“The Jewish principle from the Torah – ‘Do not oppress the stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ – is very powerful to me. As a people, we care deeply about family and community; and as a people we have particular responsibility to help ensure that people with disabilities grow up with families; are part of communities; and are not marginalized, dehumanized and put away.”
The mission of Disability Rights International (DRI) is to awaken the world’s conscience to safeguarding the human rights of children and adults with disabilities, to document the segregation and abusive treatment of people with disabilities, to train and inspire disability and human rights activists, and to appeal to governments and world bodies to protect a vulnerable and overlooked population.
DRI is a pioneering global human rights organization dedicated to ending the segregation and abuse of people with disabilities. Under Eric Rosenthal’s leadership since its founding in 1993, DRI has galvanized a new international disability rights movement. Rosenthal has brought urgent attention to the human rights of one billion people with disabilities, as well as the ten million children segregated from society in orphanages and other custodial institutions. DRI documents human rights abuses, has trained activists in 40 countries, documented abuses in 37 countries, and is working with governments to end abusive practices. DRI was instrumental in the U.N.’s adoption of a new Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – now ratified by 130 nations – and through DRI, he recently launched the Worldwide Campaign to End the Institutionalization of Children.
Eric Rosenthal is Founder and Executive Director of Disability Rights International, a Washington, D.C. based non-profit working globally to end the segregation and abuse of children and adults with disabilities. An attorney and a humanitarian, Rosenthal founded DRI in 1993 to call world attention to often brutal conditions and inhumane treatment of people with disabilities in custodial facilities and seeking legal protections for them and an ultimate end to their marginalization.
His work has enormous impact throughout the world, exposing a vacuum in international human rights advocacy now being filled by a growing international disability rights movement.
Rosenthal has conducted investigations in more than 30 countries in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas and has published reports on the human rights of people with disabilities in nine countries. DRI documentations and reports have brought unprecedented worldwide press coverage and attention to the concerns of those with disabilities and have affected change in numerous countries, including Mexico, Uruguay, Serbia, and Turkey, as well as in the European Union.
In 2016 DRI filed a path-breaking case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights representing survivors of the abusive Casa Esperanza facility in Mexico subject to torture, forced-sterilization, and sex trafficking. The case is the first of its kind under international law to seek humane and dignified services in the community for people with disabilities wrongfully detained in an institution.
He has trained human rights and disability activists around the world and has provided technical assistance to governments and international development organizations. His advocacy efforts before American and international human rights agencies is widely credited for framing the rights of people with disabilities as a fundamental human rights issue.
DRI was instrumental in building support at the U.N. for the adoption of a new Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, now ratified by 130 countries, and recently launched the Worldwide Campaign to End the Institutionalization of Children.
UNICEF’s annual State of the World’s Children report for 2013 includes a “Perspective” contributed by DRI, and as a consultant to the U.S. National Council on Disability, Rosenthal co-authored a report that led to legislation making American foreign assistance accessible to people with disabilities.
As the son of a career diplomat, Rosenthal was raised in Washington, D.C. and in Africa. He earned a B.A. in Politics, Economics, Rhetoric and Law (PERL) in 1985 and a law degree from Georgetown University in 1992.
His interest in the rights of the disabled was influenced by his grandmother, an émigré from Eastern Europe, who was diagnosed with manic depression. This personal connection, combined with work in the human rights and legal communities around the world, led him to recognize the void in basic protections for people with disabilities.
The tipping point for Rosenthal came in 1992 when, just out of law school, he traveled to Mexico on behalf of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights to document abuses against the indigenous population in Chiapas. While there, he visited the main psychiatric hospital in Mexico City, where he was so appalled by the physical and treatment conditions that he committed himself to advocating for the human rights of people with disabilities around the world and to create global change.
Rosenthal and his work have been profiled by The New York Times Magazine, 20/20, Good Morning America, and Nightline, and have been the subject of editorials in The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, and The Washington Post.
He has served as a consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), and as an advisor in the Public Interest Law Scholar’s program of the Georgetown University Law Center where he has been an adjunct professor of law in public interest advocacy.
In addition to being the 2013 recipient of the Charles Bronfman Prize, Rosenthal has earned an Echoing Green Public Service Fellowship, the Mental Health Association of New York City Humanitarian Award, the Thomas J. Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights (accepted on behalf of DRI), an Ashoka Fellowship, the Henry B. Betts Award from the American Association of People with Disabilities for “pioneering the field of international human rights advocacy for people with disabilities,” the American Psychiatric Association’s Human Rights Award, and the University of Chicago Public Service Award. He was appointed to serve as the 2015-2016 Robert Drinan, S.J., Chair in International Human Rights at the Georgetown University Law Center where he recently received an honorary doctorate of laws, and delivered the 2016 commencement address. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his family.