Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino to Step Down

Washington, D.C.—After a decade of leading the organization, Elisa Massimino has announced that she will be stepping down from her post as President and CEO on July 1, 2018.

Massimino joined the organization as a staff attorney in 1991 to help open the Washington, D.C. office and served as its Director for more than a dozen years before being named CEO in 2008. Under Massimino’s leadership, Human Rights First has become one of the most effective and respected human rights organizations in the world, expanding efforts to protect vulnerable refugees and other persecuted minorities, and forging progress in the fight against torture and on other vital national security issues.

“Leading this amazing team of advocates and making a difference on issues of such consequence to our country and the world has been a profound privilege,” Massimino said. “I’m extremely proud of all we’ve accomplished together.”

Human Rights First’s Board of Directors expressed appreciation for Massimino’s distinguished service. “We owe Elisa a great debt for her service to Human Rights First and to the cause of human rights,” said longtime chairman Bill Zabel. “She was instrumental in building unconventional partnerships to advance U.S. leadership on human rights, including banning torture and defending the rights of refugees.”

After 9/11, Massimino built a powerful coalition of retired generals and admirals to speak publicly against torture, culminating in President Obama’s 2009 executive orders closing secret prisons and banning torture. She later helped secure the declassification and public release in 2014 of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s post 9/11 torture program, and advocated successfully for the subsequent passage of anti-torture legislation. During Massimino’s tenure as CEO, Human Rights First became a leader in addressing the rise of global antisemitism and hate crime as a violation of fundamental human rights.

In the face of the worst refugee crisis since World War II, Massimino led efforts to defend the right of refugees to seek asylum through Human Rights First’s pro bono legal representation program, including expanding its operations to Houston in 2014 and Los Angeles in 2015. In 2017, this program generated more than $60 million of in-kind contributions from law firms, the largest in the organization’s forty-year history.

Massimino will join the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government on July 1 as a Senior Fellow.

Human Rights First remains at the forefront of defending human rights as the foundation of global peace and security. The organization has retained Russell Reynolds to conduct a nationwide search for Massimino’s successor.


Published on April 30, 2018


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