The World’s Dictatorship Crisis

TIME: 18:00-19:00, 2nd November 2016

VENUE: Committee Room 3, House of Lords, Houses of Parliament, SW1A 0AA

SPEAKER: Thor Halvorssen, President and CEO, Human Rights Foundation

Thor Halvorssen: It’s been a very long day and unfortunately Uber drivers here have a tendency of cancelling if they don’t like the destination you’re going to end up in. So after the third Uber driver, I decided to walk and my gosh, the walk inside parliament is almost as long as the walk from Hammersmith. I’m here today to address one issue, and this issue is really at the root of so many problems in the world. Whether its poverty, corruption, the break down in rule of law, war and when I say war I mean all war and that problem is of course the problem of dictatorship. If you can turn, this is gleamed from data from Freedom House, in blue are the countries that we perceive and are largely through indexes and through other metrics considered democratic. The next slide, no you need to play the previous slide.

Okay, well I will now to try to animate what this slide is going to do. Suddenly, the areas in white are going to turn yellow, those are countries that are deemed partly free – authoritarian but tend to be competitive authoritarian. In other words, elections occur in these places although they are by and large not free places. Such as, for instance, Turkey or Ecuador or Venezuela. And then the slide would turn some of these countries to red and that of course would be countries that are fully fledged dictatorships for instance: Saudi Arabia or Cuba.

Now next slide please. If you consider from a point of view of population from not just a map, more than half of the world’s population lives in countries that are not free. And again I’m more than happy to define what that term free means and they’re used in various indexes that involves everything from free and fair elections, freedom of the press, the ability of people to redress their grievances and elect their own rulers, a property rights and so on and so forth. If you consider that’s half of the world’s population now think there is an entire industry that is attached to this building and to buildings just like this in the free world that is there devoted to addressing things like terrorism or lack of war or national disasters or and if you look at this from that perspective: Boko Haram and ISIS affect directly about 6 million people. Each one of these stick figures is 10 million people so I wouldn’t even be able to use one for Boko Haram or ISIS. The refugee crisis, 60 million people, war and civil strife 170 million people, national disaster 200 and something million people, lack of clean water and extreme poverty round about 7 or 800 million people. And yet there is an entire industry devoted to each one of these subjects. Yet, there is no such effort in existence that addresses, next slide please, those living under a dictatorship which dwarfs the number of people in the previous ones. Now if you add to the ones living under dictatorships, those living under authoritarian countries, so again I ask you to consider the amounts that are spent whether it’s in non-profit or government allocations yet alone the time and effort. Yet it is authoritarians that are the root of most if not all of these problems.

Next slide please. In trying to explain the opportunity cost of living in a free world to living in a world that is not free and doing this country by country it’s sometimes a little odd and awkward because I don’t expect people in East Anglia to relate to people in Angola. Or for that matter people from Cambridge to relate to people from Cuba. But consider this, this is a satellite image, on the right you see this little island look we’re here bursting with energy. Then on the left more energy over here. And then this is actually not the sea, this is the best comparison of the difference between a free country and one that is authoritarian. If you’re in the camp of people who don’t really care about the human rights of people but do care about economic progress, do care about tech advances.

Consider this is South Korea – Home of Hyundai, home of Samsung, home of all sorts of devices that you have in your care or home. And this is North Korea. This little dot right here is Pyongyang, the only place that is not in darkness on a daily basis because that’s where the dictator and his cronies live. If any of you have seen the Hunger Games, it actually finds its perfect exposition in North Korea.

So, rather than asking you to think well you know some countries or some cultures aren’t ready for freedom, I’ve heard that said many before. You know, the Chinese aren’t ready for freedom say people who obviously ignore Taiwan and its experiment with democracy that is decades old and extremely successful. Look at two Koreas. One Korea: this one is free and democratic, one of the most democratic countries in the world right now undergoing massive presidential scandal they’re looking to impeach their president, with enormous amounts of freedom of the press. Then you look at this dark patch over there. So, consider the opportunity cost of dictatorship and consider, put aside this issue of culture because time and time again we see throughout the world that that is simply a strong man drawn up for people who simply don’t want to look close enough or simply don’t want to admit by looking in the mirror that you’re doing nothing in the face of this. So, consider the two Korea’s and the opportunity cost of 20 something million people living in North Korea. What would it mean if those people were brought into the free world? What happens if maybe the solution to an enormous human problem, some algorithm involving a formula for something cancer that’s trapped inside the brain of a small child who actually lives currently in North Korea. In a free world, regardless of the economic disadvantage that someone can be born with, one can actually rise and be identified as such through an educational system that seeks to bring up the population and at least rescue those who are smart enough to deserve being brought up democratically.

We wonder where can we go? Where do we go for help in this issue? Some people want to go there and ask the White House to do something about it. And yet, the American government is pitiably incapable of actually doing anything about the subject, most of the time because it is itself compromised. You see it finds a lot to say about human rights violations in for instance Russia but not very much to say about human rights violations in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. In great part because of economic links between the government and supposed national security concerns which is why for instance Kazakhstan gets a free pass in the United States all the time. And given that I’m now in Britain let’s just say the same applies here or in fact worse. The amount of dictatorships that have bought half the city of London let alone British industry more than supersedes the impact of dictatorships in the United States.

