A California native, Hadar Harris has been a lifelong human rights activist. After being arrested at the Soviet Embassy protesting on behalf of Soviet Jewry, she took time off from college at Brown University when she was asked by the late Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) to become executive director of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, a bi-partisan legislative service organization of the U.S. House of Representatives. While there, she conducted a covert human rights fact-finding mission to the Soviet Union.
After graduating from Brown, Hadar went to Israel where she was elected International Chairperson of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS), only the second woman in its then-66 year history to hold the position (and following in the footsteps of Albert Einstein, who was its first president.) In that role, she traveled to Jewish communities around the world, working with student groups and community leaders to advocate for expanded enfranchisement of young Jewish leaders as well as advocacy on a range of human rights issues. During her trip to South Africa, she led the first official meeting between the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) and the newly unbanned African National Congress (ANC) and she accompanied a SAUJS delegation on a first-ever visit to Soweto. She helped to convene the first meeting of young Jewish leaders from across the Soviet Union, in then-Soviet Georgia. She also helped to coordinate an international Jewish student day of action on behalf of Ethiopian Jewry (via fax machines as email did not yet exist), and led WUJS’ response during the first Gulf War.
After returning to the United States, Hadar went to law school at UCLA School of Law, founding the first chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union at UCLA Law. She also developed a Know Your Rights curriculum to use in alternative education programs for at-risk youth.
After graduation in 1995, Hadar taught law in Baku, Azerbaijan at the newly founded independent Khazar University. While there she served as an election observer for the UN/OSCE joint mission, monitoring the first parliamentary elections in that country after independence. After a short period practicing law in San Francisco, Hadar moved back to Israel where she became the Director of Program and Resource Development at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), working on a broad range of human rights issues and helping to develop the program for equality for Arab citizens of Israel, among other new initiatives.
As a human rights attorney, Hadar has had a long and varied career specializing in issues of civil and political rights, gender equality, and domestic implementation of international norms. She has worked extensively in assessing and reviewing national compliance with international human rights treaties, working both with civil society and governmental bodies, advising on on-the-ground implementation. She spent spring 2002 in Armenia, where she developed an implementation protocol and piloted an assessment tool developed by the American Bar Association/CEELI to review national compliance with the provisions of the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a project that the late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has called her “favorite ABA ROLI project.” Hadar consulted on similar assessments over many years in Serbia, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Macedonia.
She has assisted in developing shadow reports, government reports or trained government and civil society on a variety of treaties in diverse parts of the world including Botswana, Israel, Lao PDR, Kosovo, Morocco, Qatar and the United States. She brings a comparative perspective of work in over 25 countries, with NGOs, governments, academics, human rights defenders and intergovernmental organizations.
Hadar has focused a large part of her personal work over the past decade on creating and growing the movement for human rights in the United States, conducting trainings, holding conferences and designing projects to expand the fundamental understanding and application of human rights at home for a variety of constituencies.
From 2002-2015, Hadar served as the executive director of the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law in Washington, DC. Under her leadership, the WCL Center grew into a vibrant hub of activity, with an annual program of approximately 50 events and conferences, a variety of grant-funded programs and approximately 20 ongoing collaborative projects with partners around the world. Among the projects she developed were the Anti-Torture Initiative (expanding and supporting the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Mendez), the Program on Human Rights in Business, the Program on the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities (building capacity of lawyers and governments around the practical intersection of disability and human rights), and the Program on Human Rights in the United States (focused on integrating human rights into the work of domestic legal aid attorneys). In partnership with the ICRC Washington Delegation, she developed a study on Teaching International Humanitarian Law in US Law Schools. She was also the faculty adviser for the student-run Human Rights Brief, created the Center's Student Advisory Board, and taught a variety of law school classes including the Human Rights of Vulnerable Populations; Gender, Cultural Difference and Human Rights; and Global Disability Rights. In 2014, she led a global campaign to free WCL alumnus Thulani Maseko, a Swazi human rights defender, who was convicted and imprisoned for publishing a newspaper article criticizing the judiciary of Swaziland.
In 2015, after moving back to California, Hadar served as the executive director of the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP), then the largest regional affiliate in the Innocence Network. NCIP seeks to create a fair, effective and compassionate criminal justice system and to exonerate the innocent. NCIP receives almost 2000 inquiries per year and has more than 50 active cases as well as a range of policy initiatives to reform the criminal justice system. While there, Hadar expanded NCIP’s policy initiatives and led the team of lawyers, paralegals and law students.
In September 2017, Hadar became the executive director of the Student Press Law Center (SPLC). Over its nearly fifty-year history, SPLC has worked to support, protect and defend the First Amendment and free expression rights of student journalists and their advisors at the high school and college levels. During her five and a half years at SPLC, Hadar was a transformational leader during a difficult period of attacks on the press, marginalization of youth voices, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Hadar stabilized and expanded the strategic impact of the organization: quadrupling the budget, hiring dedicated staff, creating its first policy and advocacy department, inventing new high-profile programming like Student Press Freedom Day, diversifying the Board of Directors and staff, and leading a successful adaptive strategic planning process which placed students at the center of the work and integrated a human rights framework into the organization’s goals and strategies.
In 2016, Hadar was awarded the Raphael Lemkin Human Rights Award by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights for her longtime work in the field of human rights. She has served on a variety of Boards of Directors and advisory boards for human rights organizations around the world including the national board of Amnesty International USA, the advisory board of the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights, and United to End Genocide.