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Human Rights Watch
Hrw logo.svg
Type Non-profit
Founded 1978 under the name Helsinki Watch
Adopted current name in 1988.[1]
Headquarters New York City
Staff Kenneth Roth, Executive Director
Method Human rights, Activism

Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. Its headquarters are in New York City and it has offices in Berlin, Brussels, Chicago, Geneva, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo, Toronto, and Washington D.C.[2]



Current executive Director Kenneth Roth speaking at the 44th Munich Security Conference 2008.

Human Rights Watch was founded under the name Helsinki Watch in 1978 to monitor the former Soviet Union's compliance with the Helsinki Accords. Helsinki Watch adopted a methodology of publicly "naming and shaming" abusive governments through media coverage and through direct exchanges with policymakers. By shining the international spotlight on human rights violations in the Soviet Union and its vassal states in Eastern Europe, Helsinki Watch contributed to the democratic transformations of the region in the late 1980s.[citation needed] Americas Watch was founded in 1981 while bloody civil wars engulfed Central America. Relying on extensive on-the-ground fact-finding, Americas Watch not only addressed perceived abuses by government forces, but applied international humanitarian law to investigate and expose war crimes by rebel groups. In addition to raising its concerns in the affected countries, Americas Watch also examined the role played by foreign governments, particularly the United States government, in providing military and political support to abusive regimes. Asia Watch (1985), Africa Watch (1988), and Middle East Watch (1989) were added to what was then known as "The Watch Committees." In 1988, all of the committees were united under one umbrella to form Human Rights Watch.


Pursuant to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch opposes violations of what it considers basic human rights, which include capital punishment and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Human Rights Watch advocates freedoms in connection with fundamental human rights, such as freedom of religion and the press.

Human Rights Watch produces research reports on violations of international human rights norms as set out by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and what it perceives to be other internationally-accepted human rights norms. These reports are used as the basis for drawing international attention to abuses and pressuring governments and international organizations to reform. Researchers conduct fact-finding missions to investigate suspect situations and generate coverage in local and international media. Issues raised by Human Rights Watch in its reports include social and gender discrimination, torture, military use of children, political corruption, abuses in criminal justice systems, and the legalization of abortion. Human Rights Watch documents and reports violations of the laws of war and international humanitarian law.

Human Rights Watch also supports writers worldwide who are being persecuted for their work and are in need of financial assistance. The Hellman/Hammett grants are financed by the estate of the playwright Lillian Hellman in funds set up in her name and that of her long-time companion, the novelist Dashiell Hammett. In addition to providing financial assistance, the Hellman/Hammett grants help raise international awareness of activists who are being silenced for speaking out in defence of human rights.[3]

Each year, Human Rights Watch presents the Human Rights Defenders Award to activists around the world who demonstrate leadership and courage in defending human rights. The award winners work closely with Human Rights Watch in investigating and exposing human rights abuses.[citation needed]

Human Rights Watch was one of six international NGOs that founded the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers in 1998. It is also the co-chair of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a global coalition of civil society groups that successfully lobbied to introduce the Ottawa Treaty, a treaty that prohibits the use of anti-personnel landmines.

The current executive director of Human Rights Watch is Kenneth Roth at a salary of $350,000. He has held this position since 1993. Roth is a graduate of Yale Law School and Brown University. His father fled Nazi Germany in 1938. Roth started working on human rights after the declaration of martial law in Poland in 1981, and later became engaged in Haiti. Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, a global network of non-governmental organizations that monitor censorship worldwide.

Human Rights Watch employs more than 275 human rights professionals: country experts, lawyers, journalists, and academics.[4]

Financing and services

For the financial year ending June 2008, HRW reported receiving approximately US$44 million in public donations.[5] In 2009, Human Rights Watch stated that they receive almost 75% of their financial support from North America, 25% from Western Europe and less than 1% from the rest of the world.[6] According to a 2008 financial assessment, HRW reports that it does not accept any direct or indirect funding from governments and is financed through contributions from private individuals and foundations.[7]

HRW published the following program and support services spending details for the financial year ending June 2008.

