Shaming government leaders into doing the right thing.
The international human rights movement depends on the media to get things done. It’s not as if we can just go to court and . . . and sue a government because most of the places where we work don’t have courts that are functioning. So one of the important tools we use is that of shaming. We essentially shine a spotlight on a government’s human rights abuses and expose them to the world. And that process of exposure is inherently embarrassing, because nobody wants to be known as a human rights abuser. It’s like being known as a child abuser. It’s just something that is never acceptable. Even somebody like Saddam Hussein hid his atrocities. He didn’t want them known. And so if we can expose those abuses, we can put pressure on governments to change because they . . . they develop a serious public relations problem which can be resolved only by changing their practices. Now the press is essential for all of that. Today in the . . . the age of the Internet, Human Rights Watch can put our reports, as we do, on our web site, and we will get, you know, tens of thousands every day who will come and read them. But it is still much more important for us to be able to put major articles in . . . in the principle newspapers around the world; to go on TV; to go on radio; and to really advertise these atrocities around the world. And that very visible shaming is what governments tend to notice. They recognize that if articles about their abuse end up in the New York Times, or the Guardian, or the ___________, or ___________ or what have you, that that changes global perception of them to their detriment. It makes it harder for them to have the prestige summits that they want with global leaders. It makes it harder for them to attract investment. It makes it harder for them to travel around the world and be respected individuals. And for many, you know, very concrete and pragmatic reasons, they don’t like it. And so in that sense, the press is a critical partner in what we do. I mean it doesn’t see itself necessarily as a partner, because the press usually is in the business of just objectively reporting. But if we can make news by exposing abuses that are not widely known; and if we can do it accurately, and carefully, and reliably, the press will report on what we do. And they thus play a role in the shaming process that’s absolutely essential.
Recorded on: 8/14/07