For nearly three decades, Scott Busby has been a leading defender of human rights worldwide, spearheading efforts across the federal government and the international community to hold violators accountable, secure the release of political prisoners, protect vulnerable refugees and advance the rights of at-risk groups that include LGBTQI+ and disabled persons.
His work has led to several notable accomplishments, including the protection of thousands of individuals fleeing war-torn countries, new economic and visa sanctions against human rights abusers and coordinated international action against governments with poor human rights records.
“Scott Busby has spent his entire life focusing on human rights in the world and has had a lot of big ticket victories,” said Greg Wiegand, a foreign service officer. “He swings for the fences.”
Galvanized by the human rights crises in Central America during the 1980s, Busby worked with refugees from that region and later became a U.S. government asylum officer. In that role, he helped implement a program to decide asylum claims more fairly and helped carry out a program at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base that screened Haitian asylum seekers.
“I went from advocating for asylum seekers to actually deciding asylum claims,” Busby said. “That’s how I got my start in federal service.”
As a member of the National Security Council from 1997 to 2000, Busby worked to secure the passage of bipartisan legislation that granted permanent status to hundreds of thousands of Central American refugees and reshaped existing programs to resettle roughly 20,000 people from Kosovo in the U.S. during the 1998-99 Kosovo War. He also assisted HIV+ refugees from around the world who faced unique obstacles to entering the U.S.
In addition, Busby helped to secure the release of political prisoners and provide protection to many human rights activists at risk by expanding the process for the government to bring such individuals to the United States.
“It has allowed us to rapidly move victims of human rights violations here and is the model that we’ve used for over a decade,” said Michael Kozak, a senior official at the State Department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice.
Busby also greatly expanded the State Department’s use of different legal authorities to deny U.S. visas to human rights violators and individuals who undermine democracy overseas.
After the murder in 2018 of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabian dissident and columnist for The Washington Post, Busby led the effort to use one such authority as well as the Global Magnitsky Act to hold accountable many of the individuals implicated in the killing. The law permits the U.S. government to impose economic sanctions and visa bans on individuals who commit human rights abuses.
More recently, Busby helped design the “Khashoggi Ban,” a policy that allows the State Department to impose visa restrictions on individuals who engage in the extraterritorial harassment of dissidents on behalf of a foreign government. In 2021, the department took action against 76 Saudi individuals who threatened Khashoggi and other dissidents overseas.
In recent years, Busby also has overseen efforts to issue similar special visa policies to prevent people from coming to the United States who have either committed human rights abuses or thwarted democracy in roughly two dozen countries.
“There are multiple lines of visa sanctions and he knows the best path to pursue,” said Lisa Peterson, acting assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Throughout his career, Busby also has brought international scrutiny to other nations’ human rights records. In 2013 and 2014, he worked with likeminded governments to elevate international attention on human rights abuses in North Korea, culminating in the first United Nations Security Council debate on the country’s human rights situation.
Later, he was a driving force behind the first joint statement issued by countries at the United Nations Human Rights Council on China’s human rights record—something long seen as improbable due to China’s standing as a global power.
“Scott is a pro. He’s so good at steering attention and resources in the right direction and generating action in critical areas,” Wiegand said.
In addition, Busby is a steadfast defender of the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons abroad. He was involved in the U.S. decision in 2014 to impose visa restrictions against individuals implicated in human rights abuses against LGBTQI+ persons in Uganda after that country passed legislation criminalizing same-sex relationships. He also strengthened the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership that supports organizations working to support LGBTQI+ persons abroad.
“There’s nothing you can throw at him that he can’t do,” Kozak said. “There’s no drama and he takes it on.”
Busby said his decades in public service have been “a privilege” and given him the “unique opportunity to help a wide array of people in need, from asylum seekers in the U.S. to human rights activists and political prisoners in authoritarian countries.”