Thor Halvorssen: Iconoclastic Defender of Human Rights

In her profile of the Venezuelan human rights activist Thor Halvorssen, Rosie Gray of Buzzfeed successfully manages to sort through the controversy, hearsay and actual facts to present a balanced portrait of the enigmatic figure. Although Halvorssen refers to himself as a “classical liberal,” he does not fit comfortably into either the liberal or conservative camps.

Halvorssen’s early work with his Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reveals his vehement rejection of political correctness. A rejection that allows him to spread his gospel of overthrowing authoritarian regimes in some unlikely places, like fringe conservative Frank Gaffney’s radio show. Halvorssen claims to be apolitical with human rights the only focus of his and his Human Rights Foundation’s attention.

In addition to organizing campaigns against oppressive regimes, the Human Rights Foundation invests a large amount of time and resources into the Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual gathering of human rights activists and their supporters. From humble beginnings, the conference has grown to include representatives from fifty-seven different countries totaling at least 450 attendees. Halvorssen, who is of Norwegian descent, chose Oslo as the forum’s location because of Norway’s famed neutrality.

Although the donors to the Human Rights Foundation are made public by the foundation itself, some of the foundation’s major donors were called into question for supporting anti-Muslim causes by writer Max Blumenthal on the pro-Palestinian website Electronica Intifada. Halvorssen dismissed the criticism as a guilt by association ploy and pointed out that the same donors contribute to causes as varied as the Museum of the Rockies and the Friends of the Dallas Public Library.

No stranger to controversy, Halvorssen grew up in a very polarized Venezuela, his father was a senior aide to President Carlos Andrés Pérez Rodriguez. Thor Halvorssen saw the fall of the Pérez Presidency and the takeover by Hugo Chávez. Halvorssen also saw his father, who had supplied critical information about the laundering of drug money in Venezuela to the C.I.A., railroaded into prison by the Chávez government.

It was his father’s imprisonment, and the successful campaign to have him released, that first sparked Halvorssen’s desire to defend human rights.

This desire was galvanized when his mother was shot and badly wounded at a protest that questioned the legitimacy of the vote in Venezuela. Though some may question Halvorssen’s apolitical nature, none can question his overt commitment to human rights causes.

Learn more about Thor Halvorssen: https://www.linkedin.com/in/halvorssen