Sarah E. Mendelson

Sarah E. Mendelson
  • Sarah E. Mendelson is a senior adviser and director of the new Human Rights Initiative (HRI) at CSIS, a unique program in the Washington think tank community. Building on her four years serving in the Obama administration, HRI aims to broaden and expand constituencies for justice, while engaging twenty-first-century opportunities and challenges for grounding human rights principles around the world. The program plans to address a range of issues including growing new voices for human rights, the closing space around civil society, the global transparency and accountability movement and its ties to human rights, transitional justice, and human trafficking. From May 2010 to May 2014, Dr. Mendelson served as deputy assistant administrator, responsible for Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG), in the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). She was also the agency lead on combatting human trafficking. At USAID, she directed a staff of nearly 100 with an annual budget of approximately $120 million. She led a number of initiatives at the agency to elevate and refocus work on DRG, including the new USAID Policy on C-TIP and the Campus Challenge on CTIP (; “the Tech Challenge,” a public-private partnership with Humanity United announced by the president April 2012 (; and “Making All Voices Count,” a $55 million public-private partnership with the UK Department for International Development, Omidyar Network, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Open Society Foundations (

    Prior to serving in the Obama administration, Dr. Mendelson was director of the CSIS Human Rights and Security Initiative from 2007 to 2010 and a senior fellow with the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program, which she joined in 2001. From 1999 to 2001, she was a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Her research has included work on public opinion in Russia on the war in Chechnya, military and police abuse, health issues, identity in the North Caucasus, as well as knowledge and experiences with human trafficking. She has also researched the links between trafficking in humans and peacekeeping operations and, along with a team of activists, helped shape the NATO trafficking policy adopted in 2004 and the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005. In 2007 and 2008, she led a working group on closing Guantánamo, the recommendations from which were reflected in President Obama’s Executive Orders signed January 22, 2009.
    A complete list of Sarah E. Mendelson's publications can be viewed online.



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