Human Rights Watch

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ID:17099 Section: Law

Updated:Sunday 12th October 2014

Human Rights Watch ?

Human Rights Watch Definition

(Wikipedia) - Human Rights Watch "HRW" redirects here. For other meanings of HRW, see HRW (disambiguation). Not to be confused with Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society. Human Rights Watch Founded Type Focus Location Area served Product Key people Mission Website Formerly called
Non-profit NGO
Human rights activism
non profit human rights advocacy
  • Kenneth Roth (Executive Director)
  • James F. Hoge, Jr. (Chairman)
To become a voice of Justice
Helsinki Watch
Current executive Director Kenneth Roth speaking at the 44th Munich Security Conference 2008

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. HRW headquarters are in New York City with offices in Amsterdam, Beirut, Berlin, Brussels, Chicago, Geneva, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo, Toronto, and Washington D.C.

As of June 2011, the organization’s annual expenses totaled $50.6 million.

The George Soros Open Society Foundation is the primary donor of the Human Rights Watch, contributing $100 million of $128 million of contributions and grants received by the HRW in the 2011 financial year. The $100 million contribution from the Open Society Foundation will be paid out over ten years in $10 million annual installments.

  • 1 History
  • 2 Profile
  • 3 Financing and services
  • 4 Notable staff
  • 5 Publications
  • 6 Comparison with Amnesty International
  • 7 Criticism
  • 8 See also
  • 9 References
  • 10 External links

History Main article: Helsinki Watch

Human Rights Watch was founded as a private American NGO in 1978, under the name Helsinki Watch, to monitor the former Soviet Union''s compliance with the Helsinki Accords. Helsinki Watch adopted a methodology of publicly "naming and shaming" abusive governments through media coverage and through direct exchanges with policymakers. By shining the international spotlight on human rights violations in the Soviet Union and its European partners, Helsinki Watch contributed to the democratic transformations of the region in the late 1980s.

Americas Watch was founded in 1981 while bloody civil wars engulfed Central America. Relying on extensive on-the-ground fact-finding, Americas Watch not only addressed perceived abuses by government forces but also applied international humanitarian law to investigate and expose war crimes by rebel groups. In addition to raising its concerns in the affected countries, Americas Watch also examined the role played by foreign governments, particularly the United States government, in providing military and political support to abusive regimes.

Asia Watch (1985), Africa Watch (1988), and Middle East Watch (1989) were added to what was known as "The Watch Committees." In 1988, all of these committees were united under one umbrella to form Human Rights Watch.

Originally called the Helsinki Watch, the Human Rights Watch was first designed in 1978 as a support organization for citizens of the Soviet bloc. Their founding objective was to aid these citizens in monitoring government compliance with the Helsinki Accords of 1975, which called for respectful and cooperative relations between the Communist bloc and the West. The Helsinki Watch used media coverage, as well as contact with policymakers, to employ methods of publicly “naming and shaming” abusive governments. This way, the organization was able to bring international attention to corruption and abuse in Soviet and Eastern European governments, acting has a major force in the dramatic spread of democracy of the 1980s. In wake of the Helsinki Watch’s successes, other “Watch Committees” began forming around the world – Americas Watch in 1981, Asia Watch in 1985 and Middle East Watch in 1989. Each were formed in the same likeness of the Helsinki Watch, though Americas Watch was the first to take it a step further as their Central American civil wars were raging on, and apply international humanitarian law to their efforts towards the investigation and exposition of war crimes by different rebel groups. In addition, they looked into, and were critical of, the roles that foreign governments may play in aiding abusive regimes, whether militarily, politically, or financially. These new strategies became lasting tactics of the organization as a whole, and in 1988, the collection of Watch Committees decided to merge under one all-inclusive title, calling themselves the "Human Rights Watch".


Pursuant to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch (HRW) opposes violations of what it considers basic human rights. This includes capital punishment and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. HRW advocates freedoms in connection with fundamental human rights, such as freedom of religion and freedom of the press.

