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Video: Hilary Swank attends party for controversial president

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    MATT LAUER, co-host: We're back at 7:42. Oscar winner Hilary Swank is facing some intense criticism this morning after she attended a birthday party for a controversial leader accused of human rights violations . NBC 's Michelle Kosinski 's in London with details on this. Michelle , good morning.

    MICHELLE KOSINSKI reporting: Hi, Matt. Most star-studded parties don't end with Human Rights Watch involved, basically blasting Hilary Swank and others because the birthday party was for the Chechnyan president long accused by multiple groups of things like torture and killings. What a birthday it was. There in the capital of tiny, war-scarred Chechnya . Music , battles, acrobats, a fired up president.

    President RAMZAN KADYROV:

    KOSINSKI: Whom some have labeled an authoritarian torturer, sparing no expense for his 35th birthday with some special guests, Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank .

    Ms. HILARY SWANK: I love to travel. I love to see the world. I love to see different cultures, so really, truly, for me this is a great honor to learn more about you and your country and what you're building. And happy birthday , Mr. President.

    KOSINSKI: And action star Jean-Claude Van Damme .

    Mr. JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME: I love you, Mr. Kadyrov .

    Unidentified Man:

    Mr. VAN DAMME: I love you all. You're in my heart.

    KOSINSKI: And not so in love human rights group had urged performers not to go there. And now Human Rights Watch , which for years has accused Ramzan Kadyrov and associates of torture, repression, making people disappear, is stunned they did.

    Ms. RACHEL DENBER (Human Rights Watch): For the past eight years, starting through Ramzan Kadyrov 's rise to power and through his leadership of the Chechen Republic , Ramzan Kadyrov has had a terrible human rights record.

    KOSINSKI: One group called Kadyrov a war criminal. The former separatist rebel turned friend of Russia who owns big cats, a gold-plated handgun, likes to dance, and was appointed president of the Chechen Republic by Vladimir Putin at age 30, who told a Russian newspaper a woman should know her place. She would be man's property. Another quoted him defending honor killings . So why would celebrities want to party with someone like him? The answer is often money. Recently superstars Mariah Carey , Beyonce , Usher, Lionel Richie , Nelly Furtado all performed at events for the Gadhafi family, earning up to $2 million each. Some later gave the huge cash to charity. Now it's unknown if this two-time Oscar-winning " Million Dollar Baby " and fellow stars were paid any millions to appear for Ramzan Kadyrov . But his swanky event sure was that. Kadyrov has denied all these allegations and Hilary Swank just put out a statement saying she did not know about them and she didn't even know at first that it was his birthday. She said this was presented to her as a party for the city that would bring hope to the Chechnyan people. She says, "I deeply regret attending this event, which has thrown into question my long and deeply held commitment to the protection of human rights . If I had a full understanding of what this event was apparently intended to be, I would never have gone." Now she did not mention whether or not she was paid and no words from Jean-Claude Van Damme . Matt :

IMAGE: Hilary Swank
Jag Gundu  /  Getty Images Contributor
Hilary Swank now says she regrets attending a concert and birthday celebration for a Chechen leader who has been accused of human rights violations.
updated 10/13/2011 7:46:09 AM ET 2011-10-13T11:46:09

Hollywood celebrity Hilary Swank said she "deeply regrets" visiting a concert held on the birthday of the Kremlin-backed Chechen leader, who is accused of torture, abductions and killings by human rights groups.

The two-time Oscar winner said that she was unaware of the disappearances, house torchings and extra-judicial killings reportedly orchestrated by Ramzan Kadyrov in the southern Russian republic.

"I deeply regret attending this event," Swank said in a written message to The Associated Press. "If I had a full understanding of what this event was apparently intended to be, I would never have gone."

Story: Hilary Swank slammed for going to Chechnya leader fete
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Swank issued the message after the Human Rights Watch criticized her — along with Belgian actor Jean Claude Van Damme and British violinist Vanessa Mae — for attending a show that, it says, "trivializes the suffering of countless victims of human rights abuses."

Representatives for Van Damme and Mae have not responded to AP's requests for comment.

On Kadyrov's 35th birthday on Oct. 5, his government organized a lavish concert in Chechnya's provincial capital, Grozny, that has been restored after being flattened during two wars between Chechen separatists and Moscow since 1994.

The celebrities — as well as dozens of Russian politicians and pop stars — showed up to congratulate and lavish Kadyrov with praise from a stage arranged between a gigantic mosque and a newly-built business center.

During the birthday show, Swank said that she had been taken by the Chechen government's "passion to make peace and to make something beautiful." She claimed in her apology that her invitation to the concert made no mention of Kadyrov's birthday.

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At the show, Swank also appeared to be one of the few women to wear no headscarf even though women in Chechnya are compelled to adhere to an Islamic dress code. Those who refuse to obey have reportedly faced threats and harrassment from Kadyrov's feared security forces.

Swank won Oscars for her roles in "Boys Don't Cry" and "Million Dollar Baby." Her screen credits also include "Freedom Writers," "P.S. I Love You" and "Amelia."

Kadyrov is a former separatist rebel who has boasted of killing his first Russian soldier at age 15. He went over to the federal side at the start of the second Chechen war in 1999.

A string of Kadyrov's critics and political rivals have been brutally murdered in recent years in Russia, Austria, Dubai and Turkey. Kadyrov has consistently denied involvement in any of the killings, saying the accusations are fabricated to blacken his name.

The birthday show was the latest in a series of expensive and extravagant events sponsored by Kadyrov's government despite Chechnya's high poverty and unemployment rates.

He has spent millions of dollars to acquire well-bred horses that have competed in some of the world's richest races and to renovate a soccer stadium in Grozny. International soccer legends have visited Chechnya to play friendly matches.

Under Kadyrov's leadership, Chechnya has become relatively quiet, and the insurgent violence has largely migrated to neighboring republics of the volatile North Caucasus region.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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