Human Rights Watch

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Human Rights Watch
Hrw logo.svg
Type Non-profit NGO
Founded 1978
Key people
Area served Worldwide
Product(s) non profit human rights advocacy
Focus(es) Human rights activism
Mission To become a voice of Justice
Formerly called Helsinki Watch
Current executive Director Kenneth Roth speaking at the 44th Munich Security Conference 2008

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. HRW headquarters are in New York City with offices in Amsterdam, Beirut, Berlin, Brussels, Chicago, Geneva, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo, Toronto, and Washington D.C.[1]

As of June 2011, the organization’s annual expenses totaled $50.6 million.[2]

The George Soros Open Society Foundation is the primary donor of the Human Rights Watch, contributing $100 million of $128 million of contributions and grants received by the HRW in the 2011 financial year.[3] The $100 million contribution from the Open Society Foundation will be paid out over ten years in $10 million annual installments.[4]


Main article: Helsinki Watch

Human Rights Watch was founded as a private American NGO in 1978, under the name Helsinki Watch, to monitor the former Soviet Union's compliance with the Helsinki Accords.[5] 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 European partners, Helsinki Watch contributed to the democratic transformations of the region in the late 1980s.[5]

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 also 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 known as "The Watch Committees." In 1988, all of these committees were united under one umbrella to form Human Rights Watch.

Originally called the Helsinki Watch, the Human Rights Watch was first designed in 1978 as a support organization for citizens of the Soviet bloc. Their founding objective was to aid these citizens in monitoring government compliance with the Helsinki Accords of 1975, which called for respectful and cooperative relations between the Communist bloc and the West. The Helsinki Watch used media coverage, as well as contact with policymakers, to employ methods of publicly “naming and shaming” abusive governments. This way, the organization was able to bring international attention to corruption and abuse in Soviet and Eastern European governments, acting has a major force in the dramatic spread of democracy of the 1980s. In wake of the Helsinki Watch’s successes, other “Watch Committees” began forming around the world – Americas Watch in 1981, Asia Watch in 1985 and Middle East Watch in 1989. Each were formed in the same likeness of the Helsinki Watch, though Americas Watch was the first to take it a step further as their Central American civil wars were raging on, and apply international humanitarian law to their efforts towards the investigation and exposition of war crimes by different rebel groups. In addition, they looked into, and were critical of, the roles that foreign governments may play in aiding abusive regimes, whether militarily, politically, or financially. These new strategies became lasting tactics of the organization as a whole, and in 1988, the collection of Watch Committees decided to merge under one all-inclusive title, calling themselves the "Human Rights Watch". [6] [7]


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

Human Rights Watch publishes 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 also using diplomacy, staying in touch with victims, making files about public and individuals, and providing required security for them in critical situations and in a proper time 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.[5] HRW has documented and reported various 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 defense of human rights.[8]

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 HRW in investigating and exposing human rights abuses.[9][10]

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.

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. It also co-founded the Cluster Munition Coalition, which brought about an international convention banning the weapons. HRW employs more than 275 staff—country experts, lawyers, journalists, and academics – and operates in more than 90 countries around the world.[11]

The current executive director of HRW is Kenneth Roth, who has held the position since 1993. Roth conducted investigations on abuses in Poland after martial law was declared 1981. He later focused on Haiti, which had just emerged from the Duvalier dictatorship but continued to be plagued with problems. Roth’s awareness of the importance of human rights began with stories his father had told about escaping Nazi Germany in 1938. Roth graduated from Yale Law School and Brown University.

Today, staff members of the HRW, over 400 in total, remain active in conducting investigations into human rights abuses around the world, and monitoring countries to ensure they are complying with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a document drafted by the United Nations in 1948 that outlines civil, political, and social rights agreed to be fundamental for all citizens of humanity. Any violation of these rights is reported by the HRW through media coverage, allowing them to hold these violators accountable and instigate a public push towards reform. Direct forms of diplomacy are the principal methods used in these missions, and the organization frequently communicates with victims and witnesses on the ground. The Human Rights Watch acts on a wide variety of matters, from gay rights to war crimes, from child labor to human trafficking. Social discrimination, political corruption, and judicial abuses are also common issues raised. Directors prioritize which matters and which countries to act on, based on the degree and scale of the violations, taking into account the severity of the crimes committed, the number of people affected, and their own potential to impact the situation. When issues are addressed, the organization employs a very careful and professional plan of action, partnering with other human rights groups local to the affected regions and giving detailed, educated suggestions of reform to governments, international institutions, rebel groups, policymakers, corporations, and the press. Their access to inside research and use of fact-checking methods make the HRW a reputable source for medias and governments around the world, who frequently rely on findings and reports from the HRW. In-depth research exposes the wrongful actions of human rights abusers, which can ultimately lead to the prosecution of these individuals - trials in which HRW data and research play a central role. Over the years, the Human Rights Watch has begun to extend its research to social, economic, and cultural rights, such as the newer areas of education and housing. The epidemic of HIV/AIDS also led to the addition of a human rights and health program within the HRW. Advancing technologies and methodologies have also provided the organization with new tools in its efforts, such as satellite photography and bomb-data analysis. The Human Rights Watch has also been active in supporting and even creating other international non-governmental organizations, such as the International Criminal Court, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. [12] [13]