I think of a Prime Minister, who I refuse to name because this is the Houses of Parliament, Tony Blair, who sold himself completely to the government of Kazakhstan for in one case it was a £24 million contract. He brought along all of his cronies who then became consultants on, believe it or not, human rights issues to the dictator of Kazakhstan. A dictator who people say, it takes a while for a nation to improve and Kazakhstan is a very young country as if the date of Kazakhstan’s birth was after the fall of communism. In fact, the same ruler they have now is the same ruler they had during communism. So the idea that Kazakhstan is a new nation or one that deserves a special dispensation because they’re only now engaging in reforms that serve, that a president for life whose institute laws in his country to not be prosecuted him or any of his family for any of the crimes they have committed. And they have gone about and bought the government an inaudible family of Great Britain. You may recall that Fergie and Andrew had this horrible house in somewhere, exactly. It was in such disrepair they hadn’t lived there for several years and Fergie could not afford to upkeep it and suddenly it sold for several million pounds over asking price to, drumroll, the son in law of the president of Kazakhstan. Couple of weeks later, Prince Andrew was shooting Grouse with the president of Kazakhstan. Again, providing the necessary photo ops.

So we obviously cannot go to the governments of Britain and the government of United States for assistance in this matter and in order to be an equal opportunity exposer of this sort of corruption, let’s not forget that the Spaniards, the Italians, the French and the Germans, are their equal if not worse. Their prices may be lower than Bill Clinton and Tony Blair but indeed (inaudible) sold themselves to Gazprom, the Spaniards sell themselves to pretty much everyone including the dictator of equatorial guinea, the Portuguese have sold themselves to the government of Angola. Angola actually, the family that runs and has run Angola for more than 50 years owns so much inside of Portugal that the government of Portugal and its former officials actually more than gladly engage in the persecution and prosecution of the Angolan opposition in exile. So where does one turn to? The UN. Needless to say I hear some people guffawing. This is an organisation that was established to provided peace and freedom in the world and I don’t need to remind you that’s its entirely run by dictators. They own more than half of the general assembly thus a vote is very very difficult. Those who are a combatable authoritarian states, when you add them to dictatorships and you combine that it’s very difficult to get anything then. Dictatorships rule the roost and the Security Council with their veto and if you consider the human rights council has such luminaries in human rights as Cuba, Saudi Arabia. Russia was recently not voted into the human rights council which was extraordinary, however it was a blip in the history of the human rights council that had to be redone previously it was called the human rights commission but they had to shut down and recreated precisely because of these excesses that we see today. The UN is actually where the dictators get together and have an opportunity to do a round table like this one, they can’t actually do that very often, maybe if it is a regional summit but rarely do they have an opportunity to get together to trade ideas and figure out how to launder money, sell arms illegally or persecute their democratic oppositions. This is really where they get together to do this so when they ask where else can go one go if one cannot depend on the body that was set up for peace and freedom in the world and we can’t depend on free governments, well perhaps we can go to international non-profit organisations and conferences such as the World Economic Forum. Except for the fact the WEF is funded by dictatorships and they also intend to go there in part because many of the other people who attend seek to have business opportunities. So it is odd but definitely part of the public record that you will have people like Assad has been to Davos and other dictators and their line. Well then, one must think can we go to the World’s big organisations like the Clinton Global Initiative well needless to say here is Kagame who everyday despite the amount of money that he has spent on PR and Western lobbyists is more and more exposed as the dictator that he is.

Can we go to the human rights groups internationally? The answer is ideally yes. Except the fact is that if one looks at the output of the two major establishment human rights organisations in the world, Amnesty International and Human Rights watch, unfortunately the overwhelming amount of their output is focused on democracies. They spend more of their resources criticising democracies than they do criticising dictatorships. Now, I’m not a person who believes that democracies should not be held to an extremely high standard and should bear the brunt of a lot of attention. However in democracies there are these like newspapers, journalists and blogs that don’t exist in Saudi Arabia for instance unless they are in control of the government. In democracies, you have divided power and legislature, a judicial branch an executive branch and you end up with the sort of thing where power divided against itself in the framework of tens of thousands of associations whether it is the index on censorship or this parade or that parade there are all sorts of checks and balances. International global human rights groups should be focused on the areas that need it the most not on the areas that need it the least. But it’s a lot easier for us to raise funds to go against a particular elected president of a major democracy and criticise him on a political level than it is to actually address the subject where it is most needed. Which is why there are so many countries where one thinks “I have never heard of this country, what is it? And then you consider that human rights groups haven’t done very much. It’s very depressing to me that someone who was born in Venezuela to find that in 10 years of the dictatorship that was slow to boil to a fully-fledged dictatorship but started off as a democracy under lieutenant corporal Hugo Chávez, the lead person for one of these two organisations based here in London, the lead person for Latin America tweeted regularly about Latin America yet she tweeted about the dead in Argentina from 20 something years ago under the dictatorship of the fascists, she also tweeted about the dead in Chile under the dictator Pinochet. In 10 years of Chavez she tweeted four times and three of them were in praise of the government. So with that level of politicization it’s really depressing to be in the human rights field. So where does one go?

At the end of the day, the human rights struggle in the world is being fought by people who are on the front lines. Unfortunately extremely underfunded and most of the time lacking recognition in these very countries and so my colleagues and I decided what we should do is try and focus as much attention on them. Provide them with the security and the security that they require. Engage in re-granting for their activities, now some people say well what are you going to do to publicise this more and I was told that maybe you should do some stuff involving…

You’re going way too fast. The difference between having a clicker and someone who is trying to anticipate what I’m going to say next, it’s sort of like when you tell a joke it’s about delivery you can’t issue the punchline beforehand and this is indeed a presentation and going into the line of how one must try and capture the moral imagination and encourage people to ones cause.

