Human rights Oscar

And the nominees for outstanding performance in the service of human rights are...

The Oscars are upon us and the Human Rights Foundation wants to provide Forbes readers with an opportunity to rank celebrities for their notable accomplishments outside of their entertainment careers.

Many high profile entertainers, athletes, and artists, like this year's Oscar contenders Martin Scorsese and George Clooney, instead of resting on their laurels between films, have thrown their A-list weight behind various human rights causes.

Here, you'll get a chance to comment on the celebrities you think have done the most for human rights and some who have been big human rights disappointments. Nominees for Outstanding Human Rights Work:

1) Christian Bale

Christian Bale, best known for his portrayal of the ultimate playboy-meets-superhero, Batman, proves to be a champion for justice off-screen as well. While promoting his latest film, The Flowers of War, in China, Bale was detained when visiting Chen Guangcheng, a blind human rights activist and lawyer placed under house arrest. Despite being physically harassed by Chinese authorities at a makeshift checkpoint, Bale demanded to see the "free man." His pleas fell on deaf ears and he had to turn back (his car trailed by authorities of that police state for 40 minutes), but his determination is commendable. "What I really wanted to do was to meet the man, shake his hand and say what an inspiration he is," said Bale.

2) George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt

Hollywood's frontmen, George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt, along with film producer, Jerry Weintraub, founded Not on Our Watch, an organization that aims to draw attention to putting an end to mass atrocities. Since its creation, they have spoken at senate hearings demanding for attention to the Sudanese genocide, provided aid to the estimated 150,000 Burmese refugees on the Thai-Burma border, and visited crisis areas such as Zimbabwe to draw international attention to the situations on the ground. In a recent interview in Vanity Fair, Clooney said his real-life heroes include "anyone who runs toward danger, and not away from it. Not only military and firemen, but aid workers and journalists."

3) Garry Kasparov

Though Garry Kasparov may have retired from professional chess in 2005, the celebrated grandmaster has devoted himself to human rights advocacy. In March 2007, he helped organize two rallies against the policies of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, and later that year entered the Russian presidential race. He withdrew two months later when he was unable to rent a meeting hall for at least 500 of his supporters to assemble to endorse his candidacy, as required by Russian law. Putin's government had pressured real estate owners to not rent meeting halls to Kasparov. Since then, Kasparov tirelessly travels major world cities exposing the financial corruption, human rights violations, and erosion of rule of law occurring in his homeland. He is currently chairman of the United Civil Front, a pro-democracy organization fighting Russia's "Party of Swindlers and Thieves."

4) Lady Gaga and Rufus Wainwright

Lady Gaga, part songstress, part provocateur, is a strong champion of the rights of sexual minorities. Gaga has attended countless rallies and events for equal rights and she garnered national attention when she showed up on the red carpet of the 2010 MTV Video Music awards in her infamous "meat dress" where she was joined by Four U.S. Armed Forces members who were not allowed to discuss their sexuality because of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright identifies himself as a "complete libertarian" and believes that government should not interfere with matters of love and sexuality. He has become one of the most articulate advocates of equal rights and dignity for sexual minorities in the United States.

5) Ben Affleck and Javier Bardem

The Democratic Republic of Congo has one of the highest rates of violence in the world. Since 1996, the civil war over natural resources has killed 5.5 million people, displaced 2.5 million people, and is responsible for 1,100 rapes reported each month. "Conflict minerals," such as gold and tin, are sold for profits that are in turn used to buy weapons to control the areas containing the natural resources. Ben Affleck witnessed this nightmare first hand when he traveled to the Congo with ABC News and interviewed various people affected by the crisis. Later that year he directed a short film about the plight of the Congolese refugees for the "Gimme Shelter" Campaign. Affleck founded the Eastern Congo Initiative, the first U.S.-based organization focused solely on eastern Congo. Javier Bardem is also involved in raising awareness about conflict minerals. He collaborates with The Enough Project's co-founder John Prendergast to bring international attention to the issue.

6) Daryl Hannah and Ricky Martin

Daryl Hannah, best known for her roles in Steel Magnolia and the Kill Bill movies, has traveled around the world to film a documentary on human trafficking. Hannah visited brothels in Southeast Asia in disguise to meet with girls who had been sold into prostitution. She also supports the Somaly Mam Foundation, an organization devoted to creating shelters for women who have escaped slavery.

Pop sensation Ricky Martin is actively committed to ending modern-day slavery through the Ricky Martin Foundation, an organization that advocates for the well being of children. The foundation's "People for Children" initiative focuses on raising public awareness of child trafficking, investigation of cases, and public policy recommendations.

7) Kevin Spacey and Jude Law

Belarus, "the last true remaining dictatorship in the heart of Europe," is governed by Alexander Lukashenko and has continually violated international and human rights law with harsh crackdowns on opposition leaders. In March 2011, Jude Law and Kevin Spacey marched the streets of London along with 100 protesters to call for the end of the Alexander Lukashenko's dictatorship in Belarus. Spacey was first inspired to protest when he attended a performance by Belarus Free Theatre in New York the year before where he learned that nearly every member of the theater company had been arrested or imprisoned. The Belarusian government subsequently banned Spacey's and Law's movies. Said Spacey, "They can ban as many films as they want but they will never be able to ban the Belarus people's right to fight for their freedom and their voices to be heard, and that's what this protest is about."

