End of Year Address and 2023 Highlights from President and CEO Michael Breen

As I reflect on 2023, I find myself deeply appreciative of the incredible work accomplished by Human Rights First and the indispensable role our dedicated supporters played in achieving these milestones.

With your unwavering support, we are able to confront threats to rights in American communities and around the globe, provide legal assistance to refugees and asylum seekers, and hold extremists and human rights abusers accountable.

I am grateful for your contributions, which have, for instance, allowed us to assist the courageous human rights defenders I met near Ukraine’s front lines when I joined senior advisor Brian Dooley on one of his research trips to that region.

Together, we have helped preserve and transform innumerable lives. I’d like to tell you a little more about our work over the past year and hope we will continue this vital partnership.

We support Human Rights Defenders. From Eastern Ukraine, in conflict zones otherwise lacking NGO support, where we helped local activists collect war crimes evidence and as they rebuild vital infrastructure; to Belfast where we contributed to an international expert panel on State impunity and the Northern Ireland Conflict; and to Poland and Egypt where we supported activists at risk of, or currently facing jail sentences for defending human rights.

We hold accountable bad actors around the world. We bring the cases that allow governments to target human rights abusers and corrupt figures. We recommended the sanctions the Treasury and State Departments put on Russian officials responsible for jailing democracy advocate and our senior advisor Vladimir Kara-Murza.

We protect refugees. We were essential to ending the Title 42 policy that blocked asylum seekers from safety, and galvanized opposition to several new bars to asylum. Our lawyers and pro bono allies won asylum for 131 asylum seekers and their families in 2023, and over two weeks last month our collaboration with USCIS helped asylum seekers and migrants living in New York City shelters file 1,728 employment authorization applications.

We take on extremism that threatens our democracy. As the anti-democratic movement works to mainstream hate, we lead American civil society’s response. Our reports on issues including antisemitismmisogynyanti-trans extremismxenophobia, and attacks on diversity in the military led to Congressional action, and are only possible because of your contributions.

We innovate to rebalance the scales. While powerful adversaries have long had access to instruments of repression, our Innovation Lab incubates technology for human rights advocates, such as AI that monitors propaganda and catalogs acts of violence by extremists. Thanks to your support, we are now working on a project that uses drones and AI to document war crimes in Ukraine.

We use the law to drive real change. We launched a federal civil lawsuit against the neo-Nazi group Patriot Front to bring justice for the Black man they assaulted and accountability to the hate group and its leaders. Your contributions support impact litigation like this.

We will not forget our Afghan allies. Project: Afghan Legal Assistance (PALA) advocates for Afghans in immigration proceedings, and Veterans for American Ideals (VFAI) leads a coalition bridging the political and cultural spectrum to support permanent protections for Afghans. After two difficult sessions of Congress, we are close to passing this critical legislation, in part because we know you have our backs.

The needs of the individuals we serve persist beyond the year’s conclusion. Your partnership remains vital to our mission, and your financial support is an integral part of our continued success. I hope we can count on your renewed commitment as this year comes to a close.

From all of us at Human Rights First, we extend our heartfelt gratitude for your steadfast support as we are relentless in making America a place that welcomes all those seeking asylum, combat the rise of extremism and authoritarianism, employ technology to bolster democracy, and dismantle systemic injustice and abuse, both at home and around the globe.



  • Michael Breen

Published on December 5, 2023


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