It is pop-culture is one aspect of this that really matters. So maybe you could get some celebrities involved because celebrities really love to attach their names to causes except not really. Most of the time celebrities like to attach their name to causes that are comfortable to them or they think are really popular at the time. Nobody really cares much for the lives of people in Turkmenistan or in Equatorial Guinea and so unfortunately we figured out a way of doing this where we could use celebrities and we came up with this. We started exposing celebrities who actually go and visit dictators. Here is Hillary Swank visiting the dictator of Chechnya, we had told her that it would be a very bad idea to visit Ramzan Kadyrov, the dictator of Chechnya and who actually employs entire troops of his police officers to serve as a rape vehicle against certain villages. And yet she, nonetheless, decided to go so we took the press release that we were intending to send and never sent and ended up getting enormous amounts of attention. Now if I was to issue a white paper on Chechnya and crimes of Kadyrov in Chechnya, most media would say that’s not really news we all know it’s pretty bad in Chechnya but add a Hollywood star and it changes everything. Suddenly people were talking about Chechnya and we thought that was pretty significant, maybe we can do more about this. And then we started discovering that all these celebrities kept going from dictatorship to dictatorship to entertain and collect. In Angola here’s this Mariah slam from Human Rights activists for taking dictator cash. She showed up because the daughter of the president of Angola, a dictatorship he has had control of for more of 50 years, she is actually the richest woman in Africa, she did this through enormous amounts of merit after her father handed her control of several state-owned enterprises and made them private. So, Mariah Carey suddenly brought massive attention to Angola for this very reason. Here she is again, this is page 6 which is a big gossip column in the New York post in the United States; ‘All she wants for Christmas is cash, Mariah Carey is paid to perform for ruthless dictators.’ This is a play on her song, all I want for Christmas. J-Lo went to Turkmenistan and its interesting most people have no idea where Turkmenistan is let alone how it differs from Turkey. Turkmenistan had been the subject of a newspaper article in the New York Times once in the previous five years and it was when the previous dictator died making way for the new dictator. Suddenly Turkmenistan was being written about the same year three times in the New York Times. This was for us, especially wonderful when J-Lo realised how much was in the news cycle, her PR team came to us and offered us a slice of the money she had taken if we had simply decided to stop criticising her. We told them that we were not in the business of extortion, then doubled down on our activities. We then found out that she had actually done this in 5 different places and had collected $9 million from 5 different tyrants in the space of two years. This woman is worth several hundred million pounds and yet she goes from country to country collecting this and essentially serving as a private entertainer for these individuals. Some of you… this is Bette Midler the actress, J-Lo earned millions performing for crooks and dictators, where do I sign up? Gigli is a terrible movie that Ben Affleck and J-Lo were in. Gigli is no longer the most horrible thing that J-Lo has done in her career. So this actually start taking the subject out of the pages of some white paper issued by some organisation that may be read by the very people, and only the very people, that were impacted by this and suddenly it starts becoming a subject that everybody is talking about let alone tweeting about. And again this continued. Kanye West went to Kazakhstan and that was to perform for the son, the grand-son of the dictator on his birthday party. So again more artists, for those of you who are very much into football here is Lionel Messi going to Gabon – A dictatorship that most recently had the election stolen and yet the Supreme Court decided, the supreme court of Gabon whose chief justice is actually related to the president decided oh no no it was a clean election. Here’s the Telegraph on the same subject and then there’s Nicki Minaj is the next one. Nicki Minaj, the rapper, decided to go to Angola for the following year’s party that Mariah Carey had gone to previously. She actually tweeted, again more tweets on the very subject. Here’s the New York Times: ‘Nicki Minaj concert in Angola draws human rights complaints.’ Here’s the Times: ‘How are you spending your weekend? Nicki Minaj is entertaining an African dictator.’ If you go back up and then the when I started a Twitter war with her asking her how she could possibly do this she actually tweeted back sometimes you make bad decisions when you’re high and here’s the tweet. Nicki Minaj only agreed to perform for the dictator of Angola because she was high she claims. I don’t think she was high when she went to collect the cheque, now this is part of our activities and exposing these sorts of things are crucially important.

We believe it’s crucially important to reach out and do it from a pop culture perspective, get people excited about this and really bring everyone into this conversation. Our biggest frustration is the fact that so many human rights groups have done nothing about the worst place in the world, the worst place in the world of course being the dictatorship of North Korea. As you may or may not know North Korea has no internet other than for its government and its cronies. It’s considered the hermit kingdom, it’s sealed off. We are not an organisation that thinks the way to solve human rights problems is to encourage western democracies to go and bomb them. That is definitely not what we see as a winning foreign policy issue. In fact we don’t like to think of the ‘we’ what are we going to do about that? Most of the time when people say that they are referring of course to government so it becomes an issue of let’s just convince enough people in government and then they can, we will give them the power and enable them to do this for us. Except so many of you know it doesn’t end well which is why we believe it should be people helping people, which is why we believe the best way to deal with dictatorships is to empower the people within the dictatorship who seek to end it.

