Shantha Rau Barriga is the founding director of the disability rights division at Human Rights Watch. She oversees research and advocacy on the rights of people with disabilities and older people, working closely with organizations of people with disabilities at the national, regional and international level. Her areas of expertise include: education, discrimination, gender-based violence, access to justice, abuses in detention, independent living, and inclusion in humanitarian response. Shantha has authored numerous reports, essays and commentaries, and has extensive media experience. Her talk on how to end stigma against people with disabilities is featured on TED.
In June 2020, the Board of Directors appointed Shantha to serve as interim co-Deputy Executive Director for Operations and co-chair of the Transitional Executive Committee. She is also head of the Brussels office.
Shantha is a founding member of the International Network of Women with Disabilities, member of the Amnesty International Advisory Group on Disability Rights, and expert advisor to the Catalyst for Inclusive Education Initiative. She also served on the UNICEF Advisory Board for the 2013 State of the World’s Children report.
Before joining Human Rights Watch, Shantha participated in the UN negotiations toward the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, working as part of a global coalition to advocate for strong protections on non-discrimination, accessibility, education, legal capacity, independent living and international monitoring. She also previously worked with UNICEF Tanzania, carrying out an assessment on children with disabilities in refugee camps in Kibondo.
Shantha received degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the University of Michigan and was a Fulbright Scholar to Austria. She speaks fluent German and Kannada (Indian dialect), and intermediate French and sign language. Shantha is married and has two sons.