Human Rights Watch publishes research reports on violations of international human rights norms as set out by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and what it perceives to be other internationally accepted, human-rights norms. These reports are used as the basis for drawing international attention to abuses and pressuring governments and international organizations to reform. Researchers conduct fact-finding missions to investigate suspect situations also using diplomacy, staying in touch with victims, making files about public and individuals, and providing required security for them in critical situations and in a proper time generate coverage in local and international media. Issues raised by Human Rights Watch in its reports include social and gender discrimination, torture, military use of children, political corruption, abuses in criminal justice systems, and the legalization of abortion. HRW has documented and reported various violations of the laws of war and international humanitarian law.

Human Rights Watch also supports writers worldwide who are being persecuted for their work and are in need of financial assistance. The Hellman/Hammett grants are financed by the estate of the playwright Lillian Hellman in funds set up in her name and that of her long-time companion, the novelist Dashiell Hammett. In addition to providing financial assistance, the Hellman/Hammett grants help raise international awareness of activists who are being silenced for speaking out in defense of human rights.

Each year, Human Rights Watch presents the Human Rights Defenders Award to activists around the world who demonstrate leadership and courage in defending human rights. The award winners work closely with HRW in investigating and exposing human rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch was one of six international NGOs that founded the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers in 1998. It is also the co-chair of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a global coalition of civil society groups that successfully lobbied to introduce the Ottawa Treaty, a treaty that prohibits the use of anti-personnel landmines.

Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, a global network of non-governmental organizations that monitor censorship worldwide. It also co-founded the Cluster Munition Coalition, which brought about an international convention banning the weapons. HRW employs more than 275 staff—country experts, lawyers, journalists, and academics – and operates in more than 90 countries around the world.

The current executive director of HRW is Kenneth Roth, who has held the position since 1993. Roth conducted investigations on abuses in Poland after martial law was declared 1981. He later focused on Haiti, which had just emerged from the Duvalier dictatorship but continued to be plagued with problems. Roth’s awareness of the importance of human rights began with stories his father had told about escaping Nazi Germany in 1938. Roth graduated from Yale Law School and Brown University.

Financing and services

For the financial year ending June 2008, HRW reported receiving approximately US$44 million in public donations. In 2009, Human Rights Watch stated that they receive almost 75% of their financial support from North America, 25% from Western Europe and less than 1% from the rest of the world.

According to a 2008 financial assessment, HRW reports that it does not accept any direct or indirect funding from governments and is financed through contributions from private individuals and foundations.

Notably, billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros announced in 2010 his intention to donate US$100 million to HRW over a period of ten years. He said, "Human Rights Watch is one of the most effective organizations I support. Human rights underpin our greatest aspirations: they''re at the heart of open societies." The donation increases Human Rights Watch''s operating budget from $48 million to $80 million. The donation was the largest in the organization''s history.

Charity Navigator gave Human Rights Watch a four-star rating overall, but only a three-star rating in their financial rating. The Better Business Bureau said Human Rights Watch meets its standards for charity accountability.

Human Rights Watch published the following program and support services spending details for the financial year ending June 2011.

Program services 2011 Expenses (USD)
Africa $5,859,910
Americas $1,331,448
Asia $4,629,535
Europe and Central Asia $4,123,959
Middle East and North Africa $3,104,643
United States $1,105,571
Children''s Rights $1,551,463
Health & Human Rights $1,962,015
International Justice $1,325,749
Woman''s Rights $2,083,890
Other programs $11,384,854
Supporting services
Management and general $3,130,051
Fundraising $9,045,910

Human Rights Watch published the following program and support services spending details for the financial year ending June 2008.

