Thor Halvorssen is known for his human rights advocacies and contributions to rights and civil liberties fields. Born and raised in Venezuela, he is the son of a descendant of the country’s first president and former Venezuelan ambassador.
Halvorssen graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with bachelors and masters degrees in History and Political Science. While he was attending college, his father was imprisoned on trumped up charges of terrorism after investigating a cartel for bank fraud and money laundering. Halvorssen led the campaign against the charges, fighting for his father’s release. He even received help from Amnesty International, which issued protests alongside other organizations. His father was eventually found innocent and freed, later becoming Director of the Pan-American Committee of the International Society for Human Rights.
His father’s imprisonment helped drive Halvorssen to his current position as an advocate for liberty and democracy. When his mother was shot at a peaceful protest by government supporters, his drive was pushed even farther. He wrote an article that was published in The Wall Street Journal, calling out the atrocities that occurred. The perpetrators were eventually tried and sentenced, though they only ended up serving six months in a Venezuelan prison.
Halvorssen began giving lectures on human rights at places like the American Enterprise Institute, the United Nations Association in New York, and Harvard Law School. In 1999, he led a campaign regarding anti-slave labor policy on the floor of the Lucent Technologies shareholder meeting. In the same year he became the very first Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. This organization fought for U.S. civil liberties and brought together various coalitions in political fields.
In 2004, Halvorssen left his position at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and joined the Board of Advisors. He made this move to create an international group that would focus on global human rights. The Human Rights Foundation opened its New York headquarters in 2005 and held people like Elie Wiesel, Garry Kasparov, and Vladimir Bukovsky as part of its International Council.
In 2009, he founded the Oslo Freedom Forum, a global gathering of human rights advocates. This forum became one unified body of the global human-rights movement, occurring every year since its inception.