Hilary Swank's apology for an appearance at a concert in honor of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader accused of torture, abductions and killings, has been described as "laughable" by human rights activists.
The appearance of Swank, a two-time Oscar winner, at the lavish concert Oct. 5 in Grozny in honor of Kadyrov 35th birthday "trivializes the suffering of countless victims of human rights abuses," Human Rights Watch (HRW) said at the time.
Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya, is strongly backed by the Russian President Vladimir Putin and often referred to as "Putin's guard dog," according to Reporters Without Borders. He is accused of brutal repression of anti-Russian elements in Chechnya, and of orchestrating the slaying of two outspoken critics of Russia's involvement in Chechnya — reporter Anna Politkovskaya and human rights activist Natalia Estemirova.
A former Chechen rebel and son of former president Akhmad Kadyrov, assassinated in May 2004, Kadyrov came to power in 2007 at age 30. But he has boasted of killing his first Russian soldier at age 15.
Swank, star of Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" and also "Boys Don't Cry," reportedly made a gushing speech at the concert, attended by dozens of Russian politicians and pop stars, saying she had been taken by the Chechen government's "passion to make peace and to make something beautiful."
Belgian martial arts star Jean Claude Van Damme also spoke at the concert, and British violinist Vanessa Mae and singer Seal, married to Heidi Klum, both performed. The Daily Mail reported at the time that Mae charged a fee of $500,000 to perform at the concert, and it has been claimed that Van Damme received $1 million, while Swank was also paid, CBS reports.
Actor Eva Mendes and singer Shakira are among those who reportedly declined invitations to appear at the event.
The Guardian quoted HRW as urging the celebrities to return any money or gifts they received, saying:
"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."
Swank said in a statement reported by the Associated Press and others Thursday that she was unaware of the disappearances, house torchings and extra-judicial killings reportedly orchestrated by Kadyrov in the southern Russian republic.
"I deeply regret attending this event, which has thrown into question my long and deeply-held commitment to the protection of human rights. I would never intentionally do anything that raised doubts about such commitment... If I had a full understanding of what this event was apparently intended to be, I would never have gone."
The Washington Post reports that Swank's rep e-mailed a lengthy explanation and comments from Swank that explained her reasons for showing up at the event.
However, the Human Rights Foundation has called Swank's apology "laughable," and did not address claims they made in a letter to sent to her before she appeared at the event.
"After five days of wall-to-wall criticism, this is weak, especially given that the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) sent a warning directly to Swank through her manager on September 26 — a full ten days before the party,” said HRF’s Sarah Wasserman. “We offered to brief her, but her manager cut us short and responded that Hilary had no plans to attend. Her claim of ignorance is laughable. Worse, the video of her birthday wishes shows her boasting about her knowledge of Chechnya and how she ‘reads’ and ‘does her research.’ The more important question now is what is Swank going to do with the blood money paid from Kadyrov’s coffers? She sidesteps the issue completely.”
Representatives for Van Damme and Mae, meantime, did not responded to AP's requests for comment.
The Washington Post's Jen Chaney, meantime, suggests that:
Whatever the case may be, Swank should consider traveling the same road Beyonce, Nelly Furtado and Mariah Carey took after performing at parties for the family of Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi — apologize profusely and donate to charity any money she received for attending the Kadyrov soiree.