Human Rights Watch

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Human Rights Watch
Hrw logo.svg
Founded1978;41 years ago (1978) (as Helsinki Watch)
Type Non-profit NGO
Focus Human rights, activism
Headquarters Empire State Building
New York City, New York, U.S.
Area served
Productnon profit human rights advocacy
Key people
Kenneth Roth
(Executive Director)
James F. Hoge, Jr.
Formerly called
Helsinki Watch
Current executive Director Kenneth Roth speaking at the 44th Munich Security Conference 2008 Msc 2008-Saturday, 14.00 - 16.00 Uhr-Moerk026 Roth.jpg
Current executive Director Kenneth Roth speaking at the 44th Munich Security Conference 2008

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is an international non-governmental organization, headquartered in New York City, that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. [1] The group pressures some governments, policy makers and human rights abusers to denounce abuse and respect human rights, and the group often works on behalf of refugees, children, migrants and political prisoners.

Non-governmental organization organization that is neither a part of a government nor a conventional for-profit business

Non-governmental organizations—also called nongovernmental or nongovernment organizations—commonly referred to as NGOs, are usually non-profit and sometimes international organizations independent of governments and international governmental organizations that are active in humanitarian, educational, health care, public policy, social, human rights, environmental, and other areas to effect changes according to their objectives. They are thus a subgroup of all organizations founded by citizens, which include clubs and other associations that provide services, benefits, and premises only to members. Sometimes the term is used as a synonym of "civil society organization" to refer to any association founded by citizens, but this is not how the term is normally used in the media or everyday language, as recorded by major dictionaries. The explanation of the term by is ambivalent. It first says an NGO is any non-profit, voluntary citizens' group which is organized on a local, national or international level, but then goes on to restrict the meaning in the sense used by most English speakers and the media: Task-oriented and driven by people with a common interest, NGOs perform a variety of service and humanitarian functions, bring citizen concerns to Governments, advocate and monitor policies and encourage political participation through provision of information.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Advocacy is an activity by an individual or group that aims to influence decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions. Advocacy includes activities and publications to influence public policy, laws and budgets by using facts, their relationships, the media, and messaging to educate government officials and the public. Advocacy can include many activities that a person or organization undertakes including media campaigns, public speaking, commissioning and publishing research. Lobbying is a form of advocacy where a direct approach is made to legislators on a specific issue or specific piece of legislation. Research has started to address how advocacy groups in the United States and Canada are using social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action.


Human Rights Watch in 1997 shared in the Nobel Peace Prize as a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and it played a leading role in the 2008 treaty banning cluster munitions. [2]

Nobel Peace Prize One of five Nobel Prizes established by Alfred Nobel

The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Swedish industrialist, inventor, and armaments manufacturer Alfred Nobel, along with the prizes in Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature. Since March 1901, it has been awarded annually to those who have "done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".

International Campaign to Ban Landmines

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is a coalition of non-governmental organizations whose stated objective is a world free of anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions, where mine and cluster munitions survivors see their rights respected and can lead fulfilling lives.

The organization's annual expenses totaled $50.6 million in 2011 [3] and $69.2 million in 2014, [4] and $75.5 million in 2017. [5]


Human Rights Watch was co-founded by Robert L. Bernstein [6] and Aryeh Neier [7] as a private American NGO in 1978, under the name Helsinki Watch, to monitor the then-Soviet Union's compliance with the Helsinki Accords. [8] Helsinki Watch adopted a practice 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 says it contributed to the democratic transformations of the region in the late 1980s. [8]

Robert Louis Bernstein was an American publisher and human rights activist.

Aryeh Neier is an American human rights activist who co-founded Human Rights Watch, served as the president of George Soros's Open Society Institute philanthropy network from 1993 to 2012, had been National Director of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1970 to 1978, and he was also involved with the creation of the group SDS by being directly involved in the group SLID's renaming.

Helsinki Watch was a private American non-governmental organization established by Robert L. Bernstein in 1978, designed to monitor the former Soviet Union’s compliance with the 1975 Helsinki Accords. Expanding in size and scope, Helsinki Watch began using media coverage to document human rights violations committed by abusive governments. Since its inception, it has produced several other watch committees dedicated to monitoring human rights in other parts of the world. In 1988, Helsinki Watch and its companion watch committees combined to form Human Rights Watch

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.

Civil war war between organized groups within the same sovereign state or republic

A civil war, also known as an intrastate war in polemology, is a war between organized groups within the same state or country. The aim of one side may be to take control of the country or a region, to achieve independence for a region or to change government policies. The term is a calque of the Latin bellum civile which was used to refer to the various civil wars of the Roman Republic in the 1st century BC.

Central America central geographic region of the Americas

Central America is a region found in the southern tip of North America and is sometimes defined as a subcontinent of the Americas. This region is bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. The combined population of Central America is estimated to be between 41,739,000 and 42,688,190.

International humanitarian law (IHL), also referred to as the laws of armed conflict, is the law that regulates the conduct of war. It is a branch of international law which seeks to limit the effects of armed conflict by protecting persons who are not participating in hostilities, and by restricting and regulating the means and methods of warfare available to combatants.