Financing and services[edit]

For the financial year ending June 2008, HRW reported receiving approximately US$44 million in public donations.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16]

Notably, billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros announced in 2010 his intention to donate US$100 million to HRW over a period of ten years. He said, "Human Rights Watch is one of the most effective organizations I support. Human rights underpin our greatest aspirations: they're at the heart of open societies."[17][18] The donation increases Human Rights Watch's operating budget from $48 million to $80 million. The donation was the largest in the organization's history.[19]

Charity Navigator gave Human Rights Watch a four-star rating overall, but only a three-star rating in their financial rating.[20] The Better Business Bureau said Human Rights Watch meets its standards for charity accountability.

Human Rights Watch published the following program and support services spending details for the financial year ending June 2011.

Program services 2011 Expenses (USD)[2]
Africa $5,859,910
Americas $1,331,448
Asia $4,629,535
Europe and Central Asia $4,123,959
Middle East and North Africa $3,104,643
United States $1,105,571
Children's Rights $1,551,463
Health & Human Rights $1,962,015
International Justice $1,325,749
Woman's Rights $2,083,890
Other programs $11,384,854
Supporting services
Management and general $3,130,051
Fundraising $9,045,910

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

Program services 2008 Expenses (USD)[14]
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[edit]

Some notable current and former staff members of Human Rights Watch have included:[21]

The Human Rights Watch is very selective in appointing its directors, to ensure effective and informed leadership. All Human Rights Watch positions are filled through an application process that involves up to three interviews with the Hiring Manager before an individual is hired. As many would expect, an advanced degree in applicable fields, lengthy experience in international organizations, and a large set of skills and knowledge, relevant to the sought-after position, are required. This selectivity results in a strong team of highly qualified individuals, to effectively and intelligently approach some of the most vile human rights violations occurring across the globe. Though the organization employs a wide range of volunteers, interns, and advisors in their efforts, its core establishment (of those with primary control) is made up of Senior Management, Program Directors, and Advocacy Directors. Senior Management includes 24 directors of the different functional branches of the organization, in charge of everything from Human Resources to Media to Global Advocacy. Also included in this list is the Executive Director, head of the entire organization, and a position currently held by Kenneth Roth, a federal prosecutor from New York. Program Directors, totaling 16, address issues tailored to their assigned regions of the world, or to specific areas of international concern, such as Women’s Rights, Refugees, and International Justice. Lastly, the twelve Advocacy Directors are each in charge of designing and implementing strategies to enlist support from governments, institutions, media, and more, for HRW investigations. These advocacy efforts are critical to the organization’s work, not only because it is funded by private individuals and foundations (non-governmental) around the world, but also because worldwide exposure of human rights abuses is necessary to bring about change. [23]

Issues and campaigns[edit]

In the past, the Human Rights Watch has played a notable role in documenting events of ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and Bosnia, and of the Kurds in Iraq. In the case of Rwanda, the HRW had been proactive in their warning of ethnic tensions in the region - tensions that ultimately led to the bloody genocide in 1994. While other organizations failed to take action when the killing began, Dr. Alison Des Forges, senior advisor to the HRW’s Africa decision at the time, did everything in her power to save victims, as she had dedicated her life’s work to the region and then to the genocide’s aftermath. Forges’ detailed account of the events were later outlined in her award-winning book Leave None to Tell the Story, she appeared as a top witness in eleven ensuing trials, including that of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and she provided many documents and other forms of assistance for four other judicial proceedings involving the genocide. Working for the HRW, she used her authority to never let the crimes of the Rwandan government forces go unnoticed or unprosecuted. In this way, she represents the integrity of the Human Rights Watch in their commitment to bringing truth to the people and defending and protecting their rights.

While Slobodan Milosevic’s government was targeting Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Croatia from 1992 to 1999, researchers from the HRW traveled to the incredibly dangerous regions to interview victims and witnesses. Through this, they were able to give critical evidence of the events, including the mass murder at Srebrenica, in which thousands of Muslims were killed at a spot that had been proclaimed a “safe area” by the United Nations. The HRW was then able to use this research to push the United States and the European Union to intervene in the killings and bring to justice those responsible for the attacks. In 1991 and 1992, researchers played a notable role once again in HRW affairs when they were allowed into Kurdistan in northern Iraq, where they spent over a year conducting interviews and forensic examinations, and analyzing massive amounts of Iraqi security agency documents – all of which led to a ground-breaking report called “Genocide in Iraq – The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds,” detailing the systematic murder of 50,000-100,000 Kurds from February to September of 1988.

