News Release

Fortify Rights Names Three New Board Members

Saman Zia-Zarifi, Sanjula Weerasinghe, and an ethnic leader from Myanmar join the organization

(BANGKOK, May 27, 2019)—Three prominent human rights advocates joined the Board of Directors of Fortify Rights and will help lead the organization into its next stage of development, Fortify Rights announced today. Saman Zia-Zarifi, Sanjula Weerasinghe, and an ethnic leader from Myanmar (name withheld for security purposes) join the 10-member governance board.

Sam Zarifi has been the Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) since 2017. An Iranian-American lawyer with more than 20 years of experience in international human rights, Mr. Zarifi previously held senior positions with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, where he was involved in multiple research missions on human rights emergencies across Asia, including Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

“Fortify Rights has carried out essential documentation and analysis of human rights crises in Southeast Asia and provides much-needed support to human rights defenders behind the scenes,” Mr. Zarifi said. “I’m very pleased to support its operations and the rights of the people with whom it works as a member of the Board of Directors.”

Sanjula Weerasinghe is an Australian lawyer who works at the intersection of displacement and international law. She is based in Geneva and consults as an expert advisor on climate change, disasters, and international protection with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Ms. Weerasinghe is also an affiliate of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at University of New South Wales and a non-resident fellow at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University. Previously, Ms. Weerasinghe worked within the secretariat of a State-led Initiative based at the International Organization for Migration and drafted normative guidance for the protection of migrants affected by conflict or disaster. She has engaged on other efforts to develop normative guidance; undertaken research in Kenya, Ethiopia, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, and Nepal; and (co-) authored multiple publications, including an edited volume on Humanitarian Crises and Migration. Between 2007-2009, Ms. Weerasinghe was in Thailand and Hong Kong, where she directed legal aid centers and represented asylum seekers and refugees.

“I am honored to be part of the Fortify Rights team as a member of its Board of Directors,” said Sanjula Weerasinghe. “Fortify Rights provides essential support for community-based responses to human rights violations. The organization is a critical voice for victims of rights violations and brings its hard-hitting research to bear on policy and practical solutions.”

The third addition to the Board of Directors is an ethnic leader originally from Myanmar and a noted human rights defender. This person has experience in senior roles within non-governmental organizations and has worked internationally as well as in Myanmar for many years.

“We’re so honored and grateful to have these new members to the board of Fortify Rights,” said Matthew Smith, CEO of Fortify Rights. “They’re powerful change-makers who bring decades of experience and expertise in law, human rights, and management at the grassroots, regional, and international levels.”

Fortify Rights is an award-winning international human rights organization working to promote the human rights of all in South and Southeast Asia. The organization supports human rights defenders, investigates human rights violations, and engages people with power. Fortify Rights received the 2018 Roger E. Joseph Prize for its “lasting contribution” to human rights and accountability in Myanmar.