In the case of North Korea, it begins with education and it begins with smuggling as much information into North Korea as possible. The North Koreans live under a propaganda machine that has convinced the majority of them that they live in the greatest country in the world, that they live in the most prosperous country in the world. That everywhere beyond the borders of North Korea is a human wasteland that South Korea is a human wasteland. That if you’ve seen Mad Max the movie that’s what it looks like. In fact the dear leader is important and must remain in power precisely because if he does not remain in power they will invade us and take away our wealth. So despite the famine, they live under this nebula of we live in the greatest country in the world to the point where even one of their anthems that they’re taught as children is a song that goes: “I have nothing to envy nothing to envy in the world” and then it goes on to describe how it was the dear leader who made it possible. So one of the ways that we’ve been doing this is by using balloons and putting balloons and here’s an example. These enormous helium balloons that we attached these big bags and in these bags goes flyers, DVDs and thumb-drives that the wind takes into North Korea. After a period of time the bags open because there’s a timer on them, the bags open dropping the payload with all this info into North Korea. Now we know that this works in as much that there is as much anecdotal evidence from people who have left North Korea because they received it. But also and equally important because the North Korean government despises the programme so much that our North Korean partner who is engaged in this is known as enemy zero of the regime and they have more than one occasion sent assassins, in fact on two occasions they have sent assassins into South Korea to try and kill him. The balloons is only one way of doing it, I mean when we’re doing this very publicly, North Korea actually sends a communique. North Koreans actually don’t email South Korea, can you imagine? They fax them instead. So they actually sent the defence ministry of North Korea sent the defence ministry of South Korea a fax message saying “if we were allowed to continue doing our balloons then they would kill us.” Of course, if you’re an activist you think to yourself “this is so exciting, this is great, and this is going to really really get people encouraged.” Whereas some of my colleague’s wives and girlfriends were ringing up saying “do not let him go on this.” They were of course like “let’s go let’s do it”, we now do these things at night not during the day, we don’t announce them ahead of time so the payload can go into North Korea without having to suffer the possibility that the North Koreans will shell the local area. They have previously shelled villages and border towns where this takes place, luckily no-one has died. Consider we’re putting balloons up into the air and the government of a country is sending back bullets because it is so incredibly threatened by what is contained in these leaflets. Now, this is just one way of doing it. We then decided why not put together a competition? So here’s the Wall St Journal writing about a hackathon that we held in Silicon Valley where we brought together several dozen people and asked them to come up with solutions for the darkness that North Korea lives in. How do we get info in? So after 24 hours they came up with a variety of possible solutions and they ranged from catapults that we could use on certain areas of the river and by catapults we mean enormous, enormous slingshots which we then set about designing and creating as well as other ways of getting information. Going across the river from China is one of those ways. Now the North Korean government responded to this with another posting on their propaganda website: Uriminzokkiri saying that our hackathon is futile. Now when we do see it as success when the opposing government actually takes us so seriously that they’re issuing propaganda releases and faxes. Our activities are of course underlined to bring it to your attention. So we were lucky enough to have wired magazine cover both in the UK edition and the American edition cover stories on those activities. It was the beginning of a bunch of different structures to develop and design solutions to the issue of how do we get information to North Korea. Then we figured the best and fastest and the most economic effect is by using thumb drives. Now some of you may ask me if everything is so terrible up there how are they going to use a flash-drive, a thumb drive. Do they even have computers? Well actually because of China next door, they smuggle into North Korea the small machines that cost around £10-12 and they have a data port and in it you can put in a flash drive. These flash drives, the North Koreans are willing to risk death in order to get them. They’ve become a black market commodity that is traded throughout the country. In them they contain soap operas, films, western films plus copies of Wikipedia that are stand-alone copies that require no web so you can start clicking on links and one link will lead to another and this will lead to an entire universe of Wikipedia that’s in Korean. This is what led us to create the flash and unfortunately for whatever reason this keeps being cut off but we started something called the flash-drive for freedom project and the ideas 20,000 USBs to be smuggled into North Korea. The programme has been rather successful, we’ve presented it at the South South West at Austin Texas as well as the Mozilla fest here in London. It’s gaining a lot of traction in the words of my North Korean associates with 100,000 USBs we could bring down the government. Of course by that what they mean is if enough people have an aha moment where they realise everything they are living in is a lie, all it would take is for that to start infecting and have a contagion inside the halls of power and we do believe that the government will come crumbling down without necessarily having to have any form of military intervention of any kind. So, now we have actually just announced for two years we’ve been using drones so we’ve actually gone from using balloons to using helicopter drones so in May of this year here’s CNN when we announced that “Drones drop western films and information into North Korea activists say.”

