Thor Halvorssen: An Activist’s Activist

Thor Halvorssen is a Venezuelan human rights activist and film producer. He is also the founder of Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual human rights conference held in Norway since 2009 and run by the Human Rights Foundation. Halvorssen was born on March 9, 1976. Halvorssen’s mother, Hilda Mendoza, was a descendant of Cristobal Mendoza, Venezuela’s first president. Halvorssen’s father, Thor Halvorssen Hellum, was an Ambassador of anti-Narcotic Affairs during the tenure of Carlos Andrés Pérez. He was also a special overseas investigator for the Venezuelan Senate Commission.

In his early adulthood, Thor Halvorssen went to the University of Pennsylvania, eventually graduating Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude with undergraduate and graduate degrees in History and Political Science. In 1993, Halvorssen’s father was arrested and held on charges of terrorism while investigating the Medellín cartel for suspected money laundering and bank fraud. During his stint in a jail in Caracas, the elder Halvorssen was severely tortured and beaten. Thor Halvorssen was vocal in garnering support for his father’s release, eventually gaining help from Amnesty International and other international organizations. He was eventually found innocent. After his release, the elder Halvorssen was appointed director of the Pan-American Committee for Society for Human Rights.

Later, in 1999, Halvorssen would be instrumental in getting Lucent Technologies to enact a policy in which they would have to certify that all products manufactured in China were not created using slave labor. In the he same year, he became the first executive director and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization whose self-professed goal is “to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities.” This includes free speech, legal equality, due process, and religious liberty. In 2004, Halvorssen would step down as head of FIRE, instead opting to join its board of advisors. In 2005 he would help found the Human Rights Foundation, an organization which he is still currently president of. Halvorssen continues to be an advocate for human rights internationally to this day, while also branching out into film production.