Thor Halvorssen Sets Global Standards for the Human Rights Movement

Thor Halvorssen is a well-known human rights activist from Venezuela. His mother was a descendent of the country’s first President and his father served as a Venezuelan Ambassador for anti-Narcotic Affairs. Thor Halvorssen received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania in History and Political Science.

Thor was thrown into the world of human rights activism when his father was wrongly imprisoned in 1993 while he was investigating a cartel for bank fraud and money laundering. During his 74-day imprisonment he was tortured and beaten. His son Thor Halvorssen led the campaign to free his father, working with Amnesty International to issue protests.

In 1999, he led a campaign at Lucent Technologies to protest anti-slave labor policy. This campaign put Thor Halvorssen on the map, landing him the spot of the first Executive Director and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. He helped form coalitions that brought together organizations like ACLU, the Eagle Forum, Feminists for Free Expression, and the Heritage Foundation.

In 2004, Halvorssen stepped down and joined the Board of Advisors at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. He then moved on to create a new international group with the goal of being a champion of human rights, centered on freedoms. Thus, the Human Rights Foundation was founded in 2005, based in New York City. The foundation’s council would include world renowned human rights activists like Mart Laar, Harry Wu, Vladimir Bukovsky, and Elie Wiesel. Vaclav Havel sat as the council’s chairman until 2011.

In 2009, Thor Halvorssen founded the Oslo Freedom Forum, a global gathering of human rights advocates. It has taken place every year since its founding, in Oslo. It serves as a unified body of the global human-rights movement and has been dubbed the “gathering of heroes.”

Thor Halvorssen is also the patron of the Children’s Peace Movement, On Own Feet. This Czech-based group created relationships between children in places like Canada, Norway, and Poland with other children in war-torn countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. Vaclav Havel (the former chairman of the Human Rights Foundation) was once the patron of the movement until his passing in 2011.