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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[…]

Roth talks about the dangerous work of human rights workers.

Question: What is the human rights movement?

Transcript:Well the purpose of the human rights movement is to increase the cost of human rights abuse. The human rights movement tends to operate in countries where there is no functioning legal system. If you can go to court and sue the bastards, you will call in the local version of the ACLU, and they’ll bring you to court and vindicate your rights that way. But in most of the places where Human Rights Watch works, or where groups that are, you know, part of the international human rights movement work, there is no legal system to speak of. The judges have been killed, or compromised, or corrupted, and so you can’t go to court to vindicate your rights. And so as a result, the human rights movement has had to develop a methodology aimed at forcing the political branches of government – the executive and the legislative branches – to respect the rights that they’re . . . they vowed to uphold. Because after all it’s not the judges that . . . that subscribe to the . . . the human rights. It’s the entire government. But we’re used to, in the United States, thinking about going to court to vindicate our rights. And the human rights movement really goes to the political branches. And we essentially say, you know, you may have your reasons for violating rights. It may be a convenient way to get rid of that pesky opposition, or to . . . to repress that troublesome ethnic group. But we’re gonna raise the cost, and we’re gonna do that by exposing your abuses so that we harm your reputation. We’re gonna do it by going to powerful governments and getting them to enlist . . . to use their diplomatic or their economic pressure; to . . . to make it more costly for you to violate human rights; and in extreme cases – in cases like genocide or crimes against humanity – we’re actually gonna get you guys prosecuted. We’re gonna go to an international tribunal and get you indicted, and potentially spend a lot of time in jail for committing these atrocities. And those methods of raising the cost of human rights abuse are the way that the human rights movement forces governments that might not otherwise be inclined to respect rights to, in fact, do what they should do and uphold the rights to which they formally subscribe.

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