Bob Bernstein

Robert L. Bernstein (In Memoriam 1923—2019)

Founding Chair, 1978-1998; Former Chairman & President, 1966-1990, Random House

Robert L. Bernstein, publisher and human rights activist, has devoted his life to the active defense of freedom of expression and to the protection of victims of injustice and abuse throughout the world.  As one of the most influential voices in American publishing for over three decades, he is also a dominant force in the development of the international human rights movement.  Mr. Bernstein started as an office boy at Simon & Schuster in 1946, moved to Random House in 1956 and succeeded Bennett Cerf as President and CEO in 1966.  He headed Random House for 25 years.  He published many great American authors, including William Faulkner, James Michener, Dr. Seuss, Toni Morrison and William Styron.  After being invited to the Soviet Union as part of a delegation from the Association of American Publishers, he became interested in writers whose work could not be published in their own countries.  Beginning with Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner, he ensured that authors like Vaclav Havel, Jacobo Timerman and Wei Jinsheng were all published around the world.

After his experience in Moscow in 1973, Mr. Bernstein returned to the U.S. and established the Fund for Free Expression.  After the signing of the Helsinki Accords in 1975, Mr. Bernstein, working with George Bundy of the Ford Foundation and Arthur Goldberg, the U.S. Ambassador, founded Helsinki Watch.  He followed this by founding Americas Watch, Africa Watch, Asia Watch, Middle East-North Africa Watch and in 1988, they were all merged into Human Rights Watch.  He served as Chair for twenty years, until 1998, and remains active as Founding Chair Emeritus.  He also has been one of the leaders in helping the Chinese form Human Rights in China, chaired the organization briefly and is now Chair Emeritus.  Human Rights in China has offices in Hong Kong and their Beijing office is still in New York.

Mr. Bernstein has won numerous awards and honorary degrees, including the Florina Lasker Award from the New York Civil Liberties Union; the Human Rights Award from the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights; the Spirit of Liberty Award from People for the American Way; the Barnard Medal of Distinction from Barnard College; the Curtis Benjamin Award for Distinguished Publishing from the Association of American Publishers; and, in 1998, the United States’ first Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award, which was presented by President William J. Clinton.  At Yale, Mr. Bernstein has been honored by friends and colleagues with the establishment of the Robert L. Bernstein Fellowships in International Human Rights at Yale Law School.  At New York University, friends and colleagues established the Robert L. Bernstein Fellowship to serve human rights in China.    He is the recipient of honorary doctorates from Yale University, Swarthmore College, The New School, Bard College, Hofstra University, Bates College, and Tougaloo College.  He holds a B.S. degree from Harvard.

To view Bob's In Memoriam, please click here.