tirana hassan, executive director of human rights watch
Tirana Hassan, a lawyer and experienced human rights investigator who has documented human rights abuses around the world during crises and conflicts, was appointed by the Human Rights Watch organization today.
As acting executive director since September 2022, Hassan had served as Human Rights Watch’s chief programs officer following the departure of Kenneth Roth, the organization’s longtime leader.
As the new executive director of Human Rights Watch, Tirana Hassan brings impeccable credentials as a human rights practitioner, and an ambitious vision for human rights solutions to the challenges the world is facing,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, CEO and president of the International Peace Institute and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said. With her extensive activism experience, Tirana is sure to be a formidable leader.
More about Tirana Hassan – the New Executive Director Of Human Rights Watch
With decades of background in the areas of human rights and humanitarian affairs, Hassan started her journey as a social worker, dedicating many years to supporting women and children in environments of crisis and contention. In 2010 she linked with Human Rights Watch covering emergencies all over Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Afterward, she moved on to serve as Amnesty International’s director of crisis response before ultimately relocating back to Human Rights Watch in 2020 where she presently serves as chief programs officer leading the organization’s research, advocacy, legal, and communications departments.
“Tirana has the rare combination of wide-ranging investigative experience, strategic creativity, and a deep commitment to human rights principles that Human Rights Watch needs to deal with the complex human rights challenges the world is facing,” said Kenneth Roth, former executive director of Human Rights Watch, who stepped down in August 2022. Human Rights Watch will have a bright future under her leadership.
Amnesty International’s crisis team was headed by Hassan, who developed innovative ways to advance human rights investigations in Myanmar, Syria, and other crisis areas by using technology. In addition to developing ambitious human rights programs, she will lead Human Rights Watch’s effort to curb the rising threats to human rights around the world by working with activists, survivors, and civil society.
Tirana brings a mix of established practices and innovative technologies to her role, according to Brad Samuels from SITU Research. This visual investigations firm has partnered with Human Rights Watch in the past. Her unyielding criticality, coupled with her collaborative spirit and strict attention to detail, could be the key to unlocking powerful untapped investigative potential in such a technology-laden space where risks accompany opportunities. Overall, bad news for those trying to repress accountability – despots and autocrats included.
Hassan commits to utilizing all available avenues to make governments meet their human rights responsibilities, no matter the situation. The quick, determined action seen in Ukraine’s crisis – UN Human Rights Council commission of inquiry and numerous UN General Assembly reprimands – highlights what can be achieved when countries collaborate. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t excluded from justice, demonstrated by the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for him. Yet a number of these same states have responded poorly or disregarded the plight of other sufferers. Therefore Hassan will concentrate on urging all governments to enforce their legal obligations concerning human rights, such as those experienced in Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine, Ethiopia, and Iran.
Tirana Hassan’s background
Hassan was born in Singapore to a Pakistani father who left India amid the partition, and her mother came from a diverse background – Malaysian, Sri Lankan, and Chinese. In the 1970s, her father’s investigation into Singapore’s housing policies provoked the authorities, as they were stifling any voices of opposition. Her family decided to move to Australia for safety reasons. Growing up, she was exposed to stories of racism, prejudice, and repression which affected her outlook, eventually leading her towards becoming an advocate for disenfranchised individuals.
Having worked closely with Hassan for many years, Sherine Tadros, former Sky News correspondent and currently head of Amnesty International’s UN office and deputy director of advocacy, said Tirana possesses a unique ability to be both a strong and empathetic leader when it comes to calling out injustice. With her at the helm, Human Rights Watch staff are lucky to have her, and the human rights community as a whole is strengthened.
After completing his bachelor’s degree in social work at the University of South Australia, Hassan had a period working as a social worker in Los Angeles, London, and Adelaide counseling homeless young people. Later on, he earned a law degree from the University of Adelaide, during which time he co-founded the Woomera Lawyers Group; a refugee advocacy organization that provided legal services to those detained at an infamous Australian desert detention center. He represented refugees as well as asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran held at this remote facility before going on to pursue a career in the humanitarian sector. As part of this pursuit, Hassan obtained his master’s degree in international human rights law from Oxford University.
As a specialist, she worked with Médecins Sans Frontières, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, and Save the Children to protect children and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict areas as well as respond to natural disasters in Asia and Africa.
As the leader of this outstanding organization at a time when human rights are more important than ever, Hassan said, “I feel honored and humbled to do so.” To put pressure on those in power to realize a rights-respecting future for us all, I look forward to building on Human Rights Watch’s formidable foundation to lift human rights defenders and the communities we serve.