A New Kind Of War

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch since 1993, has investigated human rights abuses around the globe, with special expertise on issues of justice and accountability for atrocities committed in the quest for peace; military conduct in war under the requirements of international humanitarian law; counterterrorism policy including resort to torture and arbitrary detention; the human rights policies of the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations; and the human rights responsibilities of multinational businesses. Mr. Roth has published more than 100 articles and chapters on a range of human rights topics. Before joining HRW as deputy director in 1987, Mr. Roth was a federal prosecutor for both the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and the Iran-Contra investigation in Washington. He is a graduate of Yale Law School and Brown University.

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TRANSCRIPT

Well one of my fears is that human rights will be perceived by some critical mass of people as a value that we can no longer afford. I do think that the values of human rights are pretty well entrenched today; but we’ve also seen that when people feel that they are personally threatened, that they’re personally at risk, that there is a tendency to dispense with those rights; particularly if you can dispense with them against, you know, another targeted group of people; and you feel that somehow by targeting those other people, you’re not really jeopardizing your rights. I think about this in the context of 9/11 where there was a broad feeling in the United States that, you know, maybe torture was okay. You know maybe it was okay to imprison people without trial because, after all, our lives are at risk; and the people that we’re targeting, those are those “other people”. You know they are . . . they are . . . they are Muslims. They are . . . they are people from the Middle East or South Asia. They are young males. They’re a discreet group of people who many Americans felt were not “me”, and won’t become me. And therefore my rights aren’t at risk when I jeopardize their rights. And it’s that kind of willingness to compromise under threat that I worry about. I do think that America has moved a long way since then, and has recognized that the initial reaction to 9/11 was an overreaction, much the way say the . . . we now look back to the Japanese internment during World War II as a mistake, as an overreaction to . . . to the threats of . . . of the Japanese attack on world . . . on Pearl Harbor. So I hope that the nation has gained the wisdom of a little distance; but inevitably there’s going to be another terrorist attack. And inevitably people are going to be fearful again. And so what I worry about is the extent to which those fears will __________ further compromises in basic rights. Because if we lose the west as a group of people who stand behind these basic rights, I think we . . . we risk setting back the movement tremendously. The human rights movement has taken hold around the world, but we have to recognize that . . . that in the face of . . . of dictators and tyrants, the west is often the most important defense. And if the western defense waivers because it’s not so sure that these rights are of paramount importance in light of other threats and concerns, I think the whole movement will be very much at risk. Recorded on: 8/14/07

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