Exposing Tyranny’s Supporters

HRF exposes how dictators and their cronies employ public relations firms, celebrities, & charitable foundations to burnish their reputations internationally.

The Leon H. Sullivan Foundation In Equatorial Guinea

The dictatorship of Equatorial Guinea regularly co-opts public relations firms, celebrities, and high profile events to whitewash the country’s deplorable human rights situation under the rule of President Teodoro Obiang.The U.S.-based Leon H. Sullivan Foundation was an organization founded in the civil rights icon’s name by his daughter Hope Masters and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young. The non-profit organization engaged in public relations work for the Obiang regime in exchange for funding, even awarding Obiang a prize and hosting a “Sullivan Summit” in the Equatoguinean capital.

In the summer of2012 HRF sent a public letter to the Sullivan Foundation denouncing the hypocrisy of hosting a summit called “Africa Rising,” focused on human rights, inside a dictatorship. HRF launched a high-profile campaign asking the organization to relocate the summit and informed attendees about the terrible human rights situation in Equatorial Guinea, where despite having a GDP being on par with France and Italy, Equatoguineans survive on less than $2 a day. Meanwhile, Obiang and those in his inner circle spend millions on pop memorabilia, expensive cars, and lavish mansions around the world. The campaign sparked worldwide media coverage and five months later in January 2013 the Sullivan Foundation closed its doors.

Read a selection of articles related to the campaign here:"

"An African Kleptocracy’s U.S. Helpers" Reuters
"Groups Slam Foundation's Summit in Equatorial Guinea" Associated Press
"Equatorial Guinea's Dictator Attempts to Rebrand Himself as a Champion of Human Rights with the Help of a Clinton-endorsed Charity" The Independent
"Politicians Bow Out of High-Profile Summit Hosted By Africa's Longest-Serving Dictator" US News and World Report
"A Summit Where the Air Is Foul" National Review
"A Human Rights Toast for an African Tyrant" Wall Street Journal
"Hope for Obiang, but Not Equatorial Guinea" World Policy Blog
"A Controversial Meeting in Malabo" Aljazeera
"Whitewashing a Dictator" Frontpage Mag
"US Group Draws Fire for Holding Human Rights Summit in Equatorial Guinea" The Guardian
"When a Celebrity Tells Her Dictator-Host, 'No Thanks'" The Atlantic
"How Dictators Triumph: With A Little Help From Their Friends" Daily Caller
"D.C. Foundation Closes Its Doors Following Summit Glorifying African Dictator" US News and World Report
"Leon H. Sullivan Foundation: The Implosion of a Legacy" The Washington Post

Alexander Mirtchev in Kazakhstan

In 2012 HRF sponsored the publication of an open letter from human rights defenders in Kazakhstan addressed to U.S. leaders and members of civil society. The letter highlights the crimes and human rights violations occurring under the dictatorship of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The government of Kazakhstan regularly employs PR companies and “donates” to think tanks and academic institutions to facilitate the publication of reports portraying their government in a favorable light: Alexander Mirtchev is one such influence peddler employed by the government. A member of the Atlantic Council’s executive committee, and a senior scholar at the Wilson Center, Mirtchev was paid millions to manage the enormous ill-gotten fortune of the Nazarbayev clan. Officially, he is on Nazarbayev’s payroll as a director of Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund.

Activists and human rights defenders often feel powerless to combat those messages and powerful figures. This letter aims to do just that, highlighting the role of Nazarbayev in the “Zhanaozen Massacre,” in which Kazakhstani state police shot and killed numerous unarmed civilians in December 2011. The letter publicly names the officials, police officers, judges, and security agents accused by Kazakhstani human rights defenders of being involved in the massacre.