The Global Initiative Network

GIN Member

Michelle Hughes

President and CEO, VALRAC Innovation, LLC

Michelle Hughes is a human rights lawyer and educator, whose work focuses on rule of law, security, and governance in post-conflict countries, fragile states, and states in transition. She is the Founder, President, and Chief Executive Officer of VALRAC Innovation, LLC, a company dedicated to preparing the next generation to restore and strengthen the rule of law at home and abroad; a Fellow with the Center for Advanced Defense Studies; and a Senior Fellow with the National Defense University Joint Forces Staff College. Her most recent publication is “Impunity: Countering Illicit Power in War and Transition.” She is the producer, scriptwriter, and editor of the National Defense University web- and podcast series: “Impunity: Beyond the Book.”

Ms. Hughes is a former U.S. Army Intelligence Officer and Senior Executive in the U.S. Department of Defense where she was the only designated “Highly Qualified Expert” for Rule of Law and Security Sector Reform. Her public security experience, combined with her extensive legal background in the private sector, informs her teaching, research, and the projects she undertakes in partnership with leading international organizations, governmental and non-governmental organizations, and universities. Representative positions include Chief of Global Strategy for, and Senior Advisor and Visiting Professor to Loyola University Chicago School of Law’s Rule of Law for Development Institute in Rome, Italy.

Ms. Hughes has field experience in 21 foreign countries, to include 13 active conflicts and a succession of deployments to Afghanistan where her role was to advise Senior Military Commanders on how to connect security force development to governance and justice. From December 2010 to December 2011, she was the Senior Rule of Law Advisor to the NATO Police Training Mission in Afghanistan, and was subsequently Special Adviser for Rule of Law to the Commander of all NATO Special Operations forces. She is the author of the U.S. Institute for Peace Special Report, “The Future of the Afghan National Police in 2015 and Beyond,” and the U.S. Department of Defense “Handbook for Military Support to Rule of Law and Security Sector Reform.”

Originally from Buffalo, New York, Ms. Hughes graduated from the University of Florida in 1979 where she obtained a BA in English and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army. As a Military Intelligence Officer, Ms. Hughes was one of the first women to serve in the elite 82nd Airborne Division, and the only woman officer to perform with the Army’s Parachute Demonstration Team, “The Golden Knights.” She was honored by President Reagan as one of the “Top 10 Working Women of 1985” and subsequently served in combat in Panama. Prior to leaving active duty as a Major, Ms. Hughes led the U.S. Counternarcotics Intelligence Support Team in Bogotá, Colombia during the operations covered in seasons 1 and 2 of the Netflix series, “Narcos.”

Ms. Hughes holds a Juris Doctor, summa cum laude, from Regent University School of Law, and Master of Laws, with distinction, from the London School of Economics. She has practiced complex civil litigation, prosecution, and criminal defense in 14 State and Federal jurisdictions. She has special expertise in real property law, alternative dispute resolution, and government and military structures, and has served on drafting committees for uniform commercial codes. Her clients have included multinational corporations in the extractive, manufacturing and maritime industries, Fortune 500 Companies, municipalities, and the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Immediately following 9/11, as a Reserve Lieutenant Colonel, Ms. Hughes was recalled to active duty in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. During that time, she served as the Chief of Intelligence Production for the U.S. European Command where she was responsible for the strategic design and implementation of U.S. military intelligence production within the European Theater of Operations.

Ms. Hughes is married to Bennett (“JR”) McCutcheon, and has two children and three stepchildren. She can be reached through her website at


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