Human Rights Watch

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Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigates Human Rights abuses throughout the world, publishing its findings in books and reports every year. These activities often generate significant coverage in local and international media. This publicity in turn prompts governments to change their policies and practices. In cases of extreme human rights abuses, HRW advocates for the withdrawal of military and economic support from governments that violate the rights of their people.

In international conflicts and other crises, HRW provides current information about conflicts—focusing on the human rights situation on the ground—while the conflicts or crises are underway. The purpose of HRW is to increase the price of human rights abuse, thereby helping to decrease the incidents of such abuses.

HRW is the largest human rights organization based in the United States. HRW employs lawyers, journalists, academics, and country experts of many nationalities and diverse backgrounds, and often leverages the force of allied human rights organizations by joining forces with them to achieve shared human rights goals. As of February 2002, Human Rights Watch employed 189 permanent staff plus short-term fellows and consultants.Human Rights Watch is an independent, nongovernmental organization. It gains most of its support from contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly, from the United States or any other government. HRW is not an agency of the U.S. government, nor was it founded by the U.S. government. Although HRW frequently calls on the United States to support human rights in U.S. foreign policy, the organization also reports on human rights abuses inside the United States. HRW has made negative reports against the United States in areas such as prison conditions, police abuse, the detention of immigrants, and the imposition of the death penalty.

HRW maintains its headquarters in New York. It also maintains offices in Brussels, Bujumbura, Freetown (Sierra Leone), Kigali, Geneva, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, San Francisco, Santiago de Chile, Tashkent, Tbilisi, and Washington.

Most HRW research is carried out by sending fact-finding teams into countries where there have been allegations of serious human rights abuses. HRW examines the human rights practices of governments of all political stripes, of all geopolitical alignments, and of all ethnic and religious persuasions. HRW documents and denounces murders, disappearances, torture, Arbitrary imprisonment, discrimination, and other abuses of internationally recognized human rights.

Not only does HRW encompass the entire globe for its activities, but HRW is interested in enormously complex and diverse issues. For example, HRW follows developments worldwide in women's rights, children's rights, and the flow of arms to abusive forces. Other HRW projects include Academic Freedom, the human rights responsibilities of corporations, international justice, prisons, drugs, and Refugees. The unique and independent nature of this international organization enables it to target any and all parties to conflict.

HRW pursues active investigations of human rights abuses in more than 70 countries. Its methods for obtaining human rights information has made it a credible source of information for individuals and governments concerned with human rights. To conduct research, Human Rights Watch sends members of its staff to interview people who have firsthand experience with alleged abuse. Researchers work with local activists and other specialists. Their findings are written up in reports.

HRW reports categorize and describe human rights violations, detail probable causes for the abuses, and make recommendations for ways to end the abuses. HRW has published more than a thousand reports dealing with human rights issues in more than one hundred countries worldwide. HRW has used its investigations to examine human rights violations associated in the following cases: Taliban massacres in Afghanistan; trafficking of Thai women in Asia; rape in U.S. prisons; refugees in Sierra Leone; and conflicts in Indonesia, Macedonia, Colombia, Russia, and the Congo.

Since its formation, HRW has focused mainly on upholding civil and political rights. HRW began in 1978 with the founding of its European division, Helsinki Watch (now Human Rights Watch/Helsinki). This was in response to a call for support from groups in Moscow, Warsaw, and Prague, which had been established to monitor compliance in Soviet Bloc countries with the human rights provisions of the landmark Helsinki accords. A few years later, the Reagan administration contended that human rights abuses by certain right-wing governments were more tolerable than those of left-wing governments. Thus, to counter charges of maintaining a double standard between the East and West, HRW formed Americas Watch (now Human Rights Watch/Americas).

By 1987, HRW had developed a powerful set of techniques for pursuing its agenda: painstaking documentation of abuses and aggressive advocacy in the press and with governments, and it employed these techniques all over the world. Over time, the organization grew to cover other regions of the world. Eventually, all the "Watch" committees were united in 1988 to form Human Rights Watch.

Between 1993 and 2003, HRW has increasingly addressed economic, social, and cultural rights as well. It is particularly attuned to situations in which its methods of investigation and reporting are most effective. These include cases in which arbitrary or discriminatory governmental conduct lies behind an economic, social and cultural rights violation. In addition to governments, its work also addresses significant economic players and such international financial institutions as the World Bank and multi-national corporations such as General Electric.Today, HRW comprises seven major divisions: Africa, the Americas, Arms, Asia, Children, Women, the Middle East and North Africa, and Europe and Central Asia.

Further readings

Gerson, Allan, and Nat J. Colletta. 2002. Privatizing Peace: From Conflict to Security. Ardsley, N.Y.: Transnational.

Human Rights Watch. Available online at <> (accessed July 27, 2003).

Human Rights Watch World Report. 2001: Events of 2000 (November 1999-October 2000). New York: Human Rights Watch.

Iriye, Akira. 2002. Global Community: The Role of International Organizations in the Making of the Contemporary World. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Pease, Kelly-Kate S. 2000. International Organizations: Perspectives on Governance in the Twenty-First Century. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Welch, Claude E., Jr., ed. 2001. NGOs and Human Rights: Promise and Performance. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania.


Human Rights.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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