Douglas A. Johnson

Douglas A. Johnson

Lecturer, Public Policy
Director, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy

Douglas A. Johnson became the first Executive Director of the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) in 1988 after a series of acting directors; he was tasked by the Board to build the organization to the stature merited by Governor Perpich’s founding vision for the first treatment center in the United States for torture survivors. Johnson stepped down January 31, 2012, after nearly 24 years heading the organization, During his tenure, CVT provided healing services to over 23,000 torture survivor in one of its clinical sites in Minnesota, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Jordan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Kenya. The organization grew from 3 staff at his arrival to about 250 at his departure. 

Almost a decade earlier Johnson cut his teeth on global NGO formation when he launched the Nestle Boycott in 1977 and cofounded the Infant Formula Action Coalition (INFACT) that same year. He served as INFACT’s first Executive Director until 1984. He cofounded, with the President of the National Council of Churches, the International Nestle Boycott Committee with 120 national organizations representing 40 million members; the boycott became the first grassroots international boycott active in 10 nations. With other delegates at the first UN meeting where NGOs were given full participation rights, he cofounded the International Baby Food Action Network, an organization that was critical to developing and passing the UN’s first code to control the marketing practices of multinational companies. Johnson left INFACT a year after monitoring the agreement signed between Nestle and the INBC on how the company would implement the WHO/UNICEF code. Ester Peterson, former White House Consumer Advisor to President Carter, termed this agreement as “the greatest victory in the history of the international consumer movement.” 

The challenges he experienced in those national, regional, and global campaigns around infant formula issues later helped him to conceive of the New Tactics in Human Rights Project at CVT, to broaden tactical knowledge so as to improve strategic thinking. Johnson proposed and developed a global symposium on tactical innovations in human rights; the symposium was held in Ankara, Turkey in 2004 in collaboration with Helsinki Citizens Assembly and drew over 600 delegates from 89 countries and featured workshops on nearly 100 tactics. 

Johnson served on the US Delegation to the annual human rights review of the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in 1996. He was appointed as an original member of the OSCE Experts’ Panel on the Prevention of Torture. In that capacity, he conceived the process of “Tactical Mapping” to build collaborative strategies to improve human rights practices. CVT used that process to draw together major human rights organizations to resist the use of torture by the Bush Administration. Pulling together a partnership with the National Religious Coalition for Human Rights and Evangelicals for Human Rights, Johnson led the Campaign to Ban Torture, which was joined by 125 national security experts and 125 national religious leaders. The Campaign developed an executive order to ban torture which was used as a model for President Obama’s executive order outlawing torture on his second day in office. 

Johnson received a Masters in Public and Private Management from the Yale School of Organization and Management between his time at INFACT and CVT. His undergraduate degree in philosophy is from Macalester College in St Paul, Minnesota. 

Johnson has been widely recognized and honored for his work in human rights and humanitarian affairs.

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p: 617.495.8299

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