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IMAGE: Hilary Swank
Jag Gundu  /  Getty Images Contributor
Hilary Swank made a controversial decision in attending the birthday party of an accused human rights violator, who is also the president of Chechnya.
updated 10/11/2011 9:34:19 AM ET 2011-10-11T13:34:19

If this were a movie, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Hilary Swank would be teaming to stop a suspected bad guy — not showing up to wish him a happy birthday.

But alas, this ain't a movie. It's real life.

Human rights activists are taking issue with the stars for attending what amounted to a swanky 35th birthday bash for Chechnya's president Ramzan Kadyrov, whom the organization accuses of being one of the world's most notorious human rights violators. The U.S. State Department details accusations of arson, abductions and torture against Kadyrov and his forces in a 2010 Human Rights report.

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"By attending this kind of event, it really legitimizies and bolsters the image of someone that's linked to human rights abuses," Jane Buchanan, Human Rights Watch's senior researcher, tells E! News.

After being appointed to his post by the Russian prime minister four years ago, Kadyrov has overseen a law enforcement agency that has orchestrated a slew of abductions, tortures and deaths of Chechen insurgents in the rebellious republic, according to Human Rights Watch.

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"(Kadyrov) has a long history of being linked to serious abuses in that regime," added Buchanan. "He himself has been implicated in torture by a man who used to work for him ... and that man was assassinated in Austria while seeking political asylum."

That didn't stop Van Damme and Swank from feting him at an Oct. 5 festival in the Chechen capital of Grozny, which also doubled as a birthday party for the dictator. The event included massive fireworks, choreographed acrobatic routines and a performance by famed violinist Vanessa Mae.

For his part, the erstwhile action hero showed off a few of his aging martial arts moves, and shouting, according to a BBC report, "I love you, Mr. Kadyrov!"

The "Million Dollar Baby" star offered her own good wishes for the Chechen ruler.

"Really, truly, for me this was a great honor to learn more about you and your country and what you're building," the Oscar winner said upon taking the stage. "Happy birthday, Mr. President."

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Talk about a public relations fail.

"Our concerns are that if these stars got paid for attending then they should give the money back. It's really not appropriate," said Buchanan.

Per the BBC, Mae was paid a reported $500,000 to perform. It's not known whether Van Damme and Swank received anything for their appearance. Reps for the actors could not be reached for comment.

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According to ABC News, other celebs such as Shakira, Eva Mendez and Kevin Costner were invited to attend the affair, but turned the organizers down. The Colombian singer, in fact, issued a denial via Twitter days before the event to refute that she was ever booked for it. And while erroneously said to have attended in one early report, Costner did not attend and is said to be busy filming the History Channel's upcoming miniseries, "The Hatfields and McCoys."

© 2012 E! Entertainment Television, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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