Tom Malinowski on our Hardest Global Rights Questions

Tom Malinowski has been keeping a critical eye on the Obama administration’s human rights policies: that’s his job as Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. However, he remains sensitive to the challenges of steering the unwieldy ship that is the Federal Government towards a more noble foreign policy—after all, he served in the Clinton administration State Department just over a decade ago.


Malinowski visited Big Think recently, both to grade Obama on his performance so far in a wide range of human rights issues, and to take a broader view of human rights in the 20th century.

Malinowski is most passionate about torture; he tells Big Think that it is never acceptable, even in theoretical exercises, and calls on us all to be human rights advocates. Saddam Hussein and Hitler, Malinowski argues, began their reigns as local human rights violators; if the world addressed those problems from the start, we could have avoided wars with much higher costs.

Despite his hard line on torture, Malinowski is sensitive to the difficulties of interacting with important economic powers, such as China, that also violate human rights. He gives Big Think a workable solution to the problem, explaining how to find issues that require direct action, how to keep America’s moral authority, how to maintain a hard-line stance on human rights while continuing to conduct economic diplomacy, and how to utilize technology to get around oppressive government roadblocks.

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