More recently, Human Rights Watch researchers have been active in South Sudan, using their accounts of the hostilities between government forces and rebel groups in the region to begin investigations into potential war crimes committed there. In regards to recent anti-government demonstrations in Venezuela, the HRW’s Americas director has called for urgent investigations into the killings and for the killers to be brought to justice, “no matter their political affiliation.” He has assured that “what Venezuela does not need is authorities scapegoating political opponents or shutting down news outlets whose coverage they don’t like”. These recent events further demonstrate the organization’s obligation to truth-telling and open disclosure of human rights atrocities. [24] [25] [26]


Human Rights Watch publishes reports on many different topics[27] and compiles an annual World Report presenting an overview of the worldwide state of human rights.[28] It has been published by Seven Stories Press since 2006; the current edition, World Report 2013, was released in February 2013.[29] Human Rights Watch has reported extensively on subjects such as the Rwandan Genocide of 1994[30] and the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[31]

In the summer of 2004, the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University in New York became the depository institution for the Human Rights Watch Archive, an active collection that documents decades of human rights investigations around the world. The archive was transferred from its previous location at the Norlin Library at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The archive includes administrative files, public relations documents, as well as case and country files. With some exceptions for security considerations, the Columbia University community and the public have access to field notes, taped and transcribed interviews with alleged victims of human rights violations, video and audio tapes, and other materials documenting the organization’s activities since its founding in 1978 as Helsinki Watch.[32]

Comparison with Amnesty International[edit]

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.[10] 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.[33]

Its documentations of human rights abuses often include extensive analysis 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.[citation needed]

In 2010 The Times of London wrote that HRW has "all but eclipsed" Amnesty International. According to The Times, instead of being supported by a mass membership, as AI is, HRW depends on wealthy donors who like to see the organization's reports make headlines. For this reason, according to The Times, HRW tends to "concentrate too much on places that the media already cares about", especially in disproportionate coverage of Israel.[34]


