Human Rights First Names New Chief Executive

NEW YORK—Human Rights First announced today the appointment of Elisa Massimino as the organization’s new executive director and chief executive officer. Massimino is one of the nation’s leading human rights advocates.

“Elisa’s career has been marked by her ability to bring people together and achieve concrete results on behalf of human rights,” said Bill Zabel, Chair of HRF’s Board of Directors. “Her sound judgment and deep knowledge of the field have gained her the respect of opinion leaders, policy advisors and elected officials from across the political spectrum.”

In May 2008, the influential Washington newspaper The Hill, named Massimino one of the top 20 public advocates in the country. A 2007 profile of Massimino in The Hill attributed her success to a blend of idealism and pragmatism:

“‘She has great judgment, great passion, drive and knowledge,” the chief counsel and staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bruce Cohen, said. ‘She has everything you would like in an advocate. Her humanity comes through, [but] she is not lecturing us on human rights; she trying to get Congress to do the right thing.’…. ‘She speaks truth to power and she does it eloquently and self-effacing[ly]’ Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said. ‘She is in this for the victims . . . I have always counted on her to be a real beacon of truth and hope.’”

As Washington Director of Human Rights First for more than a decade, Massimino distinguished herself as one of the most prominent and effective voices on human rights in the country. Massimino served as the organization’s chief advocacy strategist and point of contact with U.S. government leaders, international diplomats, and the media. She testifies frequently before Congress on a range of international human rights issues and writes extensively for legal and mainstream publications.

Michael Posner, President of HRF said, “As Human Rights First marks its 30th anniversary, we are very lucky to have Elisa take the helm. Her keen intellect, exceptional political judgment, ability to get things done and dedication to human rights make her ideally suited to lead Human Rights First forward into our next 30 years.”

Massimino has been at the forefront of a campaign to shape political and popular opinion on the detention and interrogation of prisoners and the need for a single, humane standard of prisoner treatment across all U.S. government agencies. Jane Mayer, in her widely acclaimed book The Dark Side, credits Massimino with being “instrumental” to the national debate on these issues. “Massimino quietly put together a stunning coalition of retired military dignitaries . . . to support the restoration of the Geneva standards in the treatment of prisoners.” Massimino, the daughter of a submarine commander, led this informal coalition of nearly fifty retired generals and admirals in meetings with the majority of the 2008 presidential candidates and many members of Congress.

Massimino holds philosophy degrees from Trinity University (B.A.1982) and Johns Hopkins (M.A. 1984), and a J.D. from University of Michigan Law School (1988). She has taught international human rights law at the University of Virginia School of Law and currently teaches human rights advocacy at Georgetown University Law Center.

Human Rights First is a leading human rights advocacy organization based in New York City and Washington, DC. The organization works in the United States and abroad to create a secure and humane world –advancing justice, human dignity, and respect for the rule of law.

Massimino will assume responsibility for the organization’s overall leadership and strategic direction in September.


Published on July 22, 2008


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