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. [9] [10]


Pursuant to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Human Rights Watch (HRW) opposes violations of what are considered basic human rights under the UDHR. 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. HRW seeks to achieve change by publicly pressuring governments and their policy makers to curb human rights abuses, and by convincing more powerful governments to use their influence on governments that violate human rights. [11] [1]

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. [8] 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. [12]

Nabeel Rajab helping an old woman after Bahraini police attacked a peaceful protest on 14 August 2010 Nabeel Rajab and Abdulhadi Alkhawaja helping an old woman after police attacked a peaceful protest in August 2010.jpg
Nabeel Rajab helping an old woman after Bahraini police attacked a peaceful protest on 14 August 2010

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. [13] [14]

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. Headquartered in New York City, it has offices in Amsterdam, Beirut, Berlin, Brussels, Chicago, Geneva, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, Nairobi, Seoul, Paris, San Francisco, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, Washington, D.C., and Zürich. [1] [15] HRW maintains direct access to the majority of countries it reports on. Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, Iran, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Venezuela are among the handful of countries that have blocked access for HRW staff members. [16]

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. [17]

Comparison with Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are the only two Western-oriented international human rights organizations operating in most situations of severe oppression or abuse worldwide. [14] The major differences lie in the group's 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 International 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. [18]

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. [19]

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. [20]

Financing and services

For the financial year ending June 2008, HRW reported receiving approximately US$44 million in public donations. [21] 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. [22]

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. [23]

Financier and philanthropist George Soros of the Open Society Foundation announced in 2010 his intention to grant US $100 million to HRW over a period of ten years to help it expand its efforts internationally. 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." [24] [25] [26] The donation increases Human Rights Watch's operating staff of 300 by 120 people. The donation was the largest in the organization's history. [27]

Charity Navigator gave Human Rights Watch a three-star rating overall for 2018. Its financial rating increased from three stars in 2015 to the maximum four as of June 2016. [28] The Better Business Bureau said Human Rights Watch meets its standards for charity accountability. [29]

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

Program services2011 expenses (USD) [3]
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

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

Program services2008 expenses (USD) [21]
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

Notable staff

Kenneth Roth and the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, 2 February 2012 Kenneth Roth (Human Rights Watch) (6806930135).jpg
Kenneth Roth and the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, 2 February 2012

Some notable current and former staff members of Human Rights Watch: [30]


Human Rights Watch publishes reports on many different topics [41] and compiles an annual World Report presenting an overview of the worldwide state of human rights. [42] It has been published by Seven Stories Press since 2006; the current edition, World Report 2017: Demagogues Threaten Human Rights, was released in January 2017, and covers events of 2016. [43] [44] Human Rights Watch has reported extensively on subjects such as the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, [45] Democratic Republic of the Congo [46] and US sex offender registries due to their over-breadth and application to juveniles. [47] [48]

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. [49]


HRW has been criticized for perceived bias by the national governments it has investigated for human rights abuses, [50] [51] [52] by NGO Monitor, [53] and by HRW's founder, and former Chairman, Robert L. Bernstein. [6] Bias allegations have included undue influence by United States government policy, claims that HRW is biased both for or against Israel (and focuses undue attention on the Arab–Israeli conflict). HRW has also been criticized for poor research methodology and lax fact-checking, and ignoring the human-rights abuses of less-open regimes. HRW has routinely publicly addressed, and often denies, criticism of its reporting and findings. [54] [55] [56] [57] [58] [59]

See also

Related Research Articles

Human rights in Myanmar

Human rights in Myanmar under its military regime have long been regarded as among the worst in the world. International human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have repeatedly documented and condemned widespread human rights violations in Myanmar. The Freedom in the World 2011 report by Freedom House notes that "The military junta has... suppressed nearly all basic rights; and committed human rights abuses with impunity." In 2011 the "country's more than 2,100 political prisoners included about 429 members of the NLD, the victors in the 1990 elections." As of July 2013, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, there were about 100 political prisoners in Burmese prisons.

Human rights in Cambodia

The human rights situation in Cambodia is facing growing criticisms both within the country and an increasingly alarmed international community. After a series of flagrant violation against basic human rights a feeling of incertitude regarding the direction the country is emerging, sometimes comparing the situation to a newborn Burma. In its report on Cambodia, Human Rights Watch stated that "Authorities continue to ban or disperse most public demonstrations. Politicians and journalists critical of the government face violence and intimidation and are barred from equal access to the broadcast media. In addition, the judiciary remains weak and subject to political influence. Trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation through networks protected or backed by police or government officials is rampant. The government continues to turn a blind eye to fraudulent confiscation of farmers’ land, illegal logging, and widespread plundering of natural resources.”

Human rights in Kyrgyzstan

Human rights in Kyrgyzstan improved after the ouster of President Askar Akayev in the 2005 Tulip Revolution and the installment of a more democratic government under Roza Otunbayeva.

Human rights in Syria

The situation for human rights in Syria is considered egregiously poor among international observers. A state of emergency was in effect from 1963 until April 2011, giving security forces sweeping powers of arrest and detention.

