Thor Halvorssen, Supporter of Human Rights–Nicki Minaj, Not So Much

On Dec. 18th it was reported that Nicki Minaj flew off to Angola for a Christmas concert sponsored by communications company Unitel. She posted a sleek picture of herself and girls getting off the plane. Who could object to a Christmas concert? It turns out anyone who’s in favor of human rights. Unitel is run by Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos, who the Human Rights Foundation says has an appalling human rights record.

In an open letter to Minaj, the foundation asked her to forgo the concert because “Dos Santos has made it his policy to harass, imprison, or kill politicians, journalists, and activists who protest his rule.” It exhorted her to reconsider because “the payment you are receiving…is the result of government corruption and human rights violations.”

The guiding light of the Human Rights Foundation is Thor Halvorssen, who began the organization in 2005. Halvorssen had experience in sticking up for human rights. After graduating magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, he advocated for an end to apartheid in South Africa and co-founded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, where he served as CEO. He’s produced films that advocate for human rights and taken on large companies that turn a blind eye to human rights abuses. Among them was Urban Outfitters; the Human Rights Foundation sent an open letter to Urban Outfitters CEO Ted Marlow objecting to the image of Che Guevara on merchandise, and pointing out that Guevara was “a brutal tyrant” who “murdered those who challenged his worldview.”

Halvorssen is not just opposed to human rights abuse in principle; he’s seen it for himself. His father, a diplomat in Venezuela, was thrown into a Venezuelan jail, where he was beaten and tortured. Although the older Halvorssen had diplomatic immunity, it took the influence of several human rights organizations to get him released. Halvorssen’s mother was shot while participating in a peaceful demonstration in Venezuela. When Venezuela was elected to the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2012, along with other dictatorships, Thor Halvorssen wrote in the Huffington Post that the country routinely committed human rights violations. He asked, “How much credibility does the council have left?”

On his website, Halvorssen writes that his goal is to “bring people of all walks of life together, in equality.” Despite objections and protests, Nicki Minaj did in fact perform in the concert in Angola on Dec. 20th.