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Keynote Speakers

Maria Otero (Thursday, 9:30AM)

Under-Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, US Department of State

Maria Otero was sworn in as Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs on August 10, 2009. She oversees and coordinates U.S. foreign relations on a variety of global issues, including democracy, human rights, and labor; environment, oceans, health and science; population, refugees, and migration; and monitoring and combating trafficking in persons. She also serves as the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues.

Ms. Otero was formerly the president and CEO of ACCION International, a pioneer and leader in microfinance working in 25 countries around the globe. Under Ms. Otero’s tenure as CEO, ACCION’s network of microfinance institutions expanded its reach from serving 460,000 people to over 3.7 million, through a combined portfolio that grew from $274 million to nearly $3.6 billion. She is a leading voice on sustainable microfinance, publishing extensively on the subject and speaking throughout the world on microfinance, women’s issues and poverty alleviation. 

Prior to ACCION, Ms. Otero was the Economist for Latin America for the Women in Development office of USAID. She also served for five years at the Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA). In June 2006, Ms. Otero was appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the UN Advisors Group on Inclusive Financial Sectors. She has chaired the board of Bread for the World, and also served on the boards of the Calvert Foundation, Public Welfare Foundation, the Inter-American Foundation and BRAC Holding of Bangladesh. Born in La Paz, Bolivia, Ms. Otero is currently the highest-ranking Hispanic official at the State Department, and the first Latina Under Secretary in its history.

Aryeh Neier  (Thursday, 1:00PM)

President, Open Society Foundations

Prior to joining the Open Society Institute in 1993, Aryeh Neier served for 12 years as Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. Before that, he spent 15 years at the American Civil Liberties Union, including eight years as national Executive Director. Mr. Neier has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at New York University for more than a dozen years. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, and has published in periodicals such as The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, The Nation and Foreign Policy. Mr. Neier has contributed more than a 150 op-ed articles in newspapers including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The International Herald Tribune and articles that have appeared in newspapers in many countries. Author of six books, Mr. Neier has also contributed chapters to more than thirty-five books. Mr. Neier, a naturalized American, was born in Nazi Germany and became a refugee at an early age. He is the recipient of six honorary doctorates, the American Bar Association’s Gavel Award and the International Bar Association’s Rule of Law Award.

Adotei Akwei (Friday, 11:30AM)

Managing Director for Government Relations, Amnesty International

Prior to his current role, Adotei Akwei was the Africa Advocacy Director for Amnesty International USA. Before joining Amnesty International, he was Africa Program Director for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, and worked with the American Committee on Africa and the Africa Fund as the Director of Research and Human Rights.

Lisa A. Crooms  (Friday, 11:30AM)

Steering Committee Chair, Human Rights at Home Campaign (HuRAH)

A human rights activist since 1984, Lisa A. Crooms has worked with the Washington Office on Africa and the American Committee on Africa. She is currently a board member for the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, the U.S. Human Rights Network and the Women’s Institute for Leadership Development for Human Rights. She is also a coordinator of the U.S. coordinated Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) 2007 shadow report to the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In 2006, she served in the same capacity for a similar effort regarding U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Ms. Crooms has served as an advisor to institutions including The Urban Justice Center, Unifem, the Sentencing Project, the International Human Rights Law Group (Global Rights) and Amnesty International - U.S.A. In 2003 Crooms was a Fulbright Scholar at the Norman Manley Law School – University of the West Indies, Mona Campus in Jamaica where she conducted research on the relationship between gender, violence and law in the construction of Jamaican post-independence national identity.

Ms. Crooms teaches Constitutional Law, Gender and the Law, International Human Rights Law and Supreme Court Jurisprudence at Howard University in Washington DC. She received her B.A. in Economics from Howard University in 1984 and her J.D. from the University of Michigan in 1991.

Anthony D. Romero (Friday, 11:30AM)

Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Anthony D. Romero is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, the nation's premier defender of liberty and individual freedom. He took the helm of the organization just four days before the September 11, 2001 attacks. Shortly afterward, the ACLU launched its national Safe and Free campaign to protect basic freedoms during a time of crisis, achieving court victories on the Patriot Act, uncovering thousands of pages of documents detailing the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. custody, and filing the first successful legal challenge to the Bush administration's illegal NSA spying program. Romero also led the ACLU in establishing the John Adams Project, a joint effort with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to assist the under-resourced military defense lawyers in the Guantánamo military commissions.

Romero, an attorney with a history of public-interest activism, has presided over the most successful membership growth in the ACLU's history and a large increase in national staff. This extraordinary growth has allowed the ACLU to expand its nationwide litigation, lobbying and public education efforts, including new initiatives focused on human rights, racial justice, religious freedom, technology and privacy, reproductive freedom and LGBT rights.Romero is the ACLU's sixth executive director, and the first Latino and openly gay man to serve in that capacity. In 2005, Romero was named one of Time Magazine's 25 Most Influential Hispanics in America, and has received dozens of public service awards and an honorary doctorate from the City University of New York School of Law.

Born in New York City to parents who hailed from Puerto Rico, Romero was the first in his family to graduate from high school. He is a graduate of Stanford University Law School and Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs. He is a member of the New York Bar Association and has sat on numerous nonprofit boards.

John Prendergast (Friday, 3:45PM)

Co-Founder, Enough Project

John Prendergast is a human rights activist and best-selling author who has worked for peace in Africa for over 25 years. He is the co-founder of the Enough Project, an initiative to end genocide and crimes against humanity affiliated with the Center for American Progress. John has worked for the Clinton White House, the State Department, two members of Congress, the National Intelligence Council, UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, and the U.S. Institute of Peace. He has been a Big Brother for over 25 years, as well as a youth counselor and a basketball coach.

Under the Enough Project umbrella, John has helped create a number of initiatives and campaigns. With George Clooney, he helped launch the Satellite Sentinel Project, which aims to prevent conflict and human rights abuses through satellite imagery. With Tracy McGrady and other NBA stars, John co-founded the Darfur Dream Team Sister Schools Program to fund schools in Darfurian refugee camps and create partnerships with schools in the United States. He helped launch two campaigns under Enough: the Raise Hope for Congo Campaign, highlighting the issue of conflict minerals that fuel the war there, and Sudan Now, focused on bringing peace to that embattled country.

John is the author or co-author of ten books. His forthcoming book, Unlikely Brothers, due in May 2011, is a dual memoir co-authored with his first little brother in the Big Brother program. His previous two books were co-authored with Don Cheadle: Not On Our Watch, a New York Times bestseller and NAACP non-fiction book of the year, and The Enough Moment: Fighting to End Africa’s Worst Human Rights Crimes. John has been profiled in The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Men's Vogue, Time, Entertainment Weekly, GQ, Oprah Magazine, Capitol File, Arrive,Interview, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

John has been a visiting professor at Stanford University, Columbia University, the University of San Diego, Eckerd College, the University of Maryland, the American University in Cairo, the University of Pittsburgh, and St. Mary’s College.  He has been awarded six honorary doctorates. John is a board member and serves as Strategic Advisor to Not On Our Watch, the organization founded by George Clooney, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, and Brad Pitt.