A government advocate for human rights

January 29, 2013

One of the government’s leading champions for human rights and women’s rights is a 32 year-old Air Force veteran Rob Berschinski.

In his role as director for security and human rights policy at the National Security Council (NSC), Berschinski is working to empower women living in conflict areas overseas and to support the elimination of human trafficking both at home and abroad.

“Rob wakes up every day and is motivated by the common good in a way that is very special. It is rare to combine his intellectual rigor and the work ethic of an Ironman with one of the biggest hearts that I have ever seen,” said Samantha Power, special assistant to the president and NSC senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights.

“We are very lucky to have him in government,” she added.

According to Berschinski, his work at the NSC is centered on translating the president’s human rights policies into action and ensuring these policies are implemented consistently across federal departments and agencies


Rob Berschinski, director for security and human rights policy at the National Security Council.  (David Evans)

One of the key areas is the fight to end modern slavery or human trafficking, which affects more than 20 million people around the world, including in communities in the United States. This crime involves holding a human being through force, fraud or coercion for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or labor.

“The idea that in the 21st century there are people still held in slavery – this behavior has no place in the modern world,” said Berschinski.

Although the United States has been a global leader on eradicating modern slavery for years, Berschinski said that President Obama has made efforts to prevent the crime and protect survivors a personal priority. In 2012, the president directed his Cabinet members to redouble their anti-trafficking efforts in partnership with business and faith leaders. Then in a speech in September at the Clinton Global Initiative, Obama announced several new policies that grew out of this work.

Since the speech, Berschinski and others at the White House have worked to create a federal strategic action plan to strengthen the resources and services for trafficking victims. He also is coordinating the implementation of an executive order that strengthens protections against human trafficking in federal contracting by raising standards to ensure that contractors and their employees do not engage in trafficking-related practices.

Another area of Berschinski’s work is protecting women in conflict areas and promoting the role of women in conflict prevention and peace processes. Key to this effort has been Berschinski’s role in developing and coordinating implementation of the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace, and Security, which outlines how the United States will better coordinate its foreign policy efforts to advance women’s inclusion in all aspects of peace-building and conflict prevention.

“There is a simple but powerful concept behind this work,” Berschinski said. “The idea is that peace is more sustainable and conflict less likely to occur, when every member of society – men and women – has a say, when their voices are heard and their grievances addressed. When women don’t have a role at the decision-making table, international security suffers.”

Since 2010, Berschinski has worked with a dozen federal agencies on how each agency will implement the National Action Plan, and worked to ensure these policies are fully integrated into relevant U.S. foreign policy initiatives.

This required Berschinski to coordinate policy with the Departments of Defense and State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which individually have their own structures and ways of doing business, he said. Although challenging, Power noted “Rob is a one-man convertor of individuals and whole parts of the bureaucracy.”

“I saw him successfully integrate the importance of women to peace and security in parts of government that were not yet focused on those areas,” said Power. “Rob championed these issues with such relentless rigor and conviction on behalf of the president.”

When the challenges seem overwhelming, Berschinski said, he derives strength and inspiration from meeting with human trafficking survivors and women leaders in conflict areas.

“I’m motivated every day by the example of trafficking survivors advocating for tough new laws in their countries so that others won’t have to go through what they did, or women who demand the same basic rights as their male counterparts while working for peace in war-torn countries,” he said.

“The best moments are seeing through their eyes how the policies we are implementing are making a difference. It keeps me going and moving forward,” Berschinski added.

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to www.servicetoamericamedals.org/nominate to nominate a federal employee for a Service to America Medal and http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.

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