|Dr. Wesley Reisser, Senior Foreign Affairs Officer,|
Office of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Bureau.
US Department of State
We are less than 2 weeks away from our Human Rights Awards Reception on December 10, and so excited to honor individuals and organizations dedicated to furthering human rights across the world and in our own community!
Today, we want to introduce you to our F. Allen "Tex" Harris Diplomacy Human Rights Awardee, Dr. Wesley Reisser. He currently serves at the State Department as the Senior Foreign Affairs Officer in the Office of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, International Organization Affairs Bureau, and we took a few minutes to catch up and chat about his background, current pursuits, and human rights.
Between now and December 10, we will be introducing each of our other awardees, but for now, let's get to know Dr. Reisser!
UNA-NCA - So, Dr. Reisser, can you tell us a little about where you come from and what brought you to both DC and Human Rights work?
W.R. - I grew up in Denver, CO and Dallas, TX and came to DC for college at GWU. I started at the State Department through a student program while in undergrad, and stayed with State while I did my MA at GWU and then my PhD at UCLA. My background is in geography, international affairs, and history. I only came to human rights work once inside State.
UNA-NCA - What does your office at the State Department do exactly—if you are allowed to say?
W.R. - My office leads the efforts of the State Department to protect human rights throughout the United Nations system. We also work on humanitarian issues throughout the UN, as well. We engage with other countries to highlight U.S. priorities and to talk about critical human rights issues. We also work to draft UN resolutions, write speeches given at the UN, and work to ensure that the U.S. pursues our top human rights priorities at the UN and that this work complements what we do on the ground around the globe.
UNA-NCA - I love that we have a whole office that is working hard on human rights and humanitarian efforts… Can you walk us through a day in your life?
W.R. - Hectic would be a good way to describe it. No two days at the State Department look the same as we respond to myriad crises around the world. I would say that my work day consists of a lot of meeting with and conversing with people from within the U.S. government, civil society, foreign governments, and U.S. missions around the world. I am always focused on our objectives and pushing forward what we need to do in order to win key votes at the UN and come up with new things we should be engaging on. Things stay just as busy after I leave State, as I teach a geography course every semester at GWU, have dance rehearsal every week, and am working on my second book.
UNA-NCA - Wait, you work for the State department, teach geography, write books, and do dancing? You are going to have to tell us more about the dancing and other hobbies.
W.R. – I run an Eastern European folk dance group – The Carpathia Folk Dance Ensemble - so dance is definitely my favorite pastime. I am also an avid biker and love to swim. Travel is of course another major favorite, especially to places with ancient ruins and a long history. I love to read, especially books on history, geography, and art.
“…Since I started working on human rights at the State Department, I have of course found ways to tie this into other parts of my life…”
UNA-NCA - That is really neat! In all of these things that you are involved with, both work and your extracurricular activities, where does your passion for human rights work enter in and connect?
W.R. - For work, human rights is of course central to what I do. I have been able to “personalize” this partly by working on LGBTI issues, which I first worked on with GW Pride as an undergrad. My activism there had been mostly focused on LGBTI rights in the United States and even within the employees at State, but when Hillary Clinton gave us space to engage on this internationally, I was lucky to be selected as one of the first people to engage. Since I started working on human rights at the State Department, I have of course found ways to tie this into other parts of my life. I love that my dance group works on cultural preservation and this includes teaching audiences about other places and not just the main groups, but minorities too. We perform Roma dances and I am careful to be sure we also educate about the plight of these peoples and others that are facing grave challenges to their cultures and rights, such as what is happening in Ukraine today.
UNA-NCA - Do you have any human rights heros or role models you would want to share with us?
W.R. - I would say my biggest hero in this realm is Woodrow Wilson. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on his peace plans at the end of WWI. I think that his ideals are what underpins the international system we live in today. I am also constantly inspired by those who risk everything to bring rights to those less fortunate and those under threat. Some of those people I think about a lot include Malala, Harvey Milk, Aung San Suu Kyi, among many others. I have to admit, I’m not a huge quote guy, but there is one Winston Churchill quote I like to use with those that say the U.S. should retreat from the global stage – “The price of greatness is responsibility.” For me that includes the responsibility for the world’s most wealthy and powerful country to engage not just at home, but around the world, to make sure that people’s lives get better and freer. We have a long way to go at home, but this does not abrogate our responsibilities globally.
You can have a look at Dr. Reisser's current book here, and check out his dance group here. Be sure to purchase tickets to the Human Rights Awards Reception on December 10 at the Rayburn Gold Room to join us in honoring him and our other Awardees.