In 2012, Thor Halvorssen, President of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, a watchdog group that seeks to end abuses on the part of authoritarian regimes, wrote a watershed piece in Forbes about the global arms trade and the extent of American involvement in trafficking arms, as well as the ramifications of the international arms trade on human rights all over the world.
Halvorssen uses as his touchstone the embarrassing revelation that the American government had contracted with a Russian state-owned firm to outfit the Afghan military with attack helicopters. This was as tensions between the Obama administration and the Assad regime were at their peak over the treatment of protesters and rebels, and all the while the Russian government continued to ally itself with and support Assad.
Arguing that tyranny cannot exist without some level of support and collaboration, Halvorssen dismisses the State Department’s explanation that the transaction is a separate issue from Russian support of Assad. He uses the Rwandan genocide as another moving example. After exports of weapons to Rwanda were banned by the British government, one UK arms company actually succeeded in lifting the ban, despite the widespread death and devastation that came to the nation as a result of one of the most horrific episodes of genocide ever seen.
In addition to serving as President of the HRF, Venezuelan-born Halvorssen is CEO of the Oslo Freedom Forum. As an advocate for human rights, he has put his own life in peril, inspired by the torture of his father at the hands of the Venezuelan government and an assassination attempt on his mother. He is steadfast in his belief that no ideological allegiance can excuse the violation of human rights, and has criticized both left-wing and right-wing dictatorships, governments, and politicians for their transgressions of individual liberty and basic human rights.
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