Rez Gardi is a human rights lawyer and activist. She was born in a United Nations refugee camp in Pakistan as her Kurdish family escaped persecution in their home land of Kurdistan.
Arriving in New Zealand with nothing, Rez sought to use her difficult start in life as motivation to succeed, becoming New Zealand’s first Kurdish female lawyer. In 2019 she graduated as a Fulbright Scholar with a Master of Laws from Harvard Law School. She is the first Kurd in history to graduate from Harvard Law.
She is currently working as a Harvard Human Rights Fellow on the border of Iraq and Turkey to gather evidence of the targeted genocidal campaign carried out by ISIS against the Yezidis, including mass executions, kidnapping, torture, sexual violence, and other egregious human rights abuses, using a victim-centric approach. This evidence will be used to build cases to prosecute the ISIS perpetrators.
She is passionate about supporting young refugees and believes education is pivotal to changing the future for refugees. She is the founder of Empower - a youth-led organisation to empower and enable refugee youth through education, leadership, and capacity-building, so that young refugees can pursue a meaningful future. Empower provides a mentoring initiative to address the underrepresentation of refugees in higher education and provides workshops to foster participation, leadership, and empowerment opportunities for young refugees. She is working on projects with refugee youth in camps across Uganda and Kenya to find innovative ways to access education because there simply aren’t enough schools to accommodate all the youth in the camps. Through her work she has reached over 10,000 refugee youth.
She was awarded the Young New Zealander of the Year in 2017 for her services to human rights and is an Eisenhower Youth Fellow. She was a Women of Influence Finalist and NEXT Woman of the Year Finalist in 2018 and in 2021, Rez was recognised as one of the Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers for her work in Human Rights, Advocacy and Criminal Law.
Rez has been inspiring audiences around the globe including representing New Zealand in the first ever Global Refugee Youth Consultations, and helped form the Global Youth Advisory Council to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She has represented refugee youth at the UNHCR-NGO Consultations, and the High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges of Children on the Move, all in Geneva, the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Conference in Bangkok, the Women Deliver Conference in Copenhagen and the OECD Forum in Paris.
Rez is a truly remarkable young woman, who has managed to overcome very difficult beginnings as a Kurdish refugee, through a total rejection of her own culture to try to "fit in” in New Zeal ... keep readingand as her country of settlement, to a recent reconciliation with her past as a platform of strength upon which to build a scaffolding of support for other refugees. As Young New Zealander of the Year 2017 and the first ever Kurdish lawyer Rez has been rightly recognized for her courage and her activism in New Zealand and has been invited to represent us internationally on a number of occasions. Her maturity and strength of character are evident not only through her ability to acquit herself on the global stage, but also through her actions - in founding a successful charity, for example - and in her demeanor of quiet confidence and compassion face to face. East West Center