Shantha Rau Barriga, Deputy Executive Director

Shantha Rau Barriga brings more than two decades of experience in the human rights field, building and leading impactful and inclusive teams at a global level. She was the founding director of the disability rights division at Human Rights Watch, where she oversaw research and advocacy on the rights of people with disabilities and older people, working closely with organizations of people with disabilities in the spirit of “Nothing about us without us.”

She has documented and reported on human rights abuses in dozens of countries and on a range of issues, including gender-based violence, access to justice, abuses in detention, and humanitarian crises. Shantha has extensive media and advocacy experience. Her talk on how to end stigma against people with disabilities is featured on TED.

Shantha served as interim co-Deputy Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, helping to manage the 500+ person organization during a leadership transition. She also served as the Lead on Strategy Development, designing a framework for multi-year strategies including resources on building a vision, shared values and theories of change. Shantha is a founding member of the International Network of Women with Disabilities and served on the UNICEF Advisory Board for the 2013 State of the World’s Children report.

Prior to her work at Human Rights Watch, Shantha participated in the UN negotiations toward the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, working as part of a global coalition to advocate for strong protections on non-discrimination, accessibility, education, legal capacity, independent living and international monitoring. She also previously worked with UNICEF Tanzania, carrying out an assessment on children with disabilities in refugee camps in Kibondo.

Shantha received degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the University of Michigan and was a Fulbright Scholar to Austria. She speaks fluent German and Kannada (Indian dialect), and intermediate French and sign language. Shantha is married and has two sons.



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