New York, NY, June 22, 2011—PEN American Center, the largest branch of the world’s oldest literary and human rights organization, announced today that Jeri Laber, a founder of Human Rights Watch, author, and humanitarian, has been elected to the PEN Board.

“As someone who has long admired her many achievements and who has seen her in action on the Hellman-Hammett Committee, I am delighted we will now have the benefit of her wisdom—and the pleasure of her company—in our work at PEN,” said PEN President Kwame Anthony Appiah, calling Laber “one of the world’s great voices for freedom.”

Jeri Laber is a writer, an activist in the development of the human rights movement, and one of the founders of Helsinki Watch, which grew to be Human Rights Watch. She was born and educated in New York City, where she did her undergraduate work in English literature and philosophy at New York University and her graduate work at Columbia University’s Harriman [formerly Russian] Institute, specializing in Russian and Soviet literature.

Ms. Laber was Executive Director of Helsinki Watch from 1979 to 1995; from 1995 to 2001 she was Senior Adviser to Human Rights Watch. She was also a founder of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and served as its vice-chair from 1988 to 1995. She was executive director of the Fund for Free Expression from 1977 to 1979. She was a staff consultant to the International Freedom to Publish Committee of the Association of American Publishers from 1977 to 2010.

Ms. Laber is the author of several books, including a memoir of her human rights work, The Courage of Strangers: Coming of Age with the Human Rights Movement (PublicAffairs, 2002). She is co-author, with Barnett Rubin, of A Nation is Dying—Afghanistan under the Soviets 1979–87 (Northwestern University Press). She is also the author of numerous Human Rights Watch reports and has written more than 100 articles on human rights, published in The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and other newspapers and journals, such as The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The New Republic, Columbia Journalism Review, International Herald Tribune, Problems of Communism, the Slavic Review, and Commentary. She is currently at work on a novel and also on a personal, family-oriented memoir.

In November 2000 Jeri Laber was honored by Czech President Vaclav Havel, who presented her with his country’s Order of Merit in recognition of her human rights work in the former Czechoslovakia. In 2002 and 2004 she testified against Slobodan Milosevic at his war crimes trial in The Hague. In 2003 she was named “Alumna of the Year” by the Harriman Institute. She was the recipient of a research and writing grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (2000–2001). The Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award is presented each year by the Association of American Publishers at the PEN annual dinner to a publisher somewhere in the world who has demonstrated courage under official pressure.

Ms. Laber has been a judge on the Helman-Hammett Awards committee from its inception and is also is a member of the Europe and Central Asia Advisory Committees at Human Rights Watch. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a member of the PEN American Center, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City.

Officers of the PEN American Center Board of Trustees include Executive Vice President John Troubh, Vice Presidents Ron Chernow and Victoria Redel, Treasurer Maria B. Campbell, and Secretary Roxana Robinson. Trustees include Susan Bernofsky, Edward Burlingame, Anne Burt, Morgan Entrekin, Wendy Gimbel, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, Claudia Menza, John Oakes, Christian Oberbeck, Tess O’Dwyer, Hannah Pakula, Walter Pozen, Theresa Rebeck, Susanna Reich, Hamilton Robinson, Jr., Esmeralda Santiago, Elissa Schappell, Rose Styron, Annette Tapert, Lynne Tillman, Monique Truong, Danielle Truscott, Davis Weinstock, and Jacob Weisberg.

Jessica Rotondi, (212) 334-1660, ext. 103, jessica@pen.org