So, we started this cooperation as a result of having met with the top North Korean defectors at a conference we hold every year. This is a conference that I would very much like to extend an invitation for you to attend. This is called the Oslo Freedom Forum and in as much as the dictators of the world get together in New York City for the General Assembly of the UN, when things if they moved the headquarters of the United Nations to Abuja it probably wouldn’t get as much attention as it does. Fat chance they will do that. So they actually comes to one of freest places so they can get together and hatch their plans. Whereas the UN is that, we decided to create the opposite, a place where people from all over the world can attend who are on the front lines of the struggle against dictatorships can take the stage and can deliver a discussion about what they are going through or testimony of what they have lived through. Or in the case of technologists or philanthropists, what solutions they are going to bring to the severe deficit of freedom we keep getting year in year out in the world. Here’s Jimmy Wales speaking to the audience at the Oslo Freedom Forum. Here’s Roya Mahboob who actually as a result of being at the Oslo Freedom Forum has been invited to the Wired Conference and she will be speaking tomorrow at the Wired Conference tomorrow. We introduced her to technologists on the left there is Srdja Popovic who was involved in the fall of Milošević, to his left is Nico Sell, a technologist from San Francisco who has devolved encrypted tech so that activists can actually talk to each other in a way that is safe even if they are captured it will still secure their communications. The conference is something that’s gained a lot of attentions and the Economist calls it the Davos for human rights, the Guardian calls it the Davos for revolutionaries, Standpoint magazine calls it the school for revolutionaries, BBC did a seven minute segment on it for News Night. At the same time as we hold the conference we also integrate the activists into life through… into the political stream. In the case of Roya Mahboob, here she was this past May meeting the prime minister of Norway. The conference involves many different technology companies and places like Google here’s an example here’s Eric Schmidt, tweeting “have you seen Google ideas new series on freedom of speech? Painting over bullet holes.” So with that I would like to end and open for questions, the Oslo Freedom Forum takes place every year it was our way of sending the message that anyone regardless of whether you think well that’s not for me I’m not a human rights activist, at the end of the day we’re all and all have a role to play. If you think that it should be in the hands of governments, expect more of the same. If you think governments are the way to proceed, then you’re obviously working with a toolbox that’s somewhat ineffective given that they’re either corrupted or have other interests suppose national security or whatever pension the person in power wants to get from this or that ruler after they leave. So I would like to encourage you to involve yourselves in the struggle. We believe that the struggle for human freedom is the defining struggle of the age in which we find ourselves in. As such I would like to invite you to join us in this struggle, if you’d like to come to the Oslo Freedom Forum it’s may of next year. In the meantime I would encourage you to become much more involved with us, the Human Rights Foundation that’s Thank you very much.

Lord Trimble: Well, clearly you didn’t lose any inaudible in coming over here from California. We’ll take about 15-20 minutes for questions..

Thor: Sure.

Lord Trimble: I’ll just make one observation that sounds really very similar to what Human Rights Watch does in Geneva.

Thor: Which one?

Lord Trimble: The organising the platforms for various groups, things like that. You know Human Rights Watch?

Thor: Yes, I’m familiar

Lord Trimble: They have a session like that each year.

Thor: You mean during the UN Human Rights Council?

Lord Trimble: Yes

Thor: Okay, this is what we do with the Oslo Freedom Forum is slightly different. It’s not a panel. It’s three days of immersion if you will and the goal is to involve people who are not just the grey suits in the human rights field but rather the people who aren’t necessarily that involved or interested in the struggle. It involves bringing as many students as we can, technologists, philanthropists and journalists- typically our journalist’s pools about 80 people. Whereas in a lot of human rights conferences it’s the experts or the people who have that particular desk that they’re responsible for, we actually give the voices to people like this gentleman here. Can you put your hand up? Abdul Aziz. Abdul-Aziz al-Hamza is one of the co-founders of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, a collective working out of Syria to expose ISIS. So Abdul-Aziz is here because he’s also going to be presenting tomorrow at Wired, so we’re actually going to dinner after this.

Lord Trimble: I really shouldn’t have digressed that point. Now, as I say we’ve got some time for questions. Just ask anyone who wants to propose (inaudible) just give your name and then fire your questions. Would you like to start?

Audience: Hi, (inaudible) I’m Venezuelan and I want to ask (inaudible) what situation we are going to (inaudible) how do you see (inaudible)

Thor: Yeah so question is about Venezuela and how do I see an exit in Venezuela that we’ve been living in for 18 years. The case of Venezuela is a real… it’s an excellent example of what happens when politics impacts human rights. It took amnesty integration several years to actually begin making an unequivocal, categorical approach to what was happening in Venezuela. It took Human Rights Watch longer to address what was happening in Venezuela. Of course, toward the very end of it, after 10 years of Chavez in power, Human Rights Watch issued the ten year report. Our view is to take the perspective of a German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said if you see, if you have a mad man and this is a pastor during Nazi Germany, a mad man who has taken control of a car and is taking that car into a group of innocent people- do you seek to take control of the car from the mad man or do you sit back and wait and comfort the victims? Unfortunately too many human rights groups are interested in comforting the victims. Chavez said everything he was going to do, from the first week he was in power and he kept saying it over and over again he said I’m  going to destroy the constitution and that these judges are worms. These opposition people they are and he speaks just like the Cubans do. Totally dehumanising the population of those in the opposition. In the case of Castro everyone in the opposition is a — a worm. Now consider in a democracy what would happen to a leader who constantly referred to his opposition as rats, or worms, or insects. Well Chavez did it over and over and over again but because of a supposed identity between people who are in the human rights field because they’re on the left at the end of the day does it matter? Dictators aren’t on the left or the right, they’re kleptocrats they use ideology for the sake of seeking power and stay in power. They don’t care one bit for ideology which is why Chavez and all the people around him became billionaires. Billionaires. And yet, the population of the country with the largest oil reserves in the world is literally suffering from malnutrition. Of course, Chavez came over here spoke and sat down with Red Ken and provided massive amounts of subsidies for the old age pensioners so every time you’d get on the number 9 bus you’d see the old aged pensioners, this is funded by the Venezuelan government. The people of Venezuela don’t have access to basic necessities in Britain they would because it would go around the world and he spent £100 billion over the course of 12 years.£100 billion spent building airports in the Caribbean that didn’t need airports. At the end of the day, this is how he ended up at the UN and at the UAS always giving votes in … favour always being applauded because he bought those votes. Right, he did the same with people in Hollywood. So how is that situation going to end? Terribly, absolutely terribly because the international community has been utterly gutless. And by international community I don’t just mean the associations although they’ve been late to the part, Human Rights Watch is now brilliant on the subject of Venezuela. But the governments? Not so much. A handful of governments cared, most of the time Chavez would threaten them: if you go against me I will fund the opposition in your country and he did it over and over and over again. The situation is terrible, supposedly the government is now seeking dialogue with the opposition. Every time a protest takes place in the streets, the government seeks dialogue to take the wind out of the sails of the protests and then it goes back into straight position. The only reason Maduro and his cronies seek to remain in power is for one thing – it’s so they can continue taking the oil reserves and the wealth of the country out of Venezuela and into Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Andorra and Singapore and a few other places. That the only reason they’re doing it. The country is now controlled mainly by the cartels. The government is run by the drug cartels. There’s a reason why two of Maduro’s nephews are in the US facing charges for trafficking 800k of Cocaine. Situation in Venezuela is going to end very poorly and extremely bloody.