Program services 2008 Expenses (USD)[5]
Africa $5,532,631
Americas $1,479,265
Asia $3,212,850
Europe and Central Asia $4,001,853
Middle East and North Africa $2,258,459
United States $1,195,673
Children's Rights $1,642,064
International Justice $1,385,121
Woman's Rights $1,854,228
Other Programs $9,252,974
Supporting services
Management and general $1,984,626
Fundraising $8,641,358

Notable staff

Some notable staff members of Human Rights Watch have included:[8]

Issues and campaigns


Human Rights Watch criticized the Jordanian government for arresting elected officials who praised Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, at ceremonies held in response to his death. Human Rights Watch also spoke out against the mass killings and government-imposed famines during the last decade of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's rule.[9]

In 2007 HRW denounced Spain for holding hundreds of migrant children in emergency centers in the Canary Islands. They were living in squalid, overcrowded conditions[10] and faced the risk of abuse from their custodians and other children. The Canary Islands government, which runs the facilities, replied in a statement that the report lacked "rigor" and that "an internal investigation had failed to corroborate" Human Rights Watch's findings.[11]

Robert L. Bernstein, a founder and former chairman of HRW, argued in October 2009 that "Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective" on events in the Middle East.[12] Bernstein argued that "[t]he region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region."[12]. He urged the organization to recognize "a difference between wrongs committed in self-defense and those perpetrated intentionally."[12]

Tom Porteus, director of the London branch of Human Rights Watch, replied that the organization rejected Bernstein's "obvious double standard. Any credible human rights organisation must apply the same human rights standards to all countries."[13] Jane Olson and Jonathan Fanton wrote "we were saddened to see Robert L. Bernstein argue that Israel should be judged by a different human rights standard than the rest of the world" and "as long as open societies commit human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch has a vital role to play in documenting those violations and advocating to bring them to an end."[14] Human Rights Watch noted that Bernstein brought his concerns to the Human Rights Watch Board of Directors in April 2009 and also noted that the board unanimously rejected his proposed reconsideration of reporting policies in the Middle East.[15]

Human Rights Watch made headlines in September 2009 when its Middle East military analyst, Marc Garlasco who led investigations into Israeli wars in Lebanon and Gaza, was suspended with pay pending an investigation after several media reports highlighted his interest in Second World War artifacts.[16] and accused him of collecting Nazi memorabilia .[17][18] Garlasco has said that the allegations of Nazi sympathies were "defamatory nonsense, spread maliciously by people with an interest in trying to undermine Human Rights Watch's reporting."[16] HRW has said the charges leveled against Garlasco are "demonstrably false" and fit "into a campaign to deflect attention from Human Rights Watch's rigorous and detailed reporting on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Israeli government".[19] Corey Flintoff wrote that "critics of Human Rights Watch have suggested that Garlasco's enthusiasm for Nazi-era badges and uniforms goes beyond historical interest and makes him a Nazi sympathizer or anti-Semite."[20]


Human Rights Watch World Report 2007

Human Rights Watch publishes reports on several topics [21] and compiles annual reports ("World Report") presenting an overview of the worldwide state of human rights.[22] Human Rights Watch has published extensively on the Rwandan Genocide of 1994[23] and the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[24]

Comparison with Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are the only two western-oriented international human rights organizations operating worldwide in most situations of severe oppression or abuse. Though close allies, the two groups play complementary roles, reflecting a division of labour[citation needed]. The major differences lie in the groups’ structure and methods for promoting change.

Amnesty International is a mass-membership organization. Mobilization of those members is the organization's central advocacy tool. Human Rights Watch's main products are its crisis-directed research and lengthy reports, whereas Amnesty lobbies and writes detailed reports, but also focuses on mass letter-writing campaigns, adopting individuals as "prisoners of conscience" and lobbying for their release. Human Rights Watch will openly lobby for specific actions for other governments to take against human rights offenders, including naming specific individuals for arrest, or for sanctions to be levied against certain countries, recently calling for punitive sanctions against the top leaders in Sudan who have overseen a killing campaign in Darfur. The group has also called for human rights activists who have been detained in Sudan to be released.[25]

Its documentations of human rights abuses often include extensive analyses of the political and historical backgrounds of the conflicts concerned, some of which have been published in academic journals. AI's reports, on the other hand, tend to contain less analysis, and instead focus on specific abuses of rights.

