Another anniversary of the June 4 massacre on Tiananmen Square has passed, marking 25 years since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) attacked and killed unarmed students—possibly thousands according to some estimates.
But injustices in mainland China and around the world continue to this day. The ongoing persecution of religious groups and activists has not subsided. But like the “Tank Man,” who bravely blocked the way of Chinese tanks heading to Tiananmen Square, some have realized that it only takes one person to make a difference. Here are nine celebrated figures who have been speaking out and standing up for human rights.
1. Richard Gere
Richard Gere has been an outspoken supporter of human rights issues since the 80s. In 1986, Gere went on a fact-finding mission in Nicaragua and Honduras where thousands of people were getting killed in armed conflicts. He then became interested in Buddhism, and has associated with the faith ever since.
After establishing “The Gere Foundation,” the actor has been providing relief assistance for Tibetans who have suffered from the repression of the CCP since the 50s. The regime has been violently trying to eradicate culture and religious belief in Tibet and the mainland. Gere has been frequently visiting the region and is in very close contact with the Dalai Lama himself. Gere also co-founded Tibet House US in 1987, which is the cultural center of the Dalai Lama.
Gere is said to be banned from entering mainland China because of his outspoken support of the Free Tibet Movement. But the veteran actor has also been reprimanded in Hollywood. Notably, in 1993 Gere was to present an Academy Award, but rather than reading off the teleprompter he used the opportunity to say a few words to the former Chairman of the Central Advisory Commission of the Communist Party to cease the persecution in Tibet. Ever since his speech, Gere has not been asked to present awards at the ceremony.
2. Christian Bale
This Academy Award winning actor is known for being able to change roles and physical appearance frequently because of his demanding roles, but what he’s less known for is his bravery out in the field.
When Bale was visiting China for the premiere of his film he made an eight-hour trip from Beijing to meet a “personal hero,” alongside CNN reporters who caught the whole scene on video. Bale wanted to visit the blind civil rights lawyer Chen Guangchen in mainland China, but plainclothes security guards outside Guangchen’s village would not let him pass, shooing away Bale and the CNN reporters, but not without them catching the whole scene on video.
3. Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie is a well-known human rights activist who started her good deeds back in Cambodia when filming Tomb Raider in 2000. Jolie became a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Goodwill Ambassador and then promoted to the position of a Special Envoy. As a Goodwill Ambassador, Jolie is well known for standing up for ending child and woman violence in conflict zones, and this is especially known through her directorial debut In the Land of Blood and Honey.
After meeting Brad Pitt on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith in 2005, the two started the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation in honor of their eldest son Maddox and his homeland—Cambodia. Through the charity they have donated millions of dollars to humanitarian causes around the world.
U2’s frontman and lead singer, born Paul David Hewson, has been most notably involved in political activism and advocating for debt relief in Africa and the unfair trade rules. In 1985 he traveled to Nicaragua and El Salvador where he witnessed the damage wrought by US-backed projects, which lead to U2’s participation in the Amnesty International benefit tour. Through his efforts, Hewson was also credited for being instrumental in the G-8’s decision to forgive 18 African countries owing a sum of $40 billion in debt.
Hewson has been in meetings with George W. Bush, U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill, and the Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. His work has earned him a knighthood in Britain, the Légion d’honneur in France, and two separate nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.
5. Thom Yorke
Radiohead’s lead vocalist, Thom Yorke, is best known for his environmentalist work, although a very strong supporter of human rights and anti-war causes. He is also involved in Amnesty International causes as well as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
His band, Radiohead played at the Free Tibet concert in 1998 and 1999, as well as the 1998 Amnesty International concert.
Radiohead was established in 1991, and in 2009 Yorke founded his side-band “Atoms for Peace” which was said to sue the Smiling Sun logo to further highlight their anti-nuclear power beliefs.
6. George Clooney
Hollywood hunk George Clooney is known mostly for his big roles, but he has also played an important role in anti-war activism and humanitarian work.
Since 2008, Clooney has served as one of the United Nations Messengers of Peace, he has been advocating for Darfur, and has organized the Hope for Haiti telethon to raise fund for victims. He also donated to relief funds after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
In September 2006 he addressed the United Nations Security Council, urging it to act over Darfur. Later that year, Clooney also traveled to China and Egypt to make a plea to government officials to use ties with Sudan and help stop the violence in Darfur. He was even arrested in 2012 during a protest outside the Sudanese embassy in Washington D.C.
7. Don Cheadle
The Academy Award nominated actor got involved in human rights issues while shooting Hotel Rwanda in 2004, where he played a hotel manager during the time of the Rwandan Genocide. Since then, Cheadle has campaigned for the end of the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, and even co-authored a book titled Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond.
In 2010, Cheadle again co-authored a book The Enough Moment: Fighting to End Africa’s Worst Human Rights Crimes. His work earned him the BET Humanitarian Award for the cause of the people of Darfur and Rwanda, as well as a shared Summit Peace Award by Nobel Peace Prize Laureated in Rome which he shared with George Clooney.
8. Sean Penn
The Hollywood actor has been notable for his criticism of president George W. Bush and his stance on the War on Iraq.
Penn was also closely involved with relief efforts during hurricane Katrina. He traveled to New Orleans and physically helped rescue people who were affected. Then in 2010, during the Haiti earthquake, Penn again traveled to the ravaged country and helped man rescue tents on site.
In February of this year, just prior to the Oscars, Penn attended and spoke at the 2014 Unite4:Good and Variety’s Unite4:Humanity gala in California, which celebrated stars’ philanthropic efforts.
9. Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys has long fought for the rights of children and those who are underprivileged. She co-founded the “Keep a Child Alive” (KCA) campaign which has raised millions for AIDS victims in Africa and India. The charity helps provide food, shelter, clothing, and AIDS treatment for those in the affected areas.
She then introduced different media initiatives that drew attention to the cause, garnering support of other actor and actresses like Sarah Jessica Parker, George Clooney, Gwen Stefani, and Lenny Kravitz.