New Delhi: US President-elect Joe Biden has nominated Indian-American diplomat Uzra Zeya to a key State Department position. Zeya was in 2013 suspected to have been involved in the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade.
Zeya has been nominated as under secretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights, and joins about 20 other Indian-Americans nominated by Biden in senior White House positions.
Khobragade was arrested, strip-searched and repatriated for lying on the visa application form of her domestic help and paying her less than the stipulated wages.
At the time, Zeya was accused of helping evacuate the domestic help’s kin out of India, just two days before the arrest. It also emerged that Zeya had previously employed the maid’s in-laws, while serving as a political counsellor at the US Embassy in Delhi between 2009 and 2011.
Responding to her recent nomination, Zeya has tweeted saying: “In my 25+years as a diplomat, I learned that America’s greatest strength is the power of our example, diversity & democratic ideals.”
Three decades of foreign service experience
Zeya joined the foreign service in 1990 and had last served as the CEO and president at the Alliance for Peacebuilding, a nonpartisan network of over 120 organisations working in 153 countries to end violent conflict and sustain peace.
She was also the Chargé d’Affaires and deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Paris from 2014 to 2017, acting assistant secretary and principal deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor from 2012 to 2014 and chief of staff to Deputy Secretary William Burns from 2011 to 2012.
She had left the foreign service in 2018, after nearly three decades of service, in protest against outgoing President Donald Trump’s policies. Lamenting the lack of diversity in the State Department, she had then written, “If the State Department is not going to acknowledge this problem, Congress should insist on a serious commitment to diversity in American diplomacy from Secretary Pompeo.”
During the run-up to the US presidential election last year, Zeya took part in the Black Lives Matter protests, paid her respects to lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the footsteps of the US Supreme Court, and had been vocal about “count[ing] every vote”, amid theories of voter fraud.
She had also heaped praises on the Biden-Harris team upon their victory in November with the hashtag “JaiKamala!”
With her long-standing expertise, Zeya is expected to be a “champion for putting universal rights and strengthening democracy at the center of our efforts to meet the challenges of the 21st century”, states the Biden-Harris website.
Grew up in Urdu-speaking household, lost sister
Born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Zeya is the daughter of Indian immigrants who came to the US in the 1960s.
“Growing up with parents who were non-native English speakers, I was used to hearing a second language heard in the house, in my case it was Urdu,” she once said.
A graduate of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, she also speaks Spanish, Arabic, and French.
Zeya lost her sister, Rena Golden (maiden name Rena Shaheen Zeya), in 2013 to lymphoma. Golden started her career as a producer with the CNN in 1985, gradually making her way to senior positions and spearheading coverage of major world news at the network during the first decade of the 21st century.
“I do recall that Golden spoke glowingly about Zeya, saying she was a genius,” former CNN producer Roy Wadia and Golden’s friend, told ThePrint.
Zeya is often seen tweeting pictures of her “yin and yang” pets, a black cat and white Shih Tzu
The yin and yang in my life… pic.twitter.com/8WJpK11mp7
— Uzra Zeya (@UzraZeya) October 20, 2019