Re: What makes a right universal?

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

TRANSCRIPT

I’m not one who believes that rights are divinely inspired, or that they are, you know, inherently universal; or that they are scientifically derivable. I mean there are various philosophies put forward. I think rights are valuable as a way of respecting the individual; but I think they have to be fought for. I’m very aware that people have enormous capacity for evil. And I don’t believe that there is sort of necessarily inherent goodness in people. People can go either way depending on the circumstances. And so in many respects, I view the task of the human rights movement as building up the . . . the . . . the ethics, the morality, the personal constraints that allow people to resist evil temptations, and to act toward their fellow human beings as they would want people to act toward them. And that is a constant challenge. It’s not something that’s ever going to be finished. So I . . . I don’t believe even that there’s necessarily linear progress or progress at all at any given moment. I feel there’s a consequence of struggle, and that there are forces pushing back on the human rights movement – darker forces that . . . that don’t respect the individual. And our task is to push back; to counter those darker forces; and to do it by gradually building a broader network of individuals, and governments, and organizations that are committed to these values and that are willing to stand behind them. So you could look at it almost as a civilizing task – one that is not grounded on . . . on any necessity or . . . or any objective reality; but one that . . . that does reflect a set of values that could win or lose. And . . . and our ability to have them prevail is entirely dependent on our ability to rally others behind them.

Recorded on: 8/14/07


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