University News

Lecture addresses global human rights emergencies

Director of Human Rights Watch critiques Obama, encourages principled decision-making

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, October 10, 2014

“In times of tumult like we’re in today, you need some kind of guiding compass to prevent a resort to shortsightedness,” said Kenneth Roth ’77 P’12 in a lecture Thursday focusing on human rights issues.

Though several of the world’s current human rights crises can be attributed to several potentially valid explanations, “a big part of the problem has been a seeming pragmatism that Obama has sometimes been championed for, but has too often degenerated into a short-sightedness that has repeatedly led us into trouble,” said Kenneth Roth ’77 P’12, executive director of Human Rights Watch, at the start of a lecture Thursday evening.

Roth delivered the 89th annual Stephen A. Ogden ’60 memorial lecture to a crowd of mostly students and faculty members in Metcalf Auditorium. President Christina Paxson began her introduction by saying Roth “began his training” for his current work while at Brown, where he devoted a large part of his undergraduate career to studying the “morality of public policy.”

Roth focused on contemporary human rights crises during his lecture, entitled “Making Sense of Today’s Tumultuous World.”

Compared to Obama’s pragmatism, Roth said, “I will argue that a more principled approach, even if in classic terms may be seen as less realist and less pragmatic, would actually have been more productive and will provide us a compass going forward for trying to extract us from some of these messes.”

Roth presented a case-by-case analysis of violence in the Middle East and North Africa, beginning with American involvement in Iraq.

“I think what Obama has done since the formal departure from Iraq has significantly contributed to making things worse,” Roth said. He added that past support of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki shaped U.S. policy and that “the United States continued to support Maliki even when there were many signals that we should stop.”

Maliki’s distrust of the Iraqi military led to a reliance on Shiite military forces and an abusive sectarian rule, he said. Sunni tribes that had opposed al-Qaeda joined with ISIS because they felt safer there than under Maliki. “Obama largely ignored these abuses until ISIS arrived.”

Roth also criticized the U.S. role in Egypt.“The U.S. attitude towards Egypt has basically been to support whoever is there at the moment,” he said. Roth added that the problem with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the current president of Egypt, is “his reign is actually the most brutal we’ve had in memory,” citing Sisi’s treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood, methods of torture and the silencing of the press. “Despite this horrible record, the U.S. is sort of embracing this guy,” Roth said.

Regarding the crisis in Gaza, Roth said in the absence of national justice, the persistent warfare should be assessed by the International Criminal Court, an intergovernmental organization that tries international crimes. Palestine could join the court, but it is “under enormous pressure not to do so” from the United States and the European Union, he said, adding that the United States is again “sticking up for friends” and “allowing principles to slide.”

In Nigeria, “Boko Haram has been allowed to flourish” with minimal criticism from the United States, Roth said.

“In times of tumult like we’re in today, you need some kind of guiding compass to prevent a resort to shortsightedness,” Roth concluded, advocating for a “more principled approach” going forward.

After the lecture, Kimberly Saltz ’17 was one of several audience members to pose a question to Roth.

“I’ve been hearing a bit about how when certain groups show one issue prominently it tends to shape diplomacy. … I was wondering what your thoughts on that were,” Saltz said.

“I tend to be more worried about human rights issues being neglected,” Roth answered.

Another audience member asked about how Human Rights Watch addresses “organizational gaps” in making humanitarian crises more visible to the general