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Melissa Hooper

Director of Human Rights and Civil Society

Melissa is a lawyer, and the Director of Human Rights and Civil Society programs at Human Rights First.

Melissa’s work focuses on protecting organizations such as citizens watchdog groups, organizations of minority communities, journalists, and human rights organizations — as well as their members — from government overreach. She studies laws and methods that governments use to restrict NGO and civil society activity, and works with international experts to develop effective responses.

Melissa is an expert on legal and civil society issues in the countries of the former Soviet Union. Since 2011 she has served as the U.S. Chair of the Human Rights Working Group of the Bilateral Presidential Commission’s Human Rights Committee—now called the SEE Rule of Law Working Group—bringing together Russian and American experts to engage in joint work on prison reform, police oversight, and reform of legislation that restricts free speech and association in Russia. Her recent work focuses on Russia’s laws and policies that restrict free speech and media, NGO activity, and the activities of LGBT and other minority communities. Since 2004, she has directed rule of law and human rights programs, monitored conditions, and engaged in advocacy in Russia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, as well as the United States.

Prior to joining Human Rights First, Melissa worked for the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative in Moscow as Regional Director for Russia and Azerbaijan, providing support and training to local lawyers, NGOs, human rights defenders, and journalists. Prior to that she represented prisoners on death row, including many foreign nationals, in habeas petitions challenging unfairly obtained convictions and sentences in U.S. courts, including petitions based on international law claims. She has conducted habeas investigations in Latin America and throughout the United States. She has also worked extensively on issues related to prison and detention conditions, policing issues, and the effects of repression, mass violence, and mass human rights violations.

Melissa received a JD from Berkeley Law. After graduation, she served as a Soros Justice Fellow, and then clerked for the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

August 03, 2017
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today released a new report documenting the Polish government’s escalating assault on NGOs, activists, and civil society as part of...
August 02, 2017
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today applauded President Trump’s signing of bipartisan legislation codifying, strengthening, and expanding sanctions against Russia for...
July 25, 2017
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today welcomed Polish President Andrzej Duda's statement that he intends to veto two pieces of legislation that would bring Poland's judiciary under the...
June 13, 2017
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today applauded bipartisan efforts in the Senate to provide congressional oversight over executive branch sanctions authority—including any efforts to...