Established in 1978, Human Rights First's mission is to ensure that the United States is a global leader on human rights. The organization works in the United States and abroad to promote respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Autocratic leaders are increasingly gaining power—and weakening human rights—around the world.
The ideology driving the antidemocratic far-right extremist movement in the United States has become increasingly visible in our institutions, policies, and public discourse. This movement represents an existential threat to our democracy.
Systemic injustice has plagued America since the founding of the nation—especially when it comes to people of color and historically marginalized groups.
The Use and Abuse of Technology
At a time when technology is increasingly changing our lives for the better, it’s also being used to empower dangerous ideologies and systems.
Founding of Human Rights First
Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights, later renamed Human Rights First, is founded by the International League for Human Rights and the Council of New York Law Associates.
Championing the Refugee Act
The organization helps draft and secure the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, the first law to bring the country’s refugee and asylum policies into compliance with international law.
The El Salvador Justice Case
When four American churchwomen are killed in El Salvador, their families turn to LCHR to seek justice, and our staff undertake fact-finding missions and testify before Congress. This leads to the U.S. withholding 20% of its military aid to El Salvador pending a satisfactory resolution of the case. Within six months, five El Salvadoran National Guardsmen are found guilty, the first conviction of Salvadoran military personnel for human rights abuses.
Our organization initiates the Lawyer-to-Lawyer network -- which grows to 8000 lawyers in 130 countries -- to provide the international legal community a way to press for the release of imprisoned lawyers.
Creation of Witness
Inspired by the video that proved police beat Rodney King, we work with Peter Gabriel to create Witness, which provides video tools to document human rights abuses.
International Criminal Court
Our organization plays a major role in the establishment of the International Criminal Court.
Fair Labor Association
We help establish the Fair Labor Association, bringing together civil society, colleges, and more than 60 major companies including Nike, Adidas, and UnderArmor, to set human rights standards for workplaces across industries.
To underscore the breadth of our constituencies and our work, we change our name to Human Rights First.
Human Rights First and our coalition of retired military leaders successfully advocate for the McCain Amendment, banning “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Our coalition of retired flag officers advocate for the banning of torture, then stand with President Obama when he signs an Executive Order to do it.
Using the release of the Torture Report to build support, Human Rights First works with Senators McCain and Feinstein to craft the strongest anti-torture law in U.S. history.
We launch our Innovation Lab, an incubator of high-technology tools to support human rights defenders and uncover human rights abuses.
Global Magnitsky Act
Human Rights First is instrumental in the reauthorization and permanent extension of the Global Magnitsky Act, which we have used to recommend corrupt actors or human rights abusers for sanction by the U.S. government.