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Human Rights Program Staff

Laura M. Olson, LL.M., J.D., M.A.
Director

Laura M. Olson serves as the director of the Human Rights Program at The Carter Center. She assumed her duties in July 2017. Olson joined The Carter Center from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, where she had been immigration section chief since 2010, focusing on immigration and human rights matters. During her federal service, Olson also served as acting director of the CRCL Programs Branch, as well as senior policy advisor to the Department of State Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure.

Earlier in her career, Olson worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross. As legal advisor to the ICRC Regional Delegation in Washington, D.C. (2005-2007), she was responsible for legal support to the organization’s activities in the United States and Canada, including visits to the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Previously, she was legal advisor at the ICRC headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland (2001-2005), as well as the delegate responsible for the program to academic circles and universities at the ICRC Moscow Regional Delegation (1998-2001). During her studies, Ms. Olson spent time as a volunteer with Defense for Children International/Palestine Section, a church in Bethlehem, and on a kibbutz near Haifa, Israel.

Her publications address international humanitarian law, including its relationship with international human rights law, international criminal law, and transitional justice. Olson holds an LL.M. in international legal studies from New York University School of Law and a J.D. and M.A. in philosophy from the University of Iowa.

Karin D. Ryan
Senior Policy Advisor on Human Rights and Special Representative on Women and Girls

As senior policy adviser, Ms. Ryan works with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter on a range of issues, including assisting their efforts on behalf of victims of human rights violations through personal interventions with heads of state.

She has represented the Center in many international negotiations, including the International Criminal Court, the human rights of women, the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and most recently on the establishment of a U.N. Human Rights Council and has worked closely with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to organize expert consultations designed to strengthen the role of the OHCHR within the United Nations system.

Ryan earned bachelor's degrees in political science from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and in contemporary writing and production from Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.

She has participated in the Center's election observation missions to Haiti, Palestine, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria. She has also coordinated the Human Rights Defenders Policy Forum from 2003-2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2013 whose aim is to support those on the frontlines of the struggle for human rights and democracy all over the world.

Elizabeth Plachta, J.D.
Associate Director

Elizabeth Plachta works on the program's Democratic Election Standards project and elections-focused efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She has been with the Center since 2010 and has supported election observation missions in Libya, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Sudan. Prior to joining the Carter Center, Plachta was a consultant for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, where her work included assisting with programming efforts on prison reform in southern Sudan, supporting a counter-piracy program in Kenya, and participating in prison and security-sector assessment missions in southern Sudan and Ghana. While in law school, Plachta focused primarily on international and human rights law and was involved in international law practica on women's rights in Tanzania, rule of law in Liberia, and international criminal tribunals. Plachta earned a joint bachelor’s in international affairs and Spanish from Georgia Tech and a law degree from Washington and Lee University School of Law.

Erin Crysler, M.A.
Associate Director

Erin Crysler currently manages the Human Rights House and Mining Governance projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She joined The Carter Center as an intern in 2007. As an assistant program coordinator, she worked on the 2008 election observation mission in Ghana and a capacity-building initiative for African Union election observers. Prior to joining the Center, she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin focused on secondary education, gender equality, and AIDS awareness. Crysler earned her bachelor's degree in English from the University of Georgia and her master’s in international affairs from Georgia Tech.

Jason Parker, M.Ed., M.F.A.
Web Communications Specialist

Jason Parker specializes in creating and fostering online communities dedicated to real-world action. He joined The Carter Center in April 2016 to lead development and ongoing content creation for the Forum on Women, Religion, Violence, & Power.

Parker has spent his career in journalism and higher education, most recently working as the digital strategist for Public Broadcasting Atlanta. His work and leadership have won awards from the Newspaper Association of America, Associated Press, Atlanta Press Club, and the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists, among others. He earned a bachelor’s degree in photography from the University of Georgia, a Master of Education in Instructional Technology from Georgia Southern University, and a Master of Fine Arts in photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Melanie Hilton, M.A.
Senior Program Associate

Hilton joined The Carter Center in July 2018 to work primarily on the Mobilizing Faith for Women and Girls Initiative. With experience leading gender-responsive interventions aimed at ending violence against women and girls in transitional democracies and post-conflict settings, Hilton specializes in developing community-based programs that create environments in which women and girls can thrive.

Before joining the Center, Hilton managed programs that increased urban safety and access to justice for women and girls in Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Kenya. In Myanmar, she undertook a gender needs assessment in Rakhine, researched the gender inclusivity of nationwide ceasefire agreements, and served as a consultant for U.N. Women Myanmar’s peace, security, and migration programs. As ActionAid Myanmar’s women’s rights advisor, she managed multi-donor projects and provided technical support for the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters consortium.

Hilton has also worked in Kenya to support women’s political leadership, in Nepal to extend civil family law to marginalized Muslim communities, and as an assistant professor at the government of India’s Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, where she investigated the efficacy of India’s land reform policies and administration procedures. Hilton is a graduate of Muskingum University and earned an M.A. in global politics and law from the University of Sheffield.

Nandi Vanka
Program Associate

Nandi Vanka joined The Carter Center in October of 2015. She currently works on the Center's Human Rights House project in Democratic Republic of Congo and previously contributed to the Center’s U.S. Elections project. Before coming to the Center, Vanka interned with the White House Council on Women and Girls and volunteered with victims of domestic minor sex trafficking in the metro Atlanta area. She holds bachelor’s degrees in international studies and French studies from Emory University.

Brandy Blue, J.D.
Program Associate

Brandy Blue joined The Carter Center in September of 2018 as a program associate for mining governance projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Previously, she was the in-country director for Midwives for Haiti, where she led program goal-setting, execution, and evaluation for eight maternal health programs. Prior to that, she served as a youth and women development facilitator with Peace Corps Morocco. Blue holds a Juris Doctor with a specialization in international law and human rights from Tulane University School of Law and bachelor’s degrees in speech communications and French from the University of Georgia.

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