There are some small differences in policy: for example, Human Rights Watch believes that women have the right to wear a veil[26] whereas Amnesty has no policy on this issue.


Criticism of Human Rights Watch may be classified into four major categories: accusations of poor research methods producing inaccurate reports, accusations of selection bias, accusations of ideological bias, and questions regarding their funding practices. In the second category, Human Rights Watch has been criticized for perceived biases that are anti-Israeli[27][28][29], anti-Western, anti-China, anti-Serb,[citation needed] anti-Sri Lankan,[30][31] ignoring anti-semitism,[32][33] anti-Ethiopian government,[34] and pro-USA.[35] In 2008, Venezuela expelled the organization for its criticism of the regime.[36] In the third category, Human Rights Watch was recently accused of using anti-Israeli sentiment to elicit support while fund-raising in Saudi Arabia.[37][38]

See also


  1. ^ "Our History". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  2. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  3. ^ Hellman-Hammett Grants,Human Rights Watch
  4. ^ "Who We Are". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  5. ^ a b "Financial Statements. Year Ended June 30, 2008". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  6. ^ "Human Rights Watch Visit to Saudi Arabia". Human Rights Watch. 2009-07-17. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  7. ^ "Financials". Human Rights Watch. 2008-09-22. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  8. ^ Human Rights Watch: Our People
  9. ^ Middle east and North Africa,Human Rights Watch
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ Human Rights Watch says migrant children are at risk in Canary Islands,International Herald Tribune
  12. ^ a b c Bernstein, Robert L. (2009-10-19). "Rights Watchdog, Lost in the Mideast". The NY Times. Retrieved 2009-10-20. 
  13. ^ The Guardian: Credible approach on human rights
  14. ^ New York Times: Crossfire: A Rights Group and Israel
  15. ^ Human Rights Watch: Why We Report on 'Open' Societies
  16. ^ a b Garlasco, Marc (2009-09-11). "Responding to Accusations". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2009-09-13. 
  17. ^ Israelis See Clear Bias in Activist, New York Times, John Schwartz, September 14, 2009
  18. ^ Pilkington, Ed (2009-09-15). "Human Rights Watch investigator suspended over Nazi memorabilia". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  19. ^ "Protecting Civilians: Military Expert Marc Garlasco". Human Rights Watch. 2009-09-10. Retrieved 2009-09-11. 
  20. ^ WBUR
  21. ^ "Publications". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  22. ^ "Previous World Reports". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  23. ^ Rwandan genocide report,Human Rights Watch
  24. ^ Congo report,Human Rights Watch
  25. ^ Human rights group says activists detained in Sudan
  26. ^ Discrimination in the Name of Neutrality
  27. ^ Levy, Daniel (2009-07-20). "The "Swiftboating" of Human Rights Watch". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  28. ^ Keinon, Herb (2009-07-16). "Diplomacy: Israel vs. Human Rights Watch". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  29. ^ Krieger, Hilary Leila (2006-09-19). "HRW slams UN body for anti-Israel bias". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  30. ^ Human Rights Watch hell-bent on attacking Sri Lankan government
  31. ^ Human Right Watch is now trying to block the IMF loan
  32. ^ Anti-Semitism in Europe: Fighting Back,Anti-Defamation League
  33. ^
  34. ^ The government says Human Rights Watch got it Wrong. Really? Economist Feb 7, 2009, p. 41
  35. ^ ZNet |Haiti | Haiti and Human Rights Watch
  36. ^ Reuters News retrieved September 22, 2009
  37. ^ Keinon, Herb. "Diplomacy: Israel vs. Human Rights Watch." Jerusalem Post. 18 July 2009. 18 July 2009.
  38. ^ Bernstein, David. "Human Rights Watch Goes to Saudi Arabia." The Wall Street Journal. 15 July 2009. 15 July 2009.

External links

Simple English

Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization. Its activities include research and advocacy on human rights. The headquarters of the organization is in New York City.

Focus of the organization

Other websites

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