Human Rights First (HRF) was founded as the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in 1978, ostensibly for the purpose of protecting refugees and forcing national governments to adhere to the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees and the subsequent 1967 United Nations Protocol.
In recent years, HRF has strongly opposed the homeland security measures taken by the Bush administration in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. For example, it charges that the Patriot Act and Operation Liberty Shield severely erode American civil liberties. Moreover, the organization endorsed the Civil Liberties Restoration Act of 2004, which was designed to roll back, in the name of protecting civil liberties, vital national security policies that had been adopted after 9/11.
HRF has filed amicus curiae briefs on behalf of Jose Padilla, an American accused of attempting to detonate a “dirty bomb” for al Qaeda; U.S. authorities held Padilla incommunicado without access to an attorney on grounds that he was a foreign combatant in an ongoing war.
HRF deplores the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities (and others across the globe maintained by the U.S. government to house suspected terrorists), claiming that prisoners there are routinely tortured by American authorities. In a quest to have U.S. officials charged with war crimes, the organization backs the International Criminal Court (ICC), from which President Bush has withheld American support.
HRF’s Executive Director is Michael Posner, founder of the Fair Labor Association, a group that adheres to the standards and practices of the International Labor Association, itself a product of the Treaty of Versailles and a tool of Marxist labor organizer Samuel Gompers.
The Chairman of the HRF Board of Directors is William Zabel, a onetime civil rights activist who serves on the boards of Human Rights Watch and Doctors of the World (the U.S. division of Medecins du Monde), and as the legal adviser to the Open Society Institute of George Soros. Zabel has also served on the board of the Winston Foundation for World Peace, which is a principal supporter of such groups as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Eleanor Acer is the Director of the Human Rights First Asylum Program. In that capacity, she supervises HRF’s pro bono representation program on matters pertaining to domestic refugee policy. “Under Eleanor’s leadership,” says the HRF website, “Human Rights First has obtained asylum for more than 90% of our refugee clients [from 88 countries] in the New York and Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas.” Acer oversees HRF’s 1,000-member volunteer lawyer network.
In 2006, HRF vehemently opposed House Referendum 4437, the so-called “Sensenbrenner Bill” sponsored by Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner. This legislation, which in December 2005 passed in the House by a margin of 239 to 182, was intended to make it a felony for anyone to be in the United States illegally; make it a crime for anyone to help illegal aliens in any way; and initiate the construction of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. “[T]he U.S. House of Representative has turned a cold shoulder on those who seek this country’s protection from persecution,” said Eleanor Acer. “… This bill would turn asylum seekers into ‘felons,’ jail them for longer periods in immigration jails, and limit their access to federal courts that can prevent their mistaken deportation back into the hands of their persecutors.”
HRF solicits personal donations to support its work, claiming that it does $15 million in pro bono work each year. The organization also receives funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Carnegie Corporation of New York; the Ford Foundation; the JEHT Foundation; the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; the Open Society Institute; the Rockefeller Foundation; the Scherman Foundation, the Surdna Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; and many others.
As of April 2011, HRF had 60 employees and operated on an annual budget of $9 million.