Human rights in Vietnam

Human rights in Vietnam have long been a matter of much controversy between the Government of Vietnam and some international human rights organizations and Western governments, particularly that of the United States. Under the current constitution, the Communist Party of Vietnam is the only one allowed to rule, the operation of all other political parties being outlawed. Other human rights issues concern freedom of association, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.

Human rights in Algeria

Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been in power since 1999, lifted a state of emergency in early 2011 and human rights have improved over the last few years. However, the country continues to restrict human rights in significant ways. Extensive nationwide protests, partly over these restrictions, have been raging since 2010.

Human rights in Ethiopia

According to the U.S. Department of State's human rights report for 2004 and similar sources, the Ethiopian government's human rights "remained poor; although there were improvements, serious problems remained". The report listed numerous cases where police and security forces are said to have harassed, illegally detained, tortured, and/or killed individuals, who were members of opposition groups or accused of being insurgents. Thousands of suspects remained in detention without charge, and lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem. Prison conditions were poor. The government often ignores citizens' privacy rights and laws regarding search warrants. Freedom House agrees; the site gave Ethiopia a six out of seven, which means that it is not free. Although fewer journalists have been arrested, detained, or punished in 2004 than in previous years, the government nevertheless continues to restrict freedom of the press. The government limits freedom of assembly, particularly for members of opposition groups, and security forces have used excessive force to break up demonstrations. Violence and discrimination against women continue to be problems. Female genital mutilation is widespread, although efforts to curb the practice have had some effect. The economic and sexual exploitation of children continues, as does human trafficking. Forced labor, particularly among children, is a persistent problem. Low-level government interference with labor unions continues. Although the government generally respected the free exercise of religion, local authorities at times interfere with religious practice. In order to improve Ethiopia's image, they hired US agencies to improve Ethiopia's image for $2.5 million. According to report of amnesty international 2016/2017 prolonged protests over political, economic, social and cultural grievances were met with excessive and lethal force by police. The report added that the crackdown on the political opposition saw mass arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trials and violations of the rights to freedom of expression and association. On 9 October, the government announced a state of emergency, which led to further human rights violations. In September 2018, more than 20 have died in ethnic based attacks. Protestors outside the capital have been calling for the prime minister to issue a state of emergency to prevent further killings.

Current issues concerning human rights in Albania include domestic violence, isolated cases of torture, and police brutality, the general condition of prisons, human and sex trafficking and LGBT rights.

Human rights in Azerbaijan

After adaptation of Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan (1995), new legislative acts and amendments were issued in line with democratic principles and in consistency with requirements of international law within the legal reforms in Azerbaijan. Generally, there are 48 Articles regarding principal human and Civil Rights and Freedoms in the Constitution of Azerbaijan. In particular, section 3 of the Constitution establishes the major rights and freedoms of citizens of Azerbaijan, including human rights, property rights, equality rights, intellectual property rights, civil rights, the rights of the accused, the right to strike, social security, the right to vote and freedom of speech, conscience and thought.

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The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KhPG) is one of the oldest and most active Ukrainian human rights organizations. As a legal entity, it was established in 1992, but it has been working as a human rights protection group since 1988 under the Society "Memorial", a first official human rights organization in the former USSR. Many members of the organization took part in a human rights movement of the 1960s – 1980s.

Kenneth Roth American human rights activist

Kenneth Roth is an American attorney who has been the executive director of Human Rights Watch since 1993.

The international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been the subject of criticism from a number of observers. Critics of HRW include the national governments it has investigated, NGO Monitor, the media, and its founder, Robert L. Bernstein.

Sarah Leah Whitson human-rights activist

Sarah Leah Whitson is an American lawyer who is the director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

Shawan Rateb Abdallah Jabarin is the General Director of Al-Haq, the largest, oldest and best known human-rights organization in the West Bank.

NGO Monitor is a non-governmental organization based in Jerusalem, which analyzes and reports on the output of the international NGO community from a pro-Israel perspective. It has been characterized as being pro-Israel and as right-wing. NGO Monitor says in its mission statement that it was founded "to promote accountability, and advance a vigorous discussion on the reports and activities of humanitarian NGOs in the framework of the Arab–Israeli conflict."

Mansour al-Omari Syrian journalist and activist

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Gerald M. Steinberg Israeli political scientist

Gerald M. Steinberg. a professor of politics at Bar Ilan University, is an Israeli academic, political scientist, and political activist. He is founder and president of NGO Monitor, a policy analysis think tank focusing on non governmental organizations.

The Russian undesirable organizations law is a law that was signed by President Vladimir Putin on 23 May 2015 as a follow-up to the 2012 Russian foreign agent law. The law gives prosecutors the power to extrajudicially declare foreign and international organizations "undesirable" in Russia and shut them down. Organizations that do not disband when given notice to do so, as well as Russians who maintain ties to them, are subject to high fines and significant jail time. Critics say the terms are unclear and lead to dangerous precedent. Supporters of the bill reference organizations that have become actively involved in supporting political dissent.


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