Lord Trimble: Can I suggest you stand up because the acoustics are not terribly good here, people will be able to hear more clearly what you have to say.

Audience: I’m Dominic and I observe elections overseas, in fact I was in Moldova yesterday which is what prompted this question because what you’re saying is very interesting about Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan and other places that are democratic, authoritarian dictatorships. But I think it’s highly unlikely for … revolution or the death of the dictator, which is inevitable, it’s far less likely that they will then automatically then transform into a fully-fledged democracy. It seems right now in Uzbekistan, where I’m meant to be in a couple of weeks, so it seems to me that more work needs to be done in countries like Moldova, Montenegro, inaudible is a middle ground where we really need to tip the balance of the global population inaudible not by attacking the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and these almost hopeless places in terms of a quick win but by trying to bring the people in the middle ground over to democratic side, the free side.

Thor:  Yeah well it’s obvious that each country’s going to have a different, each country is going to require a different recipe. Now we’re not a government entity, we take no funds from the government of the UK or US so we go where we think our work can have the most impact. Now in the case of North Korea saying it’s hopeless and walking away is slightly different from say Turkmenistan because Korea is divided in two, so when you consider half of Korea is free and half is not free, if all we have to do is convince enough Koreans in South Korea to join us, regrettably and unfortunately for the last three decades the South Korea have been completely washed their hands of the North Korea situation. This has changed in the last year because the SK government passed something called the North Korea Human Rights law, the very first time they’ve done it. Canada has one, US has one, Spain has one, Britain has, I think has a version of one and its all what can we do to help so finally South Korea is awakening to this. This was in great part because of the activities by our organisation and a handful of other organisations who kept pushing the subject and holding up the mirror, what are you going to do about the situation where your cousins, uncles and aunts live. So that’s one. Now obviously exposing the dictatorship of North Korea it’s not a dictatorship that needs to be exposed which is why our focus there is education. However, the dictatorship of Uzbekistan, the dictatorship of Turkmenistan or Turkey is a different matter. Now, those dictatorship is first to ensure that the dictator and his hand maidens are unable to operate freely in the west.  What does this mean? To take the position of our chairman, Banks Not Tanks, let’s freeze their money, lets go after their money, let’s make sure that all of the people involved with Erdogan who is now taking all the (inaudible) schools around the world, what is he doing with those schools? He’s taking those schools and putting them in the name of his son so that his son can now own his schools. Look, the idea is let’s expose them when the daughter of the president of Uzbekistan became very very vocal because she fancies herself a singer so she invited sting to come and sing with her. If she doesn’t have a place to go shopping, if she’s not allowed into the EU, if she’s not allowed to take the kids to Disneyland, life begins to be a little bit different for them. If they become that isolated, what’s the point in having a mountain of wealth if you can’t actually enjoy it? They want to be where everyone else is, now if Europe actually took this seriously and started preventing these people from coming to London and spending their money here, then things would dramatically changes and they would take the change in their own countries. A lot of them want to keep their wealth but at least if their country became democratic, beyond every human rights violation is corruption. People don’t violate human rights because they feel like it, most of the time these serial killers are after one thing: wealth. They all want loot. If you make the loot disappear they become undone so our take with something like Moldova, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan is slightly different and in those cases it’s expose the hand maidens of dictatorship, help the people who are actually inside and in open opposition, there’s no open opposition in North Korea. Anyone who opposes the government in North Korea are executed they’re so evil that when they execute you, you can’t even yell “freedom” at the very end because they fill your mouth with rocks before they execute you. Each country has to have a different recipe, we’re a small organisation with a budget that’s no more than £4 million. So we find through empirical evidence, we will keep growing in those areas that we think is good and reform and change the ones that were not as effective.

