Over several decades of high-level involvement in the field of international human rights, David Hawk has acquired expertise in the documentation and analysis of worst-case violations, the UN human rights system, human rights provisions in conflict resolution, non-governmental human rights advocacy, human rights organization and agency management, and human rights education and training. David Hawk is recognized as a leading expert human rights in a number of countries, most notably Cambodia and North Korea.

Hawk was the Executive Director of Amnesty International, USA during its formative stage in the 1970s. He also directed the UN human rights office, during the mid-1990s when it was the largest field operation of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In the early 1980s Hawk did path-breaking original photographic and archival documentation of the human rights atrocities in Cambodia under Khmer Rouge rule, and researched and authored the first systematic and comprehensive documentation and analysis of the political prison camp system in North Korea. He has served on the Board of Directors of AIUSA and Human Rights Watch/Asia.