Kenneth Roth

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Kenneth Roth, 2008.

Kenneth Roth is an American attorney and has been the executive director of Human Rights Watch since 1993.

Early life[edit]

Kenneth Roth, a graduate of Yale Law School and Brown University, was drawn to human rights causes through his Jewish father's experience of fleeing Nazi Germany in 1938. His father would keep his three young sons quiet as he cut their hair by telling tales of their grandfather's butcher shop in Frankfurt, Germany. As they grew older, he told them about living under the Nazis as a young boy and fleeing Germany in July 1938.[citation needed]


Jimmy Carter’s introduction of human rights as an element of US foreign policy in the late 1970s further inspired Roth to take on human rights as a vocation.[1]

Prior to starting at Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 1987, Roth worked in private practice as a litigator and served as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and the Iran-Contra investigation in Washington DC.[2]

During the early years of his work in human rights movement, Roth focused on the Soviet imposition of martial law in Poland in 1981.[3]

Roth joined Human Rights Watch in 1987 as deputy director. His initial work centered on Haiti, which was just emerging from the Duvalier dictatorship but continued to be plagued by brutal military rule. Since then, Roth has traveled the world over, pressing government officials of all stripes to pay greater respect to human rights.[4]

His biography on the HRW website states he has "special expertise on: issues of justice and accountability for atrocities committed in the quest for peace; military conduct in war under the requirements of international humanitarian law; counterterrorism policy, including resort to torture and arbitrary detention; the human rights policies of the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations; and, the human rights responsibilities of multinational businesses."[5]

Roth has published numerous articles, newspaper op-eds, and articles in academic journals, covering a wide range of issues, including "Domestic Violence as an International Human Rights Issue", in Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives;[6] "The Case for Universal Jurisdiction";[7] "The Charade of US Ratification of International Human Rights Treaties";[8] and "The Law of War in the War on Terror - Washington's Abuse of Enemy Combatants"[9] His Twitter handle is @KenRoth.

In September 2007, Roth gave a lecture entitled "The Dynamics of Human Rights and the Environment" at the University of San Diego's Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series.

Human Rights Watch[edit]

In 1987, Roth was hired by Aryeh Neier to be deputy director of HRW and since 1993 (when Neier left to become head of George Soros' Open Society Institute), Roth has been the organization's executive director.[2]

Under Roth’s leadership, Human Rights Watch has grown eight-fold in size and vastly expanded its reach. It now operates in more than 80 countries, among them some of the most dangerous and oppressed places on Earth.[10]

During Roth’s tenure, Human Rights Watch has documented war crimes in Bosnia,[11][12] the Democratic Republic of Congo,[13] Iraq [14] and Sierra Leone.[15] Human Rights Watch researchers have testified at international tribunals. The organization has also done extensive work on child soldiers. The work of Human Rights Watch has helped to convict Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, Peru’s Alberto Fujimori[16] and Chile’s Augusto Pinochet,[17] among others, for crimes against humanity.

As a founding member of the International Campaign to ban Landmines, in 1997 Human Rights Watch shared the Nobel Peace Prize for helping bring about the Mine Ban Treaty.[18][19]

Criticism and controversies[edit]

Under Roth's leadership, Human Rights Watch has been criticized for perceived biases and misconstructions.[20][21]

On December 17, 2009, 118 scholars from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, México, the UK, the US, Venezuela and other countries publicly criticized HRW in an open letter to the HRW Board of Directors in response to an HRW report, A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela.[22] The report was criticized for bias against the government of Venezuela and its President, Hugo Chavez, stating that it "does not meet even the most minimal standards of scholarship, impartiality, accuracy, or credibility."[23] One of the letter's authors, Hugh O'Shaughnessy, accused HRW of using false and misleading information, and said the HRW report was "put together with the sort of know-nothing Washington bias..."[24] Kenneth Roth responded, stating that the letter misrepresented "both the substance and the source material of the report."[25]

In late 2012 Roth was criticized for stating that Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, all members of South America's Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), were the "most abusive" states in South America, despite the dire situation in Colombia, where over 250,000 people have been killed by right wing death squads.[26][unreliable source?]


Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah, of Rwanda’s New Times newspaper, questions Roth’s impartiality and equates his criticism of Rwanda’s human rights record to a “love affair” with the “genocidaires” that carried out the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.[27]

“As a western human rights personality [Roth]…will always fail to understand the intricacies and complexities surrounding the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. Wrapping it up simplistically the way he has done will only serve to undo the gains already registered in driving the very delicate process of bringing forth a new dispensation in Rwanda and by extension the African Great Lakes region,” Oluoch-Ojiwah wrote.[28]

Israel and Palestine

Kenneth Roth has been criticized by the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor for allegedly being biased against Israel. Gerald M. Steinberg has been a long-time critic of Roth's role as head of Human Rights Watch from 1993. Writing in a 2004 Jerusalem Post article[29] in response to Roth's op-ed in which Roth accused NGO Monitor of disregarding basic facts, "fictitious allegations of bias" and a "fantasy-based discourse" which "does a deep disservice to Israel",[30]

In August 2006, during the war between Hezbollah and Israel, Roth rejected criticism of HRW’s allegations against Israel, writing in a letter to the editor of the The New York Sun: "An eye for an eye — or, more accurately in this case, twenty eyes for an eye — may have been the morality of some more primitive moment. But it is not the morality of international humanitarian law which Mr. Bell pretends to apply." [31] In response, the head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) referred to Roth’s rhetoric as a reflection of "classic anti-Semitic stereotype about Jews".[32]

In reaction to Richard Goldstone's recantation of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict report, HRW Founder Robert Bernstein said to the Jerusalem Post in April 2011, referring to Roth, that it "is time for him to follow Judge Goldstone’s example and issue his own mea culpa.”[33]


The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has taken issue with the credibility of Roth’s accusations that Ethiopia’s government is corrupt and uses international aid funding for “repressive purposes.” [34] The EHRC accused Roth of impartiality caused by a desire to “appease…wealthy financiers.” It cited his evaluation of the Democratic Institution Program (DIP) as “superficial” and claimed that his allegations of corruption were based on “poor methodology.” EHRC also called Roth’s recommendations a “contradiction” that called “for the promotion of human rights at the expense of human rights programs and their implementers.” [35]

Awards and honors[edit]

Doctor of Humane Letters, Brown University, 2011 [36]

Doctor of University, University of Ottawa, 2010 [37]

Doctor of Laws, Bowdoin College, 2009[38]

William Rogers Award, Brown University, 2009[39]

Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award, Tufts University, 2004[40]

Published articles[edit]

"No Safe Haven?", Foreign Policy, May 26, 2011[41]

“New Laws Needed To Protect Social Media,” Global Post, April 14, 2011[42]

“Falling for Empty Talk on Human Rights,” International Herald Tribune, January 21, 2011[43]

“Eat, Drink Human Rights,” Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2011 [44]

"9/11 Justice for New Yorkers," Guardian, November 16. 2010.[45]

“Canada no longer leads on human rights,” Ottawa Citizen, October 15, 2010.[46]

“The Abusers’ Reaction: Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations, and Institutions,” Brown Journal of World Affairs, Spring/Summer 2010.[47]

“Empty Promises? Obama’s Hesitant Embrace of Human Rights,” Foreign Affairs, March–April 2010.[48]

“Geneva Conventions Still Hold Up,” Foreign Policy in Focus, Dec. 30, 2009.[49]

“Don’t smear the messenger,” Jerusalem Post, Aug. 25, 2009.[50]

“Death Squads: A Murderous Plague,” Far Eastern Economic Review, May 20, 2009.[51]

“The power of horror in Rwanda,” Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2009.[52]

“Justice or impunity: What will Kenya choose?” East African, April 3, 2009.[53]

“G20: The summit must not forget human rights,”, April 2, 2009.[54]

“Ballots and Bullets,” New York Times Book Review, March 22, 2009.[55]


