Hilary Swank, Jean-Claude Van Damme Slammed for Attending Birthday of Chechen Leader

Jean-Claude Van Damme Hilary Swank Chechen - H 2011
STR/AFP/Getty Images

Jean-Claude Van Damme Hilary Swank Chechen - H 2011

UPDATED: Human Rights Foundation says Swank was warned about the activities of Ramzan Kadyrov before she attended the lavish event.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said he didn’t want a fuss for his 35th birthday party but that didn’t stop his friends from throwing a multimillion-dollar bash attended by Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Kevin Costner was invited to the Oct. 5 event but declined due to his production schedule on the Hatfields and McCoys television series -- a development that in retrospect, was a gift from the public-relations gods. Eva Mendes and Colombian singer Shakira also were invited but did not attend. A spokesman for Mendes says the actress was never scheduled to attend the event "due to availability."

In a statement to THR, Human Rights Watch called on stars who attended the party for Kadyrov to reimburse any money that they were paid to participate. "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 organization said.

According to Human Rights Watch, Kadyrov 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. Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation, called the stars’ attendance at the celebration “disheartening and shameful.”

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According to the Human Rights Foundation, Jean-Claude Van Damme stood on stage and said, “I love you Mr. Kadyrov” while Swank said she was honored to be in Grozny and wished Kadyrov a “Happy Birthday.” After Swank spoke, British violinist Vanessa-Mae performed for a reported half a million dollars. There were fireworks and performances by acrobats. The celebration was held on a floating stage on the River Sunzha; portraits of Kadyrov were displayed throughout the city.

According to one talent rep, stars are paid in the six figures to attend such events. Their perks routinely include private jets and first-class hotel suites.

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Human rights activists raised concerns with Swank’s representatives before the event. According to the Human Rights Foundation, her manger, Jason Weinberg, stated in an email on Sept 26, “Hilary has no current plans to attend the party” in Chechnya. But both Swank and Van Damme are visible at the lavish event in photographs and on YouTube. Weinberg did not respond to a query from THR; nor did reps for Van Damme.

“Hilary Swank obviously has the right to earn a living entertaining the highest bidder, but this sort of venality should be exposed — especially after claiming she was not going,” Halvorssen said in a statement. “Would she have accepted an invitation to entertain Pinochet? Al-Qaeda? The apartheid government in Pretoria? We must remember the disgrace of Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, Beyoncé and 50 Cent were exposed to after singing for Gaddafi’s family and earning millions of dollars for it.”

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Kadyrov had said the celebrations, financed by the Kremlin, were held in honor of the 193rd anniversary of the founding of Grozny, Chechnya's capital. That anniversary was actually pushed to coincide with Kadyrov's birthday.

According to the British paper The Telegraph, Kadyrov appeared uncertain when asked who paid for the party. ''Allah gives it to us,'' he said, before adding: ''I don't know, it comes from somewhere.''