Barbara Schatz

  • Secretary of Human Rights First

Barbara Schatz is the secretary of Human Rights First (HRF), an organization that was founded in 1978 under

the name Lawyers Committee for Human Rights; Schatz was a co-founder of the original group, which was established for the ostensible purpose of protecting refugees and forcing countries to adhere to the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees and the subsequent 1967 United Nations Protocol. In the past, HRF has taken to task such countries as China for its refusal to accept North Korean refugees. In its most recent efforts, however, it has agitated to restrict the ability of the United States to keep its borders safe by opposing the precautions taken by the Bush administration in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. HRF claims that the Patriot Act, Operation Liberty Shield, and other national security initiatives constitute a severe erosion of American civil liberties.

HRF has also filed amicus curiae briefs on behalf of Jose Padilla, an American accused of attempting to detonate a “dirty bomb” for al Qaeda but held incommunicado without access to an attorney on the grounds that he is a foreign combatant in an ongoing war. It deplores the Guantanamo detention facilities (and others across the globe maintained by the U.S. government to house suspected terrorists); HRF decries the fact that the detainees will be tried by military tribunals, without civilian judicial review. (President Bush correctly demonstrated the need for such tribunals in his executive order of November 13, 2001; Bush recognized, as HRF chose not to, that the murder of 3,000 people on American soil constituted an act of war and issued his order accordingly.) HRF also backs the International Criminal Court (ICC), from which President Bush has withheld American support on the grounds that the ICC lacks accountability and credibility; eight of the Court’s fifteen judges are from non-democratic countries and dictatorships that rank among the world’s most egregious offenders of human rights.

In addition to her work with HRF, Schatz is also the director of clinical programs at Columbia University Law School, whose faculty she joined in 1985. She previously served as executive director of the Council of New York Law Associates (now the Lawyers Alliance for New York), where she administered a public-interest program involving staff lawyers and some 1,800 pro bono lawyers. She founded the Community Development Legal Assistance Center; has represented many nonprofit organizations in corporate, tax, and real estate matters; and has lectured widely about nonprofit corporate and tax law.