Jessica Kuhn at the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs:
FLETCHER FORUM: As Executive Director of Human Rights Watch since 1993, you’ve no doubt been witness to a multitude of global conflicts, crises, and challenges. And yet it seems that there is an almost unprecedented amount of crises around the world in 2014—from Syria to the Central African Republic to Ukraine. From your perspective, are today’s conflicts and crises fundamentally different or more intractable than those of the past twenty years? Has Human Rights Watch had to adjust the way it carries out its work to reflect these new realities?
KENNETH ROTH: This is a tumultuous moment, but I wouldn’t say the problems we confront are radically different from those we have seen in the past. However, the world confronting those problems is different. In addition to investigating and reporting on rights abuses in some ninety countries, Human Rights Watch works in key capitals to generate pressure on abusive governments to curb their human rights violations. At the height of the Cold War, much of that work was directed toward enlisting the influence of the United States. For the past two decades, we have built the capacity to do the same thing in the European Union, as we have opened advocacy offices in Brussels as well as the key European capitals of Berlin, London, and Paris. We have also built up our capacity at the United Nations in New York and Geneva.
However, as non-Western nations have gained in relative influence, we have established a series of advocacy centers in such places as Brazil, India, Japan, and South Africa. Many of these countries do not have a history of promoting human rights in their foreign policies, but at home they are now thriving democracies. By working with local civil society and encouraging the national media to focus on their government’s foreign policy, we are working to bring that foreign policy more in line with the values informing their domestic policy. Our aim is to increase our capacity to exert influence on abusive governments from an ever-wider range of powerful international actors.