HRW has been criticized by national governments, other NGOs, its founder and former Chairman Robert L. Bernstein, and the media. It has been accused by critics[35] of being influenced by the agendas of U.S. foreign policy,[36] in particular in relation to reporting on Latin America.[37][38][39][40][41] It was also accused by the Anti-Defamation League of showing disinterest regarding antisemitism in Europe,[42] as well as reports of biases in relation to the Arab–Israeli conflict; and unfair and biased reporting of human rights issues in Eritrea and Ethiopia.[43][unreliable source][44] Accusations in relation to the Arab–Israeli conflict include claims that HRW is biased against Israel[45][46][47] and requesting donations from Saudi Arabian citizens on the basis of its criticism of Israel;[48] it has also been accused of unbalanced reporting in favor of Israel against Palestinians by Jonathan Cook and others.[49][50] HRW has publicly responded to criticisms relating to its reporting on Latin America[51][52][53] and in the context of the Arab–Israeli conflict.[47][54][55][56][57]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  2. ^ a b "Financial Statements, Year Ended June 30, 2011". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2012-06-26. 
  3. ^ See page 16 for the Open Society Foundation's contribution
  4. ^ "George Soros to Give $100 Million to Human Rights Watch". Human Rights Watch. 
  5. ^ a b c "Our History". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  6. ^ "Our History". Human Rights Watch ( Retrieved 28 February 2014. 
  7. ^ Chauhan, Yamini. "Human Rights Watch". Encyclopedia Britannica. 
  8. ^ Hellman-Hammett Grants,Human Rights Watch
  9. ^ Human Rights Watch. "Five Activists Win Human Rights Watch Awards". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  10. ^ a b "Human Rights Watch". Retrieved 23 February 2013. 
  11. ^ "Who We Are". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  12. ^ Yamini, Chauhan. "Human Rights Watch". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  13. ^ "About Us: Who We Are". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  14. ^ a b "Financial Statements. Year Ended June 30, 2008". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  15. ^ "Human Rights Watch Visit to Saudi Arabia". Human Rights Watch. 2009-07-17. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  16. ^ "Financials". Human Rights Watch. 2008-09-22. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  17. ^ Soros to give Human Rights Watch $100m. over 10 years
  18. ^ Colum Lynch (2010-09-12). "With $100 million Soros gift, Human Rights Watch looks to expand global reach". Washington Post. "The donation, the largest single gift ever from the Hungarian-born investor and philanthropist, is premised on the belief that U.S. leadership on human rights has been diminished by a decade of harsh policies in the war on terrorism." 
  19. ^ George Soros gives $100 million to Human Rights Watch (The Guardian, Sept. 7, 2010)
  20. ^ "Charity Rating - Human Rights Watch." Charity Navigator - America's Largest Charity Evaluator | Human Rights Watch. [1]
  21. ^ Human Rights Watch: Our People
  22. ^ Pilkington, Ed (2009-09-15). "Human Rights Watch investigator suspended over Nazi memorabilia". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  23. ^ "Who We Are". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  24. ^ "Human Rights Watch calls to investigate war crimes in South Sudan". Sudan Tribune. 27 February 2014. Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  25. ^ "Venezuela: Investigate Violence During Protests". Human Rights Watch. 13 February 2014. Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  26. ^ "Human Rights Watch". KQED: PBS. Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  27. ^ "Publications". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  28. ^ "Previous World Reports". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  29. ^ World Report 2013, Seven Stories Press.
  30. ^ Rwandan genocide report,Human Rights Watch
  31. ^ Congo report,Human Rights Watch
  32. ^ Library Journal, March 11, 2004.[2]
  33. ^ Human rights group says activists detained in Sudan
  34. ^ NGO Monitor research featured in Sunday Times: "Nazi scandal engulfs Human Rights Watch", March 28, 2010. Retrieved 2012-07-19.
  35. ^ Russia investigates alleged Chechnya atrocities (The Guardian, Feb. 25, 2000)
    'No Jenin massacre' says rights group (BBC, May 3, 2002)
    Libyan human rights in the spotlight (BBC, January 20, 2003)
  36. ^ Naiman, Robert (2009-08-21). "Latin America Scholars Urge Human Rights Watch to Speak Up on Honduras Coup". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on 2009-08-22. Retrieved 2009-08-22. 
  37. ^ Steve Miller and Joseph Curl (2004). "Aristide accuses U.S. of forcing his ouster". Washington Times. Retrieved 2005-12-26. 
  38. ^ "Aristide related articles". Democracy Now. Retrieved 2006-07-21. 
  39. ^ Emersberger, Joe (2006-03-29). "Haiti and Human Rights Watch". Z Communications. Archived from the original on 2009-08-11. Retrieved 2009-08-11. 
  40. ^ Council on Hemispheric Affairs, 12 January 2009, Scholars Respond to HRW’s Kenneth Roth’s Riposte on Venezuelan Human Rights
  41. ^ Grandin, Greg; Adrienne Pine (2009-08-22). "Over 90 Experts Call on Human Rights Watch to Speak Out on Honduras Abuses". Common Dreams. Archived from the original on 2009-08-22. Retrieved 2009-08-22. 
  42. ^ Anti-Semitism in Europe: Fighting Back,Anti-Defamation League
  43. ^ Tesfamariam, Sophia (2009-04-29). "Human Rights Watch at Chatham House-A Peddlers Event". American Chronicle. Archived from the original on 2013-05-12. Retrieved 2009-08-21. 
  44. ^ "A row over human rights". The Economist. 2009-02-05. 
  45. ^ Levy, Daniel (2009-07-20). "The "Swiftboating" of Human Rights Watch". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  46. ^ Keinon, Herb (2009-07-16). "Diplomacy: Israel vs. Human Rights Watch". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  47. ^ a b "False Allegations about Human Rights Watch’s Latest Gaza Report". Human Rights Watch. 2009-08-14. Retrieved 2009-08-17. 
  48. ^ Bernstein, David. "Human Rights Watch Goes to Saudi Arabia." The Wall Street Journal. 15 July 2009. 15 July 2009.
  49. ^ Palestinians Are Being Denied the Right of Non-Violent Resistance? » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names. CounterPunch (2006-11-30). Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  50. ^ Mujahed: “Human Rights Watch” is blatantly biased in favor of Israel Occupied Palestine, December 25, 2012
  51. ^ Human Rights Watch Responds to Criticism of Venezuela Report | North American Congress on Latin America. (2009-01-05). Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  52. ^ Tom Porteus, 30 September 2008, New Statesman, HRW v Chavez II
  53. ^ Human Rights Watch (2009-08-25). "Honduras: Rights Report Shows Need for Increased International Pressure". Human Rights Watch. Archived from the original on 2009-08-28. Retrieved 2009-08-28. 
  54. ^ Derfner, Larry (2009-07-22). "Rattling the Cage: The smearing of human rights organizations". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2009-08-18. 
  55. ^ Visit to Saudi Arabia and False Allegations of Human Rights Watch 'Bias' [3]
  56. ^ "Human Rights Watch Visit to Saudi Arabia". Human Rights Watch. 
  57. ^ Whitson, Sarah Leah (September 22, 2006). "Hezbollah's Rockets and Civilian Casualties: A Response to Jonathan Cook". Counterpunch. Retrieved 2006-10-14. 

External links[edit]