Celebrities attend festivities of Chechnya’s human rights violator-in-chief; President Ramzan Kadyrov celebrated by Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme
NEW YORK (October 7, 2011) – This week, Hilary Swank, Jean-Claude Van Damme and violinist Vanessa-Mae attended a party in Grozny, Chechnya, to celebrate the 35th birthday of the President of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov. Previously, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) had sent a letter to the numerous invited celebrities, asking them to reconsider in light of the human rights abuses in Chechnya under Kadyrov.
Jean-Claude Van Damme stood on stage and said, “I love you Mr. Kadyrov” while Swank echoed the message saying she was honored to be in Grozny and wished him a “Happy Birthday.” After Swank spoke, Vanessa-Mae performed for a reported half a million dollars.
Since Vladimir Putin appointed Ramzan Kadyrov as the President of the Chechen Republic in 2007, Kadyrov has been accused of using torture, causing disappearances, and authorizing extrajudicial executions. On July 3, 2010, Kadyrov publicly stated that the human rights defenders of his country were the "people’s enemies," a statement that he repeated yesterday when he explained that Colombian singer Shakira turned down the invitation to perform for his birthday. Kadyrov said that Shakira had been talked out of singing for him by human rights activists.
According to numerous press reports from September as well as official Chechen government sources, actors Hilary Swank, Kevin Costner, Eva Mendes, violinist Vanessa-Mae, and Colombian singer Shakira were expected to attend the celebration.
On September 26, HRF sent Shakira a letter in which it explained the troubling human rights situation in Chechnya and respectfully asked her to reconsider her performance scheduled for October 5. The office of her manager, Ceci Kurzman, initially confirmed her attendance and later denied that she would be singing for the President of Chechnya, stating that the information was erroneous.
“Wherever the truth lies, the outcome reveals that Shakira considered any association with Kadyrov as toxic,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF.
HRF confirmed that Costner and Mendes declined the invitation and Vanessa-Mae did not respond to repeated phone calls and e-mails. Hilary Swank’s manger, Jason Weinberg, stated in an email to HRF on Sept 26, “Hilary has no current plans to attend the party you mentioned below.”
“Hilary Swank obviously has the right to earn a living entertaining the highest bidder, but this sort of venality should be exposed—especially after claiming she was not going,” said Halvorssen. “Would she have accepted an invitation to entertain Pinochet? Al-Qaeda? The apartheid government in Pretoria? We must remember the disgrace of Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, Beyoncé and 50 Cent were exposed to after singing for Gaddafi’s family and earning millions of dollars for it. And Vanessa-Mae, born under the regime of Singapore, should be particularly sensitive to human rights concerns. ” he explained.
“Until the respect for human rights is such that despots find themselves in complete isolation, humanity will continue to see millions suffer while being stripped of their fundamental human rights and individual liberties. It is embarrassing that Hilary Swank, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Vanessa-Mae lent their name to an event such as this. It is disheartening and shameful,” Halvorssen concluded.
HRF is a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that protects and promotes human rights globally, with an expertise in the Americas. 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. 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.
Contact: Thor Halvorssen, Human Rights Foundation, (212) 246.8486, firstname.lastname@example.org