8) Colin Firth

Colin Firth played a winsome human rights barrister in Bridget Jones's Diary, but it may come as a surprise that off-screen, Firth is also an active proponent of human rights in central Africa. He's an avid supporter of Survival International, a NGO that defends the rights of tribal peoples, and spoke out against the government of Botswana for displacing Gana and Gwi Bushmen from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve during his promotion of Love Actually. Firth has also been involved in campaigns to stop the deportation of asylum seekers whom he believes might be killed by the government upon return to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

9) Mia Farrow

With 45 films and several awards under her belt, most in Mia Farrow's shoes would probably put up their feet and bask in their accolades. Not so for Farrow. For many years she has advocated for children's rights, primarily in Africa. She has also been involved with the Dream for Darfur campaign, which helped bring public scrutiny to China's support of the Sudanese government. And it was Farrow's assertive campaign that encouraged Steven Spielberg to withdraw as an artistic adviser to the Beijing 2008 Olympics broadcast, on account of the Chinese government's human rights abuses. She regularly and consistently tweets about human rights across the world.

10) Maria Conchita Alonso

This singer, actress, and former Miss World is outspoken about her disdain for the despotic regimes of Cuba and Venezuela. She has appeared on several talk shows, criticizing Hugo Chavez's dictatorial behavior. Alonso has involved herself in several political prisoner campaigns, human rights documentaries, and frequently participates in public demonstrations. She was not afraid to go public with her disagreements on international politics with Danny Glover and Sean Penn with whom she had costarred in the films Predator 2 and Colors. When asked if her career has suffered as a result of her advocacy she responded: "my principles aren't for sale," perhaps a dig at celebrities who have received cash gifts from Venezuela's Chavez.

11) Ira Newble

In January 2007, while Ira Newble was playing for the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, the basketball player first read about the human rights crisis in Darfur perpetrated by the Sudanese government. This spurred Newble to learn more about the situation, visit a Sudanese refugee center in Chad, and write a protest letter, signed by dozens of NBA players, to the Chinese government and the President of the 2008 Olympic Committee. "How could they be a legitimate host of the Olympics," asked Newble, "while underwriting genocide and war?" While no response was elicited from the Chinese government, Newble managed to garner attention to his cause, as 11 players participated in public-service announcements about the Darfur crisis.

12) Robert Redford, Robert De Niro, Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen brothers, Francis Ford Coppola, Ang Lee, Richard Linklater, and Martin Scorsese

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who has received numerous awards including the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion, is currently serving a sentence of six years in prison and a twenty-year ban on making films for creating "propaganda against the Islamic Republic." Industry heavyweights such as Robert Redford, Robert De Niro, Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen brothers, Francis Ford Coppola, Ang Lee, Richard Linklater, and Martin Scorsese signed a letter in April 2010 urging Panahi's release.

13) Anjelica Huston, Paul McCartney, Jennifer Aniston, Jane Birkin, Sylvester Stallone, Sarah Silverman, Ellen Page, and Will Ferrell

This past January, the Burmese government signed a ceasefire with ethnic Kachin rebels and released a number of political prisoners, which led to a renewal of U.S. diplomatic relations. While the regime is still a military dictatorship, it's nonetheless promising to see a degree of free press restored the country, and to see Aung Suu Kyi's party allowed to register for elections. We might be able to attribute some of these positive developments to the contributions celebrities have made to the campaign to free Burma.

In 2007, Academy Award winner Anjelica Huston, along with U.S. Campaign for Burma and the Human Rights Action Center, organized a letter-writing campaign for Burma's freedom. Addressed to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the letter called on him to secure the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

English actress and singer Jane Birkin has been a Burma activist for over a decade—she has written songs and starred in music videos to call for Aung San Suu Kyi's release and avidly posts updates about the Burmese political situation on her website. Beatles legend Sir Paul McCartney used his musical talents for the cause by donating a song to a U.S. Campaign for Burma album. Jennifer Aniston, Will Ferrell, Sarah Silverman, Ellen Page and Sylvester Stallone all took part in public service announcements for the "It Can't Wait" campaign to free Burma.

14) Gloria Estefan and Andy Garcia

Cuban-born, Miami-raised singer Gloria Estefan made her mark with hits such as "Conga" and "Cuts Both Ways". In March 2010, she led thousands of marchers through the streets of Little Havana in Miami to protest the Cuban government's policy of constant harassment and physical assault on the "Ladies in White" —mothers and wives of jailed dissidents and independent journalists who peacefully protest every Sunday. The following month, Estefan personally presented President Obama with letters from Cuban dissidents smuggled out of Havana. Estefan called the Castro regime an "oppressive government" and described Cuba as "the country where I was born, a place where hope and freedom only live in history, not in the present.

