Eminent Human Rights Defender Lectures on Today’s Most Pressing Issues


Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said that he understood as a young lawyer that you collect the facts, write up the brief, go to court, and argue your case.

“That is exactly what I do now, but I never show up in court,” the former Iran-Contra federal prosecutor said at a lecture at the University of Miami School of Law on Wednesday. “Most of the places we work, the courts are not functioning. The judges have been killed, or compromised, or are corrupt. You can’t count on the courts to uphold human rights.”

The leader of the world’s top international human rights organization writes extensively on a wide range of human rights issues, devoting special attention to issues of international justice, counterterrorism, the foreign policies of the major powers, and the work of the United Nations. Roth also has conducted tens of human rights investigations and missions around the world.

Roth was introduced by James Nickel, professor of philosophy and law and an international scholar on human rights law and theory, and political philosophy.

Whereas much of the work of Human Rights Watch is targeted at foreign powers, recently the U.S. has been the cause.

“We don’t say, for sure, that procedural changes [in U.S. policy] have caused this sudden spate of civilian casualties by the U.S. forces,” Roth said. “But we asked for an investigation because we suspect that this is what is going on and we are hearing in a threat context behind the scenes that this is going on. It is possible that it is just bad luck. Mistakes happen but suddenly we’ve had three serious incidents within two weeks suggests that something is going on.

“Above all, the public needs to reaffirm the basic value that we should treat others the way we want them to treat us,” Roth concluded. “That’s the best way to ensure that we all don’t end up on the wrong end of the stick when a government abandons its commitment to human rights.”