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International Alliance for Advanced Judicial Studies (IAAJS)

Human Rights Watch

 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is an international non-governmental organization, headquartered in New York City, that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. The group pressures some governments, policy makers and human rights abusers to denounce abuse and respect human rights, and the group often works on behalf of refugees, children, migrants and political prisoners.

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.

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. HRW has documented and reported various violations of the laws of war and international humanitarian law.

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.

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 International 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.

Financier and philanthropist George Soros of the Open Society Foundation announced in 2010 his intention to grant US $100 million to HRW over a period of ten years to help it expand its efforts internationally. 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." The donation increases Human Rights Watch's operating staff of 300 by 120 people. The donation was the largest in the organization's history.

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 organizationís activities since its founding in 1978 as Helsinki Watch.

HRW has been criticized for perceived bias by the national governments it has investigated for human rights abuses, by NGO Monitor, and by HRW's founder, and former Chairman, Robert L. Bernstein. Bias allegations have included undue influence by United States government policy, claims that HRW is biased both for or against Israel (and focuses undue attention on the Arab•Israeli conflict). HRW has also been criticized for poor research methodology and lax fact-checking, and ignoring the human-rights abuses of less-open regimes. HRW has routinely publicly addressed, and often denies, criticism of its reporting and findings.

 
 

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