Andy Garcia has spent decades working for the cause of human rights in Cuba both visibly and behind the scenes. He argues that "it is a human cause, not a Cuban cause," and has marched, written articles, produced and directed films, financed medical shipments, and inspired the Cuban dissident community to the point that he is likely the most popular celebrity in Cuba's freedom community. The actor was born in Cuba and was forced to flee at a very early age. His film The Lost City details the preventable rise of Cuba's current dictatorship.

15) Damien Rice

Soulful Irish folk musician Damien Rice uses his singing abilities for more than making top hits like "Cannonball." He has worked with Burma Campaign UK and U.S. to free Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He wrote and performed the song "Unplayed Piano" to campaign for Aung San Suu Kyi's release at the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, and also contributed the song "Making Noise" for the album Songs of Tibet, an initiative to support Tibet and the Dalai Lama. He also contributed the song "Lonely Soldier" to the Enough Project's RAISE Hope For Congo, which supports women's rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

16) Richard Gere and Annie Lennox

Richard Gere is a practicing Buddhist and good friends with the Dalai Lama, but few know he is also a strong proponent of the Tibetan Independence Movement. Because of his outspoken campaigns, Gere is permanently prohibited from entering China. He founded The Gere Foundation, an organization that awards grants to groups that are dedicated to the cultural preservation of Tibet and the Tibetan people.

Scottish musician Annie Lennox has been a leader in Tibetan activism. Lennox made a short film about Palden Gyatso, a Buddhist monk who was abused in Chinese prisons and labor camps for 33 years. The film, "Tibet in Song," documents Tibetan music and dance and shows how the Chinese occupation suppresses these cultural traditions. Lennox also supports the film's producer, Ngawang Choephel, a Tibetan ethnomusicologist and filmmaker, who is currently in prison for unsubstantiated charges of "counter-revolutionary activities."

And, the Nominees for Greatest Human Rights Disappointment:

1) Hilary Swank, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Vanessa Mae, and Seal

Chechnya's president Ramzan Kadyrov employs rape, torture, disappearances, and murder to control power as head of Russia's puppet government. Celebrities Hilary Swank, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Vanessa Mae, and Seal flew to Gronzy to attend Kadyrov's 35th birthday party, ignoring alerts from human rights organizations about the Chechen regime's litany of abuses (while other invitees like Eva Mendes, Shakira, and Kevin Costner declined). While the attendance fees are undisclosed, these celebrities received six-figure paychecks for attending the bizarre soiree. Swank has since apologized and told the Hollywood Reporter that she would be donating the money "to various charitable organizations" (last week she was asked to prove the donations were made–Swank declined). Seal, on the other hand, is less contrite, and tweeted to his followers "By going there, I played MUSIC for the Chechenyan [sic] people. I'm a MUSICIAN and would appreciate if you leave me out of your politics." Unfortunately, it wasn't the Chechen people who benefited from his performance, but only Seal and the dictator responsible for oppressing innocent Chechens.

2) Beyoncé Knowles, Nelly Furtado, 50 Cent, Usher, and Mariah Carey

At a private New Year's Eve party for the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi's son, 50 Cent, Nelly Furtado, Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, and Usher performed for fees of up to one million dollars each. The stars quickly claimed they were not aware that the party, which took place in St. Barth's, was for Gaddafi. They have all since apologized and claim to have donated the money "to various human rights organizations."

3) Sean Penn and Danny Glover

Sean Penn, while known for the work he has done in Haiti, seems oddly a fan of both the Cuban dictatorship and the increasingly autocratic government in Venezuela. Having met both Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro, Penn has fostered a personal relationship with both strongmen and has published stories defending them while glossing over voluminous evidence of human rights violations. Penn's assessment of Chavez's saintliness is such that he has suggested American journalists be sent to prison whenever they refer to Chavez as a "dictator." Penn also claims that Fidel Castro's Communist Party would "win 80 percent of the election." He seems to conveniently forget that we would never know since there are no such things as free elections in Cuba—a police state.

Lethal Weapon star Danny Glover is another actor enamored with the Cuban regime. He has spoken out repeatedly in defense of Cuba's dictator-duo, the Castro brothers. In addition, he has frequently flown to New York for photo opportunities with Hugo Chavez. A $20M cash payment to his film company from the Venezuelan government may explain his blind allegiance to a government that repeatedly denies journalists and artists the rights that Glover enjoys in the United States.

4) Wyclef Jean

Haitian musician and one-time presidential candidate Wyclef Jean rose to support his people during the 2010 Haiti earthquake. He urged donations to his charity Yele Haiti, but it was later disclosed that Jean had been misappropriating and mismanaging the foundation's funds for several years. Jean vowed to change his ways and "use the new earthquake donations responsibly." However, The New York Post discovered, after examining his 2010 tax return, that Jean had reverted to "the same old self-dealing and shady accounting" despite his promises of integrity and honesty. Wyclef responds that the charity has "made mistakes."

(Published by Forbes - February 23, 2012)

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