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.
Transcript:Well I think that the . . . the major contribution of the human rights movement has been to build up the idea that there are limits to what governments can do to people. And this is a very new concept. I mean if you think back even to World War II and the kind of carpet bombing that took place, or the reprisal executions and the like, there were all kinds of atrocities that were just done. And “this is just the way wars are fought,” or “the ways governments behave”. And . . . and since that horrible low point moment of genocide, there have been initially a series of treaties; but more important, I think, a series of human rights groups that began to enforce those treaties not by going to the court, but by building up public expectations about how governments should behave. And so today if a government resorts to ___________ executions, or detentions without trials, or the various kinds of abuses that today we all recognize as abuses, the public responds. They respond disapprovingly. Now that doesn’t mean that you necessarily stop the abuse. We know that there are human rights violations committed every day. But it means that there is a cost, and that cost of violating public expectations is the real strength of the human rights movement. It is a work in progress. It is not something that is finished, or frankly will ever be finished. I think there is a need for constant vigilance. There is a need to always build up a public morality of expectation for respect for human rights as a way of hemming in governments and forcing them to do what they otherwise might not be inclined to do. But I think that the real contribution of the human rights movement is to build that public morality, or to have built it; and to continue to expand it and reinforce it, because that ultimately is all we have. You can have lots of treaties and pieces of paper, but they don’t do you any good unless there’s a public expectation of compliance behind them.