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Virginia Sherry. © Private

(New York) – Virginia N. Sherry, one of the first Human Rights Watch staff members covering the Middle East and North Africa region, passed away on March 19, 2024, in Hawaii. 

Gini, as she was known to friends and colleagues, was an intrepid and prolific researcher who authored or co-authored many of the organization’s foundational reports on Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt.  These included studies of prison conditions in Egypt (1993), state security court trials in Syria (1995), Syria’s Tadmor prison (1996), Lebanese citizens and stateless Palestinians unlawfully detained in Syria (1997), and Khiam prison in southern Lebanon (1999). 

Gini also co-wrote, with the late Jemera Rone, “Needless Deaths in the Gulf War" (1991), a 400-page study of civilian casualties in the US-led war against Iraq, the first Human Rights Watch report to apply international humanitarian law to an aerial bombing campaign in an international armed conflict. Kenneth Roth, former Human Rights Watch executive director, said the report “detailed major flaws in the US-led operation” resulting in civilian casualties and long-term consequences for the country. “By the time of NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999, US planners had altered their strategies in light of these criticisms.”

Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1990 as associate director, Gini worked at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (now Human Rights First), where she led the organization’s research and advocacy on the Middle East for several years and pressed for greater incorporation of women’s rights in the organization’s work. She also was the author of the Lawyers Committee’s report on Israel’s detention of Palestinian human rights workers and lawyers as well as conditions at the Ketziot detention camp (1988).

After leaving Human Rights Watch in 2004, Gini focused on her native Staten Island, New York, where she worked as a reporter for the Staten Island Advance, covering a range of local issues including human rights-related news. She founded the Staten Island Native Plants Society and  created  websites devoted to Staten Island architecture and historic preservation (Gini held a master’s degree in urban planning). A passionate cook and photographer, Gini filled her Facebook feed with recipes and her own photos of food and flowers.

Gini succumbed to cancer, surrounded by family, at age 74. 

“Everything Gini did, she did with intensity,” said Eric Goldstein, a longtime colleague in the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “In the field, she developed a quick rapport with victims and witnesses, who gave her detailed and compelling testimony that formed the building blocks of her reporting, Gini was the driving force behind some of Human Rights Watch’s finest work during its formative years.”

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