Jean-Claude Van Damme and Hilary Swank criticized for attending Chechen leader's birthday
Jean-Claude Van Damme and Hillary Swank are in hot water with the Human Rights Watch group after the two actors attended the 35th birthday bash of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on October 5.
According to a statement by the group given to The Hollywood Reporter, "Ramzan Kadyrov is linked to a litany of horrific human rights abuses. It's inappropriate for stars to get paid to party with him. It bolsters his image and legitimizes a brutal leader and his regime. And getting paid to be part of such a lavish show in Chechnya trivializes the suffering of countless victims of human rights abuses there."
The group called for the actors and any other stars who attended the party to give back any money they received to participate at the event. In addition to Van Damme and Swank, actor Kevin Costner was invited but did not appear due to schedule conflicts with his upcoming television series "Hatfields and McCoys."
Singer Shakira and actress Eva Mendes were also reportedly invited to the event but did not attend. Human Rights Watch is an independent organization "dedicated to defending and protecting human rights," according to their website.
Kadyrov has been the President of Chechnya since 2006. According to Human Rights Watch, he "presides over law enforcement and security agencies that have been implicated in abductions, torture, and executions of those suspected of involvement in the Islamist insurgency in Chechnya. He has condoned collective punishment such as house burnings against alleged collaborators, including family members of suspected insurgents."
Prior to the event, Swank's representatives were reportedly warned about Kadyrov's human rights violations by human rights activists, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The actress' manager reportedly said in an email dated on September 26 that the Oscar-winning actress "has no current plans to attend the party."
She later appeared in the audience at the event with Van Damme and told Kadyrov "Happy Birthday." Van Damme allegedly said "I love you Mr. Kadyrov," at the event.
Van Damme and Swank are not the first celebrities to come under fire for links to world leaders who have violated human rights. Beyonce, Usher and Mariah Carey were criticized for accepting money they received for performing for Moammar Gadhafi's family.
Beyonce said in March she donated the money she received performing for Moammar Gadhafi's son to Haiti earthquake relief.