In Memoriam: Robert L. Bernstein

Robert L. Bernstein, renowned publishing executive, human rights champion, and supporter of NYU Law’s Robert L. Bernstein Institute for Human Rights, passed away on May 27 at the age of 96. 

Bob Bernstein Headshot
Robert L. Bernstein

Bernstein’s generosity and ideals led to the launch of the Bernstein Institute in January 2015 with the goal of advancing human rights ventures and empowering future generations of leaders in the field. Since its establishment, the institute has awarded fellowships to graduating students to work with leading human rights organizations, created a training program for judges that presents the latest developments in human rights and humanitarian law, and co-convened a legal empowerment leadership course. It has also helped to launch groundbreaking research initiatives such as the Surveillance Project, a research partnership with Amnesty International and NYU Law’s Global Justice Clinic and Technology Law & Policy Clinic; the project’s focus is investigating legal accountability measures to address state surveillance of human rights defenders.

In 1978, Bernstein founded Helsinki Watch, the first of several similar organizations, including Asia Watch and Americas Watch, that were dedicated to monitoring human rights abuses across the world. These organizations merged into Human Rights Watch in 1988, and Bernstein served as founding chairman from 1978 to 1998. 

A graduate of Harvard College, Bernstein served as president and chairman of Random House from 1966 to 1990. He provided a platform for many dissident authors, including Andrei Sakharov, Anatoly Sharansky, Václav Havel, Jacobo Timerman, and Wei Jingsheng, as well as other prominent writers such as William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, William Styron, James Michener, E.L. Doctorow, and Dr. Seuss.

Bernstein was the recipient of many awards, including the Human Rights Award from the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in 1987 and the Curtis Benjamin Award for Creative Publishing from the Association of American Publishers in 1996. In 1998, he became one of the first to receive the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights from the US government.

Posted May 28, 2019