Suzanne Nossel (born July 30, 1969 in Westchester, New York) is the executive director of PEN American Center, the largest of the 144 centers that belong to International PEN. Her career has spanned government service and leadership roles in the corporate and non-profit sectors.
Previously, she served as Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, from January 2, 2012 to January 11, 2013. Her work there led to the successful passage of the Afghan Women and Girls Security and Promotion Act of 2012, and drew attention to the chilling climate for free expression in Russia through the case of imprisoned punk band Pussy Riot.
Over a twenty-year career, Suzanne Nossel’s experience as a blogger, media expert, government aide, and NGO executive has made a major player in the field of global democratic governance around the world as an NGO leader, writer, university professor, and activist.
Prior to her tenure at Amnesty International, she served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Organization Affairs in 2009, where she was responsible for multilateral human rights, humanitarian affairs, women’s issues, public diplomacy, press, and congressional relations. At the State Department, Nossel played a leading role in U.S. engagement at the U.N. Human Rights Council, including the initiation of groundbreaking human rights resolutions on Iran, Syria, Libya, Côte d'Ivoire, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and the first U.N. resolution on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.
From 1999 to 2001 she served as Deputy to the Ambassador for UN Management and Reform at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations under Richard C. Holbrooke, where she was the lead U.S. representative to the U.N. General Assembly negotiating a deal to settle the U.S. arrears to the world body.
She has served as a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, the Center for American Progress and the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also served as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has worked to curb political violence in South Africa, and has monitored elections and documented human rights in Bosnia and Kosovo.
In the private sector, she worked as vice-president of U.S. Business Development for Bertelsmann Media (2001–05) and earlier in her career, was an associate in consumer and media practice at McKinsey and Company.
Awards and Recognition
In 1997 Suzanne Nossel was awarded a Kaufman Fellowship for showing exceptional promise for a career in public interest law. Shortly thereafter she began work as a Skadden Fellow at Children's Rights, a public interest advocacy organization in New York City.
In 2001, Nossel received Radcliffe’s Jane Rainie Opel '50 Young Alumna Award for an alumna in the 10th reunion class who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of women, to her profession, or to the Institute.
Suzanne has written hundreds of blog entries, op-ed pieces and scholarly articles on international human rights for a number of other publications, including Foreign Affairs, the Council on Foreign Relations’ publication dedicated to improving the understanding of U.S. foreign policy and international affairs through the free exchange of ideas, and Foreign Policy, dedicated to global politics and economics. In Foreign Affairs, she has covered topics ranging from the changing nature of liberal internationalism to Samantha Power’s ambassadorship in the United Nations. In Foreign Policy magazine she has written on the Obama administration's record on human rights, censorship in China, Israeli- Turkish relations, and the future of activism in the internet age. She has also been interviewed in publications including the Washington Post and progressive blogs such as the Mantle.
As part of the PEN World Voices International Festival of Literature in 2014, she participated in a debate entitled "Who Owns the Mind?" with former NSA General Counsel Robert Deitz and ACLU Attorney Ben Wizner.
In 2012, she posed a question on CNN to presidential candidates Obama and Romney regarding improved protections for women in Afghanistan, including better access to education and institutional power. She is, with Elizabeth Westwall, the co-author of Presumed Equal, which addressed gender equality in the private sector (Career Press, 1998).
In March 2005, she founded the blog Democracy Arsenal, where she has written posts on topics including development, human rights, Iraq, Darfur, progressive strategy, proliferation, and the UN. Other frequent contributors to the blog include Rosa Brooks, Michael Cohen, Anita Sharma, and Shadi Hamid.
She has been credited with coining the term "Smart Power", the title of a 2004 Foreign Affairs article in which she proposed a policy of Liberal Internationalism, outlining the concept of the U.S. using military power as well as other forms of “soft power.” The term was popularized by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in both her nomination hearing to become Secretary of State and in her farewell address upon leaving the State Department, and has since become a defining feature of U.S. foreign policy.
This claim is disputed by Joseph Nye, author of books on smart power strategy, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense under the Clinton Administration and former Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, who said he coined the term in 2003.
"To advance from a nuanced dissent to a compelling vision, progressive policymakers should turn to the great mainstay of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy: liberal internationalism, which posits that a global system of stable liberal democracies would be less prone to war. Washington, the theory goes, should thus offer assertive leadership -- diplomatic, economic, and not least, military -- to advance a broad array of goals: self-determination, human rights, free trade, the rule of law, economic development, and the quarantine and elimination of dictators and weapons of mass destruction (WMD)."
Citing her stated positions on the use of military force in what they view as illegal and unjust US aggression, and her position on the government's treatment of US dissidents, protests from prominent peace activists have followed Nossel since her appointment and tenure at Amnesty International and upon her selection to head PEN. Organizers from the feminist peace group Code Pink formed a campaign asking Amnesty's board for Nossel's resignation due to Nossel's support of the war in Afghanistan.
Journalist and peace activist Chris Hedges resigned from PEN in protest of Nossel's appointment. Hedges claimed in his resignation letter to PEN that "Nossel's relentless championing of preemptive war—which under international law is illegal—as a State Department official along with her callous disregard for Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians and her refusal as a government official to denounce the use of torture and use of extra-judicial killings, makes her utterly unfit to lead any human rights organization, especially one that has global concerns." In fact, however, Nossel opposed the Iraq War and Hedges was not able to cite evidence that she supported it.
Nossel was born in Westchester, New York, the daughter of South African parents and granddaughter of refugees from Nazi Germany who fled to South Africa during the 1930s. She traces her interest in human rights to visits South Africa in her youth in the days of high apartheid.
She is currently married and lives with her husband and two children in Manhattan.
- Connolly, Emma (January 16, 2013). "PEN American Center Names Suzanne Nossel as Executive Director" (Press release). PEN American Center. Retrieved February 6, 2013.
- "Amnesty International USA Announces Leadership Transition: Suzanne Nossel Selected as New Executive Director of Human Rights Organization" (Press release). Amnesty International USA. November 17, 2011. Retrieved March 22, 2012.
- former NSA General Counsel Robert Deitz, ACLU Attorney Ben Wizner
- "An Appeal to PEN: Exec. Director Suzanne Nossel Must Go." John V. Walsh and Coleen Rowley, April 3, 2013
- “The Hijacking of Human Rights”. TruthDig.com. April 8, 2013.
This article incorporates material from the Citizendium article "Suzanne Nossel", which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License but not under the GFDL.