Program services 2008 Expenses (USD)
Africa $5,532,631
Americas $1,479,265
Asia $3,212,850
Europe and Central Asia $4,001,853
Middle East and North Africa $2,258,459
United States $1,195,673
Children''s Rights $1,642,064
International Justice $1,385,121
Woman''s Rights $1,854,228
Other programs $9,252,974
Supporting services
Management and general $1,984,626
Fundraising $8,641,358
Notable staff

Some notable current and former staff members of Human Rights Watch have included:

  • Robert L. Bernstein, Founding Chair Emeritus
  • Hassan Elmasry, Co-Chairman of the Board
  • Joel Motley, Co-Chairman of the Board
  • Kenneth Roth, Executive Director
  • Jan Egeland, Deputy Director and the Director of Human Rights Watch Europe
  • Minky Worden, Media Director
  • Jamie Fellner, Senior Counsel for the United States Program of Human Rights Watch
  • Brad Adams, Asia Director
  • Scott Long, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Director
  • Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa Director
  • Joe Stork
  • Marc Garlasco, former staff member, resigned due to a scandal involving his Nazi memorabilia collection
  • Sharon Hom
  • Tae-Ung Baik, former research consultant
  • Nabeel Rajab, member of the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch''s Middle East Division

Human Rights Watch publishes reports on many different topics and compiles an annual World Report presenting an overview of the worldwide state of human rights. It has been published by Seven Stories Press since 2006; the current edition, World Report 2013, was released in February 2013. Human Rights Watch has reported extensively on subjects such as the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 and the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In the summer of 2004, the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University in New York became the depository institution for the Human Rights Watch Archive, an active collection that documents decades of human rights investigations around the world. The archive was transferred from its previous location at the Norlin Library at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The archive includes administrative files, public relations documents, as well as case and country files. With some exceptions for security considerations, the Columbia University community and the public have access to field notes, taped and transcribed interviews with alleged victims of human rights violations, video and audio tapes, and other materials documenting the organization’s activities since its founding in 1978 as Helsinki Watch.

Comparison with Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are the only two Western-oriented international human rights organizations operating worldwide in most situations of severe oppression or abuse. The major differences lie in the groups'' structure and methods for promoting change.

Amnesty International is a mass-membership organization. Mobilization of those members is the organization''s central advocacy tool. Human Rights Watch''s main products are its crisis-directed research and lengthy reports, whereas Amnesty lobbies and writes detailed reports, but also focuses on mass letter-writing campaigns, adopting individuals as "prisoners of conscience" and lobbying for their release. Human Rights Watch will openly lobby for specific actions for other governments to take against human rights offenders, including naming specific individuals for arrest, or for sanctions to be levied against certain countries, recently calling for punitive sanctions against the top leaders in Sudan who have overseen a killing campaign in Darfur. The group has also called for human rights activists who have been detained in Sudan to be released.

Its documentations of human rights abuses often include extensive analysis of the political and historical backgrounds of the conflicts concerned, some of which have been published in academic journals. AI''s reports, on the other hand, tend to contain less analysis, and instead focus on specific abuses of rights.

In 2010 The Times of London wrote that HRW has "all but eclipsed" Amnesty International. According to The Times, instead of being supported by a mass membership, as AI is, HRW depends on wealthy donors who like to see the organization''s reports make headlines. For this reason, according to The Times, HRW tends to "concentrate too much on places that the media already cares about", especially in disproportionate coverage of Israel.

Criticism Main article: Criticism of Human Rights Watch

HRW has been criticized by national governments, other NGOs, its founder and former Chairman Robert L. Bernstein, and the media. It has been accused by critics of being influenced by the agendas of U.S. foreign policy, in particular in relation to reporting on Latin America. It has been accused of unfair and biased reporting of human rights issues in Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Accusations in relation to the ArabIsraeli conflict include claims that HRW is biased against Israel, (which elicited a response from HRW), and requesting donations from Saudi Arabian citizens on the basis of its criticism of Israel; it has also been accused of unbalanced reporting in favor of Israel against Palestinians by Jonathan Cook and others. HRW has publicly responded to criticisms relating to its reporting on Latin America and in the context of the Arab–Israeli conflict.

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