Suzanne Nossel

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Suzanne Nossel in 2014

Suzanne F. Nossel is the executive director of PEN American Center,[1] the largest of the 144 centers that form a loose federation that comprise PEN International. 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.[2] Her work there led to the successful passage of the Afghan Women and Girls Security and Promotion Act of 2012,[3] and drew attention to the case of imprisoned punk band Pussy Riot.[citation needed]


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.[4]

From 1999 to 2001 she served as Deputy to the Ambassador for U.N. Management and Reform at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations [5] 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.[citation needed]

She is also a former Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Human Rights Watch and a former Vice President of Strategy and Operations for the Wall Street Journal from 2005–07.

She has served as a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, the Center for American Progress and the Council on Foreign Relations. She was also 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.

In 2013, Nossel joined Tides Foundation's Board of Trustees.

In 2015, Nossel moderated a discussion on the Fear of Art hosted by the New School.[6]

Awards and recognition[edit]

In 1997 Suzanne Nossel was awarded a Kauffman Fellowship for showing exceptional promise for a career in public interest law. Shortly thereafter she began to work as a Skadden Fellow at Children's Rights, a public interest advocacy organization in New York City.[7]

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 [8]

In December 2014, Nossel was honored the Special Award for the Use of Diplomacy by the United Nations Association of the national Capital Area [9]


Suzanne has written hundreds of blog entries, op-ed pieces and scholarly articles on international human rights for a number of publications, including Foreign Affairs,[10] 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,[11] 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.[10] In Foreign Policy magazine she has written on LGBT rights in Nigeria,[12] human rights in Iran,[13] the eroding of press freedom in Hong Kong,[14] a list of things president Obama can do to leave a legacy that measures up to the promises he made,[15] a cautious evaluation of future hardship in the diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba,[16] the backsliding of progress on media freedom in Myanmar,[17] the future of activism in the internet age,[18] and a trend of international mega-sporting events like the Olympics held by authoritarian regimes.[19] Nossel co-wrote, along with PEN President Andrew Solomon, an op-ed piece for The New York Times on PEN's decision to present the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Free Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo.[20] She has also been interviewed in publications including the Washington Post],[21] and progressive blogs such as the Mantle.[22]

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.[23]

In 2013, she moderated a panel at Fordham University's conference on NSA surveillance, organized by PEN American Center and the ACLU, entitled "NSA Surveillance: What's the Harm?".[24]

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.[25]

Together with Joseph Nye, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense under the Clinton Administration and former Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Nossel has been credited with coining the term "Smart Power" 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".[26]

Citing her stated positions on the use of military force in what prominent peace activists view as illegal and unjust U.S. aggression, and her position on the government's treatment of U.S. dissidents, protests from these activists[27] have followed Nossel since her appointment and tenure at Amnesty International and upon her selection to head PEN.[28] 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.[29]

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 extrajudicial killings, makes her utterly unfit to lead any human rights organization, especially one that has global concerns." [30]

Personal life[edit]

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.[31] She traces her interest in human rights to her growing up Jewish in America, and her visits to apartheid South Africa in her youth.[31] She has frequently visited relatives in Israel, saying "It's a place where I feel very comfortable and at home."[31]

She is currently married and lives with her husband and two children in Manhattan.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Connolly, Emma (January 16, 2013). "PEN American Center Names Suzanne Nossel as Executive Director" (Press release). PEN American Center. Retrieved February 6, 2013.
  2. ^ Fitzgerald, Gwen (November 17, 2011). "Amnesty International USA Announces Leadership Transition: Suzanne Nossel Selected as New Executive Director of Human Rights Organization" (Press release). Amnesty International USA. Retrieved March 22, 2012.
  3. ^ "Afghan Women and Girls Security Promotion Act of 2012 Will Help Ensure the Protection of Afghan Women". Amnesty International USA.
  4. ^ "U.N. council passes gay rights resolution".
  5. ^ "United States Mission to the United Nations". United States Mission to the United Nations. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
  6. ^ "The Fear of Art: 32nd Social Research Conference on Livestream". The New Livestream.
  7. ^ "About the Program".
  8. ^ Harvard News Office. "Harvard Gazette: Radcliffe honors alums".
  9. ^ "Human Rights Awards Reception".
  10. ^ a b "Suzanne Nossel". Foreign Affairs.
  11. ^ "Page not found - Foreign Policy".
  12. ^ Suzanne Nossel (June 29, 2015). "Can the Supreme Court's Marriage Decision Help the World's Most Homophobic Country?". Foreign Policy.
  13. ^ Suzanne Nossel (March 17, 2015). "Don't Let Iran Off the Hook for Human Rights". Foreign Policy.
  14. ^ Suzanne Nossel (February 4, 2015). "Closing a Vital Window Into China". Foreign Policy.
  15. ^ Suzanne Nossel (January 6, 2015). "Obama, Unbound". Foreign Policy.
  16. ^ Suzanne Nossel (December 22, 2014). "Now the Hard Work Begins". Foreign Policy.
  17. ^ Suzanne Nossel (October 29, 2014). "Some of the News That's Fit to Print". Foreign Policy.
  18. ^ Suzanne Nossel (September 18, 2012). "The Lady and the Tweet". Foreign Policy.
  19. ^ Suzanne Nossel (May 19, 2015). "Faster, Higher, More Oppressive". Foreign Policy.
  20. ^ "Why We’re Honoring Charlie Hebdo". The New York Times. May 2, 2015.
  21. ^ Hayley Tsukayama (July 30, 2014). "Authors group pushes for NSA reform, while there's still time". The Washington Post.
  22. ^ "How the NSA Chills American Writers: An Interview with Suzanne Nossel".
  23. ^ "Who Owns the Mind?".
  24. ^ "NSA Surveillance: What's the Harm?".
  25. ^ "".
  26. ^ "Smart Power". Foreign Affairs.
  27. ^ "An Appeal to PEN: Exec. Director Suzanne Nossel Must Go." John V. Walsh and Coleen Rowley, April 3, 2013
  28. ^ "The Hijacking of Human Rights". April 8, 2013.
  29. ^ "Why I Had to Challenge Amnesty International-USA's Claim That NATO's Presence Benefits Afghan Women". Alternet.
  30. ^ Chris Hedges: Why I Resigned from PEN. April 5, 2013 – via YouTube.
  31. ^ a b c "Suzanne Nossel on UN Human Rights Council -- at JBI Meeting".

External links[edit]


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.