Center Staff

Hadar Harris is the Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law in Washington, DC.  As such, she is responsible for an annual program of approximately 50 events and conferences, a variety of grant-funded programs and approximately 20 ongoing collaborative projects with students and NGOs around the world.  These include current projects focused on implementation of the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture; an Initiative on Human Rights and Business; building capacity of lawyers and governments around the practical intersection of disability and human rights; the integration of human rights approaches into the work of legal service providers (poverty lawyers) in the US; and development of a key web-based resource for the human rights community: Ms. Harris is an international human rights attorney and specializes in issues of business and human rights, civil and political rights, gender equality, and domestic implementation of international norms. 

She has worked extensively in assessing and reviewing national compliance with international human rights treaties, working both with NGOs and governmental bodies and advising on implementation of recommendations.  In Spring 2002, she piloted an assessment tool developed by the American Bar Association/CEELI to review national compliance with the provisions of the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).  The pilot project was run in Armenia and the final report was submitted for review to the United Nations and to the Armenian government.  She developed an implementation protocol and consulted on similar assessments in Serbia, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Macedonia.  She has assisted in developing shadow reports, government reports or trained government and civil society representatives on a variety of treaties in various parts of the world including Botswana, Israel, Lao PDR, Kosovo, and the United States.

In addition, Ms. Harris has worked on a variety of other human rights issues.  In 2002, she consulted on proposed reforms to the Moroccan Criminal Procedure Code which resulted in 70% of recommended changes being adopted by the Moroccan parliament.  In 2001, she was involved in a trial on behalf of four Bosnian Muslims suing their Serbian torturer in US Federal Court in Atlanta, Georgia which resulted in nearly $140 million in damages being awarded to the victims. From 2003-2006, she helped to create the first-ever network of legal academics and activists discussing gender mainstreaming and legal education in India, the Gender and Law Association of India (GALA).  Since 2006, she has run a collaborative project to build capacity for the Human Rights Studies Centre and Gender Studies Department at the University of Peshawar (Pakistan).

Ms. Harris has worked as an international election observer with the UN/OSCE joint mission in Azerbaijan and taught law at Khazar University in Baku.  She also lived and worked in Jerusalem where she was the Director of Program and Resource Development for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).  She formerly served as Executive Director of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, a bipartisan legislative service organization of the US House of Representatives.   

Ms. Harris has her BA in Political Science from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and her Juris Doctor in Law from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). 

Melissa C. del Aguila is the Center's assistant director and also serves as director of the Center's Human Rights Education Program. In this role, she is responsible for the implementation of several collaborative human rights education projects, including the USAID-sponsored Colombia-U.S. Human Rights Teaching and Research Partnership Program, the Speak Truth To Power Human Rights Teaching Fellows Program developed in collaboration with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, and the Teaching International Humanitarian Law Initiative.  Ms. del Aguila has worked extensively on the issue of the right to education and has experience working with domestic legal accountability mechanisms in Colombia. In particular, she has worked on issues relating to the education, non-discrimination, and equal protection rights of Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples within the Inter-American Human Rights System, has presented as a panelist at the Colombian National Congress in Bogotá, and also assisted the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights in developing observations and recommendations for the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Working Group charged with preparing a Draft Inter-American Convention against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance. Prior to law school, Ms. del Aguila served as a Princeton-in-Latin America Fellow at the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress in San José, Costa Rica, where she worked on projects relating to gender, political participation and human security. She has also held internship and research positions at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and the National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children, where she focused on issues relating to asylum law and human trafficking.

Ms. del Aguila earned an A.B. in Politics from Princeton University and a Juris Doctor in Law and LL.M. in International and Comparative Law from Cornell Law School.

Andra Nicolescu is the Assistant Project Director of the Center’s Anti-Torture Initiative. She has experience working on issues related to torture prevention, civil and political rights, human rights and transitional justice mechanisms in post-conflict situations. While pursuing her J.D., Ms. Nicolescu was a Dean’s Fellow for the Anti-Torture Initiative, a Research Assistant for the Chair of the UN Committee Against Torture, and a Research Associate with the Public International Law and Policy Group, where she advised countries including Libya and Tunisia on topics such as the implementation of transitional justice mechanisms and constitution drafting. Ms. Nicolescu has also spent time working at INTERIGHTS, where she assisted counsel in conducting strategic human rights litigation at the European Court of Human Rights on issues involving the treatment of persons with disabilities, LGBTI persons, and minorities, and for a legal aid organization in Bamenda, Cameroon. Before obtaining her law degree, Ms. Nicolescu worked in international development in various locations in the Middle East, West Africa, and South Asia, and in the Political Affairs and Development Cooperation sections of the Delegation of the European Union in New Delhi, India.

Ms. Nicolescu holds a JD from the American University Washington College of Law, an MSc in the Theory and History of International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a BA from McGill University. You can follow her on Twitter @andraotilia.

Rebecca DeWinter-Schmitt is director of the Center's Human Rights in Business Program. Dr. DeWinter-Schmitt is an expert in business and human rights, in particular pertaining to the private military and security industry. She currently co-chairs Amnesty International USA’s (AIUSA) Business and Human Rights Group and chairs the Working Group on Private Military and Security Companies. In various capacities, she has been involved in multi-stakeholder efforts to develop standards for private security providers. Through her joint inter-disciplinary research with the Kogod School of Business, she is undertaking applied research to identify best practices in voluntary self- regulation as applicable to the private security industry.

Dr. DeWinter-Schmitt’s consulting and advocacy work are linked to her academic research interest in civil society efforts to ensure corporate accountability.

Until 2012, Dr. DeWinter Schmitt was an Assistant Professor at American University’s School of International Service’s Peace and Conflict Resolution Program, teaching courses on international affairs, human rights, ethics, economics of violence and peace, and corporate social responsibility. From 1998- 2002, Dr. DeWinter-Schmitt was a staff member of AIUSA, first in its National Field Program and then as Program Associate to the Just Earth! Program on Human Rights and the Environment.

In 2007, Dr. DeWinter-Schmitt received her PhD from American University’s School of International Service for her dissertation, “Business as Usual? The Mobilization of the Anti-sweatshop Movement and the Social Construction of Corporate Identity.” Dr. DeWinter-Schmitt received her master’s degree from the University of Marburg, Germany and her undergraduate degree from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.