Aryeh Neier (born 1937) is an American human rights activist who served as the president of George Soros’s Open Society Institute philanthropy network from 1993 to 2012, and had earlier been Executive Director of Human Rights Watch and National Director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Neier was born in Nazi Germany and became a refugee as a child when his family fled in 1939 when he was two years old.[1] He served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at New York University.[2]

Neier was hired by the ACLU in 1963 and became the organization's executive director in 1970. During his time as executive director, he helped grow the organization's membership from 140,000 to 200,000. Neier was criticized for his decision to have the ACLU support the National Socialist Party of America, a Neo-Nazi group, in its efforts to march in Skokie, Illinois in the case National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, despite the presence in Skokie of large numbers of Jews and Holocaust survivors. The ACLU's representation of the group resulted in 30,000 members who ended their ACLU membership. He also led the ACLU's efforts to protect the civil rights of prisoners and those in mental hospitals, fought for the abolition of the death penalty and to make abortions available to those who need them.[1] In his 1979 book, Defending My Enemy: American Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, and the Risks of Freedom, Neier defended his actions in support of the Skokie march, arguing that Jews are best protected by ensuring that the rule of law allowing minorities to speak out is afforded to all groups.[3]

At a party in Washington, D.C. in early 1976, an attendee from New York indicated that he would not vote for Jimmy Carter for president because of his Southern accent, to which Charles Morgan, Jr., the ACLU's legislative director replied "That's bigotry, and that makes you a bigot." Neier reprimanded Morgan, criticizing Morgan for taking a public position on a candidate for public office.[4] Morgan resigned from his post in April 1976, citing efforts by the bureaucracy at the ACLU to restrict his public statements.[5]

As a human rights activist, Neier has led investigations of human rights abuses around the world, including his role in the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He has contributed articles and opinion pieces to newspapers, magazines and journals including The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review and Foreign Policy.[2]


  • Dossier: The Secret Files They Keep on You (1974)
  • Crime and Punishment: A Radical Solution (1976)
  • Defending My Enemy: American Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, and the Risks of Freedom (1979)[3]
  • Only Judgment: The Limits of Litigation in Social Change (1982)
  • War Crimes: Brutality, Terror, and the Struggle for Justice (1998)
  • Taking Liberties: Four Decades in the Struggle for Rights (2003)[6]
  • The International Human Rights Movement (2012)