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Oscar-winner Hillary Swank said she “deeply” regretted attending a birthday party for Chechnya’s president, who has been accused human rights abuses.
“I deeply regret attending this event, which has thrown into question my long and deeply-held commitment to the protection of human rights,” Swank said in a statement released by her rep. “I would never intentionally do anything that raised doubts about such commitment.”
Both the “Million Dollar Baby” actress, action movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme and British violinist Vanessa Mae had come under fire by human rights watchdogs for speaking at the Oct. 5 celebration for Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov on his 35th birthday.
The Kremlin-backed ruler has been accused of torture, promoting honor killings of women and disappearances, among other human rights abuses, The Associated Press reports.
The Human Rights Foundation said they sent Swank a letter urging her not to go, while Human Rights Watch said celebrities’ presence, "trivializes the suffering of countless victims of human rights abuses."
Swank did not address Human Rights Foundations’ charge in her statement. She said instead that she went to show support for a new residential and commercial complex in Grozny City that “was instrumental in the creation of jobs and other opportunities for the people of Chechnya.”
“When she arrived at the event, its organizers requested that she wish the President a happy birthday, which happened to coincide with the opening. Not wanting to be rude, she obliged,” Swank’s statement said. She said she did not know of allegations against Kadyrov at the time.
During the party, Swank said she was taken by the Chechen government's "passion to make peace and to make something beautiful."
"I hope to have a film premiere here," she said in remarks that appeared on the Chechen state television. "Happy birthday, Mr. President."
Van Damme said he "spoke from his heart" when he said "I love you Mr. Kadyrov," but mispronounced Kadyrov's name and called Chechnya a "nation." Mae performed for a reported half a million dollars, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Kevin Costner and Eva Mendes were also invited but declined because they were too busy filming, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Shakira -- recently appointed to an education advisory panel by President Obama -- also got an invite but didn't attend.
It's not the first time celebrities have been under fire for partying with oppressive leaders. Nelly Furtado, Beyonce, Usher and Mariah Carey performed for the Khaddafy clan while Moammar was still in power. All of them eventually donated the millions they received to charity.