Recognizing Kenneth Roth's Retirement From Human Rights Watch

Floor Speech

Date: May 11, 2022
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COHEN. Madam Speaker, I rise today to recognize Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, who has announced his retirement after serving the organization for nearly 30 years at its helm. During this time, he developed the organization to become a leading defender of human rights with a budget of nearly $100 million and over 500 staff operating in 100 countries.

Mr. Roth, a former federal prosecutor in New York and during investigations of the Iran-Contra Affair, began his career in human rights work as a volunteer for 6 years before joining HRW as Deputy Director in 1987. At the time, HRW consisted of regional human rights monitoring groups, including Helsinki Watch--a product of the 1975 Helsinki Accords to monitor compliance of human rights in Soviet bloc countries that called for the ``naming and shaming'' of violators of human rights--Americas Watch, Asia Watch, Middle East Watch and Africa Watch. Jointly, the groups were known as ``The Watch Committees.'' The year following his appointment as Deputy Director, the collective was consolidated under the name Human Rights Watch. In 1993, Kenneth Roth was named Executive Director of HRW following its first Director, Aryeh Neier.

As Executive Director, Mr. Roth demonstrated an even-handed approach to his position and has not shied away from bringing attention to human rights violations committed by governments and individuals around the world. HRW has brought to our awareness abuses occurring in Ethiopia, Yemen, Egypt, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria and in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region documenting repression of the Uyghur minority population, to name a few countries. HRW reports have also criticized U.S. administrations over the use of ``black sites'' and laws on surveillance following the September 11 attacks, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies, and isolationist policies. Additionally, through its staff reporting and advocacy, HRW reports have been instrumental in investigations and convictions of warlords, wartime leaders and individuals accused of committing human rights abuses, including Liberia's Charles Taylor, Peru's Alberto Fujimori and Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

Mr. Roth has also demonstrated that he is no stranger to ``good trouble.'' Roth has received criticism from the Rwandan government over HRW's reporting of genocide and other crimes committed by its President, Paul Kagame. Additionally, he was denied entry into Egypt in 2014 over the report All According to Plan: The Rab'a Massacre and Mass Killings of Protestors in Egypt, which placed responsibility for mass killings of protestors following the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi on senior officials, including then Defense Minister and current President, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. He faced Chinese sanctions and was similarly denied entry into Hong Kong, where he planned to release the World Report 2020 showing Chinese policies to ``restrict freedom of religion'' in Tibetan areas, forced and deceptive marriages through ``bride trafficking,'' violations of the Refugee Convention by returning North Korean refugees, and forced detainment of Turkic Muslims in ``political education'' camps--a tactic currently being used by Russia against Ukrainian children.

Over the span of his 30-year career, Kenneth put feet on the ground meeting with communities impacted by human rights violations, speaking with over 2 dozen world leaders to address and end abuses, and leading fact-finding investigative trips to over 50 countries, including Haiti, Cuba, Kuwait, Iraq, and Syria. He focused HRW teams on issues pertaining to women, children, and senior populations; refugees; persons with disabilities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people; poverty and inequality; climate change; and on human rights abuses here in the United States of America. HRW began documenting abuses in realtime with the aim of ending atrocities sooner rather than later and incorporating videos and graphics in its reports as well as using social media for advocacy. The organization supported bringing perpetrators to justice through war crimes tribunals at the United Nations Security Council and the creation of the International Criminal Court as a body to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Kenneth pushed the ICC to prohibit cluster munitions and the use of child soldiers, and in 1997, the HRW shared a Nobel Peace Prize for its work to ban antipersonnel landmines.

As Kenneth Roth prepares to step down from his position amid Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine, I am mindful of the human rights abuses being committed in both Ukraine and inside of Russia at the orders of Vladimir Putin. War crimes, crimes against humanity and strong evidence of genocide abound in Ukraine. Political arrests, which HRW has documented extensively in countries as nearby as Nicaragua and Cuba and ones as far away as Uzbekistan, are taking place in Russia with the arrest of protestors, journalists, politicians, and anyone who dares speak out against Putin's war in Ukraine, including the recently jailed Russian politician and journalist, Vladimir Kara-Murza. Kenneth Roth's reports have criticized Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which remains a clear, gross, and uncorrected violation of Helsinki Final Accord principles by Putin and his regime. In April 2022, HRW's operations in Russia were suspended as part of Putin's silencing of criticism over his unprovoked war.

In recognition of Kenneth Roth's 30-year leadership of Human Rights Watch and the organization he has built to bring attention to human rights abuses around the world and the recommendations he has made to end and correct these atrocities, I ask my colleagues to join me in saying job well-done and in wishing him well in his retirement. His presence will surely be missed, but I am confident that the human rights monitoring infrastructure put into place will remain strong and that his leadership will serve as a guide for future leaders of HRW and for all who work in the areas of human rights monitoring and advocacy.