March 23, 2009: Boat People SOS is proud to welcome Ambassador Grover Joseph Rees (ret.) to our team of experts. Rees, who has held a range of key diplomatic posts dealing with humanitarian issues, serves as our senior counselor for international initiatives. In that position, he contributes to many of BPSOS’ overseas initiatives to ensure justice for Vietnamese workers and refugees. He was recently on a BPSOS mission to Southeast Asia, where he worked on the protection of Vietnamese asylum seekers stranded in Thailand and discussed collaboration with NGOs in Kuala Lumpur.
Rees served as the first US ambassador to East Timor from 2002 to 2006. From October 2006 until January 2009, he served as special representative for social issues in the US Department of State. He was responsible for promoting human dignity, including issues affecting vulnerable persons and the family, within the United Nations system. He served as acting US representative to the UN Economic and Social Council during the fall 2007 session of the UN General Assembly and also served as deputy assistant secretary for international organizations.
From 1995 until 2002 Rees was a senior staff member on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the US House of Representatives, where he was responsible for human rights and refugee protection and played a major role in the drafting and enactment of important human rights legislation including the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the International Religious Freedom Act, and the Torture Victims Relief Act. During this time he worked closely with BPSOS on Vietnamese boat people issues and was instrumental in the creation of the Resettlement Opportunity for Vietnamese Returnees (ROVR), which has resettled over 18,000 boat people after their involuntary repatriation to Vietnam. He has also served as general counsel of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (1991-93) and as chief justice of the High Court of American Samoa (1986-1991).
Prior to his work in Washington, he taught for seven years as a law professor at the University of Texas. He has written and spoken widely on international law, human rights, refugees, and related issues.
Rees obtained his undergraduate degree from Yale University and his law degree from Louisiana State University Law School.
On a more personal note, he was born in New Orleans, the oldest of 12 children. He is married to Lan Dai Nguyen Rees and has one son. His permanent home is in Lafayette, Louisiana. In addition to English, he speaks French, Spanish, Portuguese, Samoan, and Tetum.
We are excited to welcome him to our team, not only because of the unique expertise he brings to his work, but also because of his long commitment to the rights and dignity of Vietnamese refugees and immigrants.