorssen's father, also named Thor Halvorssen, was a wealthy businessman who was named the CEO of Venezuela's state TV CANTV. [7] In 1989, then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez appointed Halvorssen Sr. as Venezuela's "anti-drug ambassador". [8] When Halvorssen was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, in 1993, his father was arrested after a series of bombings around the capital. [9] It was named the 'yuppie' terrorists plot because its planners were allegedly bankers and other gilded elite who hoped that the panic caused by the bombs would help them speculate on the stock market." [10] His father was working on money laundering cases in the public service and said, Colombian drug traffickers framed the crime on him. His father was beaten [11] during his 74-day incarceration in a Caracas jail. [12] [13] [14] Halvorssen helped the campaign of Amnesty International and other organizations that pressured the Venezuelan authorities to free his father. [9] Halvorssen was eventually found not guilty of all charges. After his release the International Society for Human Rights appointed him director of their Pan-American Committee. [11] [15] [16]

While attending a peaceful protest of the Venezuelan recall referendum of 2004, Halvorssen's mother, Hilda Mendoza Denham, a British subject, was wounded by a gunshot. [17] Images of government supporters firing upon the demonstrators were captured by a live television broadcast. [18] [19] 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. [20] [21] They were released after serving six months in prison. [22]


Halvorssen has lectured 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. [23] [24] [25] [26] Halvorssen has also spoken at the British parliament for the Henry Jackson Society. [27]

Halvorssen testified to the U.S. 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. [28]

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 beside with more traditional free speech defenders such as the ACLU also coalitions with advocacy organizations like The Heritage Foundation, Feminists for Free Expression and the Eagle Forum.

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." [29] 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." [30]

Human Rights Foundation

Halvorssen stepped down as head of FIRE in March 2004 to join its Board of Advisors and announced the creation of the international group Human Rights Foundation. HRF was incorporated in 2005, opening its headquarters in New York City in August 2006. The chairman is Garry Kasparov. [31] 2005[ citation needed ] he was also a founder of the Moving Picture Institute. [1]

At the helm of HRF Halvorssen has repeatedly lobbied and advocated for the release of Chinese political prisoner Liu Xiaobo. [32] [33] In 2010 Halvorssen was special guest of Liu Xiaobo at the Nobel Prize ceremony awarding the prize to Liu Xiaobo in absentia. [34] [35] [36] Halvorssen is identified as a supporter of Chinese Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer and has sharply criticized the Taiwanese Kuomintang government for its banning visits by Kadeer. [37] Halvorssen has supported UN-level action to address the violations of Uyghur rights in China.

Halvorssen was part of a symposium by the American conservative magazine National Review to praise Augusto Pinochet, where Halvorssen was the only one also pointing out his human rights abuses. [38] Halvorssen has criticised several celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Erykah Baduh and Mariah Carey for accepting payments for their performances in countries governed by authoritarian leaders like Russia. [39] [40] [41] [42] [43]

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] 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. [49] [50] In the same manner Halvorssen has exposed payments from dictators to Jennifer Lopez, Erykah Baduh, Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, and 50 Cent. [51] [52] [53]

Oslo Freedom Forum

In 2009, Halvorssen founded a gathering of human-rights campaigners and policymakers called the Oslo Freedom Forum. It has taken place in Oslo annually since then. Wired Magazine blogger David Rowan praised the event for its sessions and having sponsors like Peter Thiel, "if the global human-rights movement were to create its own unified representative body, it would look something like this." [54]

The Economist called it 2010 as "on its way to becoming a human-rights equivalent of the Davos economic forum". Participants include Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Aliokhina, Lubna al-Hussein, Aung San Suu Kyi, Ai Weiwei, Wael Ghonim, Jimmy Wales, Elie Wiesel, Marina Nemat, Peter Thiel, Julian Assange, Václav Havel, Garry Kasparov, Leopoldo López, Lech Wałęsa, and 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. The previous Patron was former Czech president Václav Havel. [55] [56]


In 2006, Halvorssen executive produced Hammer & Tickle , a film about the power of humor, ridicule, and satire as the language of truth in the Soviet Union. The film won Best New Documentary Film at the Zurich Film Festival. [57]

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.[ citation needed ] The film relates the story of the uprising against the government that occurred in Hungary in 1956.

Halvorssen is a producer of the film The Singing Revolution , a film about Estonia's peaceful struggle for political independence from Soviet occupation. [58] It has with 18.000 viewers become the most successful documentary film in Estonian box-office history. [59]

Halvorssen produced The Dissident in 2020, a film about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, directed by Bryan Fogel. [60]

Hammer & Tickle 2006executive producer
Freedom's Fury 2006producer
The Singing Revolution 2006producer
The Sugar Babies 2007producer
Indoctrinate U 2007producer
2081 2009producer
Pups of Liberty2009executive producer
U.N. Me 2009executive producer
State of Control2016producer
The Dissident 2020producer [61]

Awards and recognition

John Strausbaugh described as a Halvorssen as a "conservative operating in fields more often associated with liberals .. who champions the underdog". [1] Neoconservative columnist James Kirchick described Halvorssen as having a "burning desire to right the countless injustices of this world". [62]

The magazine The Economist pointed 2010 out that the Oslo Freedom Forum strucks a different tone than organisations like Amnestry International or Human Rights Watch. "Given his conservative ideas, Mr Halvorssen's list of heroes and rogues might differ from that of say, Claudio Cordone, the acting head of Amnesty". It praised their event as being spectacular, competition and "on its way to becoming a human-rights equivalent of the Davos economic forum". [63]

University of Pennsylvania president Judith Rodin honored Halvorssen's achievements by awarding him the Sol Feinstone Award for protecting student speech. [64] 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."[ citation needed ]

In 2018, Halvorssen was awarded the Millennium Candler Justice Prize, honoring leadership in effecting positive social change, presented at the Millennium Gate Museum. [65]



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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