Reed Brody has been an activist for social justice since his high school days when he was an organizer of anti-Vietnam war demonstrations. At university, he was student government president and a youth leader in the 1972 George McGovern presidential campaign. He always knew he wanted to make a difference. “I feel lucky to have grown up when more people believed in their ability to change the world.”
Brody chose a career in law because he felt it would offer more opportunities to effect social change. He graduated from Columbia University Law School, and traveled through Europe and Latin America before beginning his career as an Assistant Attorney General for New York State.
In 1984, he left his position for the war zones of northern Nicaragua, where he uncovered a pattern of atrocities against civilians by US-funded "contras." His ensuing report received national front-page coverage and led to US Congressional hearings and a temporary halt to “contra” funding.
In 1987 Brody joined the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva. His lobbying pushed the UN toward a tougher stance against abusive governments in Haiti, Iraq and Indonesia. He also assisted the government of Mongolia with the drafting of its constitution. “This was one of my most rewarding experiences. The Mongolians were earnest about creating democratic structures and were receptive to our suggestions. They adopted a very good constitution, which is proving effective in upholding human rights.”
From 1992 to 1994 he was executive director of the International Human Rights Law Group in Washington, D.C. where he began a program to train front-line activists. “The long-term solution is to empower local people to stand up for themselves and challenge power.” The pilot project was in Cambodia where Brody’s organization helped train four new human rights groups.
The United Nations then asked Brody to direct the Human Rights Division of its peacekeeping mission in El Salvador. With a staff of 32, he was responsible for verifying respect for human rights and coordinating programs to support El Salvador’s democratic institutions.
Joining Human Rights Watch as Advocacy Director in 1998, Brody led a number of high-profile campaigns, including against secret US prisons and the mistreatment of detainees in the “war on terror.” When Chile’s ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested in 1998, Brody went to London where his brief helped persuade the House of Lords to strip Pinochet of his immunity. He then sought to extend that precedent to other cases.
For years now, Brody has poured his heart into the prosecution of former dictator Hissène Habré of Chad. Habré's regime (1992-200) is accused of killing 40,000 political opponents and torturing and imprisoning countless others.