  1. ^ Kenneth Roth (2007-12-31). "Re: Who are you? | Kenneth Roth". Big Think. Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  2. ^ a b "Kenneth Roth Biography". The University of Winnipeg. Retrieved 9 September 2009. 
  3. ^ "Repression Disguised as Law: Human Rights in Poland (9780934143158): Kenneth M. Roth: Books". 2009-09-09. Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  4. ^ More by Kenneth Roth (1992-03-26). "Haiti: The Shadows of Terror by Kenneth Roth | The New York Review of Books". Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  5. ^ "Kenneth Roth | Human Rights Watch". Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  6. ^ Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives, University of Pennsylvania Press (1994) edited by Rebecca J. Cook, ISBN 0-8122-1538-9
  7. ^ The Case for Universal Jurisdiction, Foreign Affairs, 2001
  8. ^ The Charade of US Ratification of International Human Rights Treaties, Chicago Journal of International Law, Fall 2000
  9. ^ The Law of War in the War on Terror - Washington's Abuse of Enemy Combatants (2004)
  10. ^
  11. ^ "War Crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina (Volume I) | Human Rights Watch". 1992-08-01. Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  12. ^ "War Crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina (Volume II) | Human Rights Watch". 1993-04-01. Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  13. ^ "Casualties of War | Human Rights Watch". 1999-02-01. Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  14. ^ ""Genocide in Iraq - The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds" | Human Rights Watch". 2006-08-14. Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  15. ^ "Sierra Leone: Taylor at War Crimes Court | Human Rights Watch". 2006-03-29. Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  16. ^ "Peru: Fujimori Verdict a Rights Victory | Human Rights Watch". 2009-04-07. Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  17. ^ "Chile: Pinochet Finally Faces Torture Charges | Human Rights Watch". 2006-12-01. Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  18. ^ "The Nobel Peace Prize 1997". Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  19. ^ "Human Rights Watch History | Defending Human Rights Worldwide". 2001-09-11. Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  20. ^ "Human Rights Watch | Defending Human Rights Worldwide". Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  21. ^ Goldberg, Jeffrey. "Does Human Rights Watch Understand the Nature of Prejudice?" The Atlantic. 21 September 2014. 21 September 2014.
  22. ^ Human Rights Watch, 22 September 2008, A Decade Under Chávez
  23. ^ Mark Weisbrot,, 11 March 2009, Who is America to judge?
  24. ^ Hugh O'Shaughnessy, New Statesman, 26 September 2008, HRW v Chavez
  25. ^ "Human Rights Watch Responds to Criticism of Venezuela Report | North American Congress on Latin America". 2009-01-05. Retrieved 2013-01-28. 
  26. ^ 'The Latest Howlers From Human Rights Watch on Venezuela' by Joe Emersberger, August 3, 2012,
  27. ^ “Rwanda: Is Kenneth Roth in Love With Genocidaires?” by Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah, 26 April 2010,
  28. ^ “2nd Open Letter to Kenneth Roth: Rwanda will not be a political play field”, by Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah, New Times.
  29. ^ "Israelis Have No 'Human Rights'" by Gerald M. Steinberg, March 08, 2004, The Jerusalem Post
  30. ^ "The truth hurts" By Kenneth Roth, Apr. 1, 2004, The Jerusalem Post
  31. ^ 'Getting It Straight' The New York Sun, July 31, 2006
  32. ^ 'No Accident' New York Sun by Abraham Foxman, August 2, 2006
  33. ^ At 88, a man of morals starts over
  34. ^ “Letter to Kenichi Ohashi, Ethiopia Country Director for the World Bank” by Kenneth Roth, 17 December 2010
  35. ^ “EHRC Response on Human Rights Watch Reports on Ethiopia”
  36. ^ “Human rights crusader to deliver 2011 Baccalaureate address,” Brown University. Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  37. ^ “News Releases and Announcements,” The University of Ottawa. . Retrieved 15 December 2010.
  38. ^ “2009 Honorands,” Bowdoin College. Retrieved 15 December 2010.
  39. ^ “Service to Society: 2009 Honoree Highlights,” Brown Alumni Association. Retrieved 15 December 2010.
  40. ^ “Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award/Series,” Tufts University. Retrieved 15 December 2010.
  41. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2011-05-26). "No Safe Haven?". Foreign Policy. 
  42. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2011-04-14). "New Laws Needed To Protect Social Media". Global Post. 
  43. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2011-01-21). "Falling for Empty Talk on Human Rights". The New York Times. 
  44. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2011-01-23). "Eat, drink, human rights - Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  45. ^ Roth, Kenneth (November 16, 2010). "9/11 justice for New Yorkers". The Guardian (London). 
  46. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2010-10-15). "Canada no longer leads on human rights". Archived from the original on 2010-10-18. Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  47. ^
  48. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2010-03-01). "Empty Promises?". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  49. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2009-12-30). "Geneva Conventions Still Hold Up". FPIF. Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  50. ^ Wistrich, Robert S. (2009-08-25). "Right of Reply: Don't smear the messenger". Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  51. ^ Roth, Kenneth (2009-05-19). "Philippine Death Squads: A Murderous Plague | Human Rights Watch". Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  52. ^ Roth, Kenneth (April 11, 2009). "The power of horror in Rwanda". Los Angeles Times. 
  53. ^ "News |Justice or impunity: What will Kenya choose?". The East African. Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  54. ^ Roth, Kenneth (April 2, 2009). "G20: The summit must not forget human rights". The Guardian (London). 
  55. ^ Roth, Kenneth (March 22, 2009). "Ballots and Bullets". The New York Times. 

External links[edit]