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For Eric Schwartz and Iraqi refugees, a second act

Assistant Secretary Eric P. Schwartz speaks with women displaced by conflict in eastern Congo.
Assistant Secretary Eric P. Schwartz speaks with women displaced by conflict in eastern Congo. (Courtesy Of State Department)

Schwartz, 53, who is married to a former Australian diplomat and has two teenage children, has been working on humanitarian causes since he was a student.

He grew up in Syosset, N.Y., the son of a commercial film producer and a nursery school teacher.

"They were really very progressive in orientation, and very publicly oriented," he said. "It never would have occurred to me to do anything else but public service."

After getting degrees in law and international relations, Schwartz founded Asia Watch (now Human Rights Watch-Asia) and worked on Capitol Hill. He then spent eight years in the White House under President Bill Clinton.

The hardest part about his current job? The danger to humanitarian workers. More than 700 have been killed on duty over the past decade, he said.

"In many parts of the world, on top of all the logistical and operational and policy challenges . . . you now have an exceptionally more challenging security environment," he said.

Schwartz has felt the toll personally. In July 2003, he moved to Geneva to become chief of staff to Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.

"It was all very exciting. I had enormous regard for the guy," Schwartz said.

One month later, Vieira de Mello was killed in a massive car-bombing in Baghdad, along with 21 other U.N. employees.

"I think that event is seen as really kind of a seminal moment" for humanitarian workers, he said.

Perhaps Schwartz's greatest accomplishment in his current job hasn't come overseas, but at home.

Early on, he traveled around the United States to see how resettled refugees were faring.


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