Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor: Who Is Tom Malinowski?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The next head of the State Department’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor will be a leading human rights advocate who was passed over for the job at the outset of President Barack Obama’s first term because his lobbying for rights ran afoul of the new administration’s rule against hiring lobbyists until two years after they ceased to be lobbyists. Tom Malinowski, who has been Washington director for Human Rights Watch since 2001, was nominated July 8. If confirmed by the Senate, he would succeed Michael Posner, who held the job starting in October 2009.


Born in 1965 in Poland, Tomasz P. Malinowski left Europe at the age of six with his mother, Joanna, who married American Blair Clark and raised Tom in Princeton, New Jersey. Admittedly “not the world’s greatest student,” Malinowski graduated Princeton High School in 1983, where he wrote for the school newspaper and was an intern in the office of Sen. Bill Bradley (D-New Jersey). He earned a B.A. in Political Science at the University of California at Berkeley in 1987.


After working as a special assistant for U.S. Senator Daniel P. Moynihan (D-New York), Malinowski was awarded a Rhodes scholarship in December 1988, earning an M.Phil. in Political Science at Oxford University’s St. Antony’s College in 1991.Malinowski worked as a research assistant for the Ford Foundation from 1992 to 1993.


Commencing his public service career, Malinowski served as a speechwriter and member of the Policy Planning Staff at the State Department from 1994 to 1998, working directly under Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright. He then spent the last years of the Clinton administration at the White House, serving as a senior director for foreign policy speechwriting on the National Security staff from 1998 to 2001.


After the November 2000 elections that brought the George W. Bush administration into power, Malinowski became the Washington Director for Human Rights Watch, widely considered one of the world’s leading human rights advocacy organizations. In this position, Malinowski repeatedly criticized various aspects of President Obama’s policies, which should prove interesting once he finds himself a member of the Obama administration. For example, Malinowski had opposed indefinite imprisonment without trial, supported the acknowledgment of Uzbekistan’s dictator is a dictator, praised the honesty of State Department officials regarding Tunisia’s dictator as revealed in cables published by WikiLeaks—but not spoken in public. 


A Democrat, Malinowski has donated several thousand dollars to Democrats over the years, including $1,500 to the Democratic National Committee and $500 to the 2004 presidential campaign of John Kerry.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Biography (Human Rights Watch)

White House Taps Tom Malinowski for Human Rights Post (by Emily Heil, Washington Post)

It's Come to This: Debating Death by Autopilot (by Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic)

Special Interview With Tom Malinowski, Human Rights Watch (by Ivan Kenneally, Daily Witness)       


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