Audience: (inaudible)

Thor: First off, thank you for that question the we’re in no way limiting the rights of these people to go and earn a living, if they wish to go and sing and dance for a dictator they have every right t dot that. It’s because we live in a free society and have freedom of speech that we can then raise our voice and criticise them for having done that. However, I say to people that J-Lo has done more for rights in Turkmenistan than most people so of course she didn’t set out to do that on purpose. Just like Mariah Carey has done more undermine, and in fact as a result of the Nicki Minaj situation the dictator of Angola released 16 people from prison because the amount of attention was so great. Of course they were re-arrested six-month later and imprisoned because they had formed a book club and one of the books they were studying was a book about dictatorships and revolutions and that’s what landed them in prison – 16 of them, for a book club no less. So we think it’s great that these people keep going, we count on it in order to keep addressing in fact we send them a list of countries to go to. But we do think it’s appalling because it’s not like their funds are being paid by a private person, this isn’t some drunken billionaire who made his money at Sainsbury’s and decided to have a big party. This money was stolen from the government treasury so I think that addresses most of that and it is of course for us a great way of attracting attention to the subject. Although, Western leaders who have also been paid off like Blair and Kazakhstan’s also a really wonderful opportunity and one that just keeps needing to be undermined over and over again. Sometimes people ask, would you sell yourself for this much or how much would you sell yourself for? Blair actually sold himself for enough money that he never needs to take another commercial airliner again, and that’s the sort of money for some people is enough because you never have to pay a price in public shame so the best we can do is shame him at public events he goes to or ask the difficult questions. Of course he will respond with “I was only trying to help” and the immediate response should be “Well, how about donating all that money to organisations that actually are doing something about it in those very countries.” I think there was a question over there.

Audience: Hi, my name is (inaudible) and I’m in the property business (inaudible)

Thor: Sure, Well I mean clamp down on journalism is the understatement of the year. He shut down more than 20 newspapers and 20 radio stations, he is unquestionably has been like Putin elected. Unquestionably that election although there may a lot of questions about fairness in terms of the amount of time the opposition is given versus the amount of time he is given and the use of the state resources for that election. So the elections were certainly not free – the … is in the vain of Hugo Chavez, a man who has been using a left wing tactic to gain power and then he does follows the exact playbook that lieutenant colonel Chavez which was reform the constitution, eliminate term limits, allow yourself to be elected over and over and if you can’t get away doing it over and over allow yourself to be elected twice and once you get to the second term get the supreme court to allow a third time. This is exactly what going on in Bolivia under Evo Morales, in the case of El Universo newspaper in Ecuador, a journalist described him as a tyrant so what does the tyrant do? He immediately beheads the inaudible and has him arrested for calling him a tyrant in the newspaper. You sometimes can’t imagine a greater caricature. He has a penchant for suing for defamation, cartoonists and others who write about him in the newspaper and when this attracts enormous amounts of attention, in the case of El Universo he then pardoned them. He seizes the wealth of those who oppose him, he took just from one family alone that had been in the country for more than one hundred years, he took away from them 400 businesses and sent them into exile, so you ask me if he’s a dictator? In the definition of operating like a strong man, absolutely. They do have elections, they’re not free and they’re not fair so the question comes and it depends on where you are in terms of semantics is Vladimir Putin a dictator? Fidel Castro’s defence of elections in 1960s in fact Fidel Castro’s words were: “What’s the use? We don’t need those anymore.” These people at least offer the façade of elections, inaudible is going to remain in power as long as he can and if he does leave power democratically, as in hands over power willingly, he will probably end up being pursued for the rest of his life for the amount of money he has, he and his cronies have stolen from the treasurer. At least, if you’re going to have a person who’s a socialist, give me an ideological socialist any day over those people. At least if they’re honest, their policies may fail or they may work in one area but fail economically and then at the ballot box they can be removed. But this idea that you get a free pass because you’re a socialist in power is an outrage and it’s revolting and it’s the baby boom generation that’s allowed this. The baby boom generation said that it’s okay to have Castro but not okay to have Pinochet. I say it’s not okay to have either.

Audience: (inaudible) if anything it seems like we’re getting more dictators

Thor: Well I have a feeling that I can probably guess how you voted in the Brexit vote. You brought up the Arab Spring, well first there are numerous dictators that not only have been deposed in the last 20 years but have been deposed peacefully and our view is it can be done peacefully. Non-violence is a tool, it’s a combat tool that can be used very effectively against dictatorship. By that I mean not taking up arms. Don’t confuse non-violence with a pacifism – these are different things. In the case of Venezuela for instance you have one of the best examples of non-violent resistance that keeps going month after month, year after year. They have actually not succumbed to how easy it is to say to hell with this lets go the way of violence. The problem with going the way of violence is the dictator tends to have a monopoly of force because they have the military and they have the police and the secret police and so on and so forth. So in this context you’re always going to lose, however you brought up the Arab Spring and you see we brought down, we did this and we did that. Actually if you really consider – Tunisia is an excellent example. Tunisia was set ablaze, so to speak, when information made it’s way around. The state department cables that had been released by WikiLeaks indicated the levels of corruption that were so stratospheric that the state department folks were writing back to the US describing the lifestyle of President Ben-Ali and his family. This incensed the population. Populations aren’t really that ready to march unless it’s a populations that oppressed specifically in a very narrow way such as sexual minorities or racial minorities that want to gather because there’s an unevenness in the law. In general populations don’t say “Right, due process stinks in this country lets go out on the streets and March.” That doesn’t really get people but corruption does. And the amount of corruption that occurred in Tunisia is what so was, really was the powder keg. People were photocopying the WikiLeaks cables or rather the state department cables and handing them out on the streets so people could read them themselves. That is what led to a stable democracy. Now the same didn’t occur in Egypt. The Egyptian case is important to go back to why a dictator is noxious. Egypt had Mubarak and Mubarak is a monster that whenever Britain or the US or EU would knock on his door and say could you please reform he would keep this even more horrible monster on a monster in a chain in the basement and he’d bring him up and say it’s me or the Muslim Brotherhood, what do you prefer? And the West would say “Well, he’s not going to war with Israel, Mubarak is seen as their allies and he allows Jews to enter and exit their airport” so let’s leave it alone for a while. Here’s the problem with that. Eventually all dictators fall and when they do the population will remember who stood with the dictator as in who stood against us the population. In the case of Egypt, it was the UK it was the US it was Israel it was Europe. So suddenly the population is allied to whoever is not that is who we’re going to back. The dictator does something else in every dictatorship: limits educational opportunities. You need a stupid population, the dumber they are the easier they are to Shepard from one thing to the next. The easier they are to bully. They easier they are to fool. The population of Korea is devoid of critical thinking, they’re unable to follow out simple analysis. That’s how much propaganda is fed to them, education doesn’t exist they all have a doctorate in ‘I love the dear leader’ and very little else unfortunately. So, in the case of Mubarak you had decades of ignorance. The one area that the dictator does not go into and he stops at the door is religious institutions which is why those religious institutions become places where extremism exists and where the fight against the dictatorship will begin. So that was the one area where he couldn’t penetrate and he didn’t want to knock through that door. So you have a perfect storm after the end of Mubarak. You have a middle class that actually finally breathes freedom and they were in Tehrir square but they need to get back to their jobs. And then you have the opportunists from the Muslim Brotherhood who stepped right into that vacuum and then led to the current situation. So the answer is not previous people have said well you can’t transition one to another. Nobody wondered why Poland after decades and decades of dictatorship shouldn’t be a democracy, nobody asked, nobody said well no they needed more of a long transition. Nobody said that of Czechoslovakia, nobody said that of Hungary, nobody said that about Romania, these countries all became democracies. Now some of them may not be as functional as we may like them to be but it’s much easier to work with that framework. So my answer to you have this situation occurring everywhere is in the UK we have enormous amounts of freedom to hold these people accountable here but while we’re doing it from here we should also remember the people who aren’t as lucky as us. The idea that we should not go after the dictators and seek to bring freedom to every corner of the world is one that I fervently oppose. I think everyone should have the opportunity not just because they were born to a free country.

Audience: inaudible

Thor: Have the Magnitsky Bill, the law that passed in the name of Sergei Magnitksy, the lawyer that had been tortured to death in Russia after he uncovered a massive tax fraud carried out by members of the Putin government. A law was passed to prevent the people involved in the Magnitsky murder from entering the US. When the person who was behind getting that law passed met with me for the first time, I said it’s going to be very unlikely that you’re going to make it. I’m sure you’ve all heard of Bill Browder, he’s spoken at the Henry Jackson Society. What Bill Browder tends to focus on, he tends to get because he focuses on it from 9am to 9pm. Bill Browder was successful in the US, now is it working? Absolutely it’s working. Not only is it working the Russians are figuring out anything they can do to eliminate him. Some people may think it’s not that important to get visas, who cares about the visas? They care enormously about the visas, so much so when the Magnitsky Bill got to Europe, the Russian government asked if they could get a waiver for 50,000 visas. 50,000 visas for the Russian government, they could put anyone into those visas of course seeking to eviscerate Bill Browder. Again, these people don’t just want to enjoy their funds by sitting in a bank account, they want to enjoy them by going to St Bart’s and the Riviera and London and by shopping and by buying houses. So the Magnitsky bill works and there should be more of them. Unfortunately it’s stalled in the Canadian Parliament but in about an hour I’m scheduled to be by satellite testifying to the Parliament of Canada to address this specific issue and encourage them to ensure they pass the Magnitsky bill. You see the beautiful thing about the Magnitsky bill is we can add at the end that it’s not just specifically for Russia that every other country in the world and if we just add a few more words and make it corruption then that changes the whole ball game. In the case of Venezuela, one trillion dollars has been stolen from the government of Venezuela in the last 10 years and so much of it has ended up here and in Canada and in the US and it’s appalling. Again, there would be no human rights violations if it wasn’t for the desire for inaudible it’s what they’re after. Are there any other questions?

Could I..

Audience: inaudible

Thor: I’m not familiar with the whole Golden Handshake but I presume it’s going to be like “we’ll let you off and we’ll give you some money if you leave power.” In fact, Mo Ibrahim is a Sudanese billionaire who made a fortune in the cellular telephone field in Africa and he set up the Mo Ibrahim prize. This prize but excuse me, the numbers I don’t have exactly, $5 million cash in addition to an annual pension for the rest of your life for something like £300,000 for the rest of your life every year. If you leave power democratically and if you agree to not loot the treasure. When asked about this issue the dictator of Uganda, Museveni, literally he responded with “I don’t need a hand out.” Of course not. $5 million to Museveni, isn’t enough to power his jet for 5 years. That’s unfortunately Golden Handshake would have to be a handshake the size inaudible and it would have to be made of platinum and palladium in order for it actually work. So no a golden handshake does not work at all. In fact I’d love inaudible to shake those people’s hands very hard in-fact. And the last question here?

Audience: inaudible

Thor: Thank-you very much, thank-you.

Lord Trimble: We’ll take that as the last.. I think that is a very appropriate last word in this session. We have actually overrun our time by a significant degree but never mind.

Thor: Well again, I apologise for being late, thank-you very much have a nice day.


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