Human Rights Watch mourns the passing of the philanthropist Herbert M. Sandler, whose support was critical to building our organization into a global leader in promoting and protecting human rights. Herb and Marion, his late wife and lifelong business partner, dramatically expanded the reach and impact of Human Rights Watch around the world. He died on June 5, 2019, at the age of 87.
“Herb and Marion offered their strategic thinking, advice, and friendship to Human Rights Watch from early on,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Their intellectual and financial support were critical in enabling us to cover human rights crises and respond to them in real time. I will be forever grateful not only for their support and mentorship, but also for their tough questions and insightful suggestions over the years.”
In making their first challenge grant in 2004, which helped Human Rights Watch to significantly expand our research, advocacy, and communications capacity, Herb said: “Many organizations do wonderful things, but only a handful are truly great. Human Rights Watch is one of them.”
The Sandlers were among Human Rights Watch’s most important supporters. Herb and Marion were visionary in their philanthropy, with a talent for identifying and building small innovative organizations, or creating new ones such as the investigative news outlet ProPublica.
The Sandlers made three extremely generous challenge grants over 20 years that enabled Human Rights Watch to address critically important issues in close to 100 countries around the world. Their early gifts helped to launch our women’s rights division, which now reports on issues such as sexual violence in wartime, workplace harassment, and child marriage.
They also created the Leonard H. Sandler fellowship, named for Herb’s beloved older brother, which brings talented young activists to Human Rights Watch every year. They were keenly aware of the need to communicate the value of human rights to the broadest audience possible.
Herb grew up in subsidized housing in the Lower East Side of New York City. The experience of living in a diverse immigrant community where families struggled to pay debts and were exploited by loan sharks also informed his business life. Herb and Marion, who moved to San Francisco, operated as joint CEOs and built Golden West Financial Corporation to be one of the largest savings and loans in the United States, operating in racially diverse neighborhoods ignored by many similar institutions.
“Herb was a giant in the field of human rights philanthropy. His commitment to truth, justice, and helping people realize their rights was unmatched,” said Darian Swig, a member of the Human Rights Watch international board. “The human rights movement would not be where we are today without Herb and Marion.”
Human Rights Watch extends our deepest condolences to the Sandler family, especially to their children, Susan and James. We hope they will find solace in knowing that their parents’ legacy lives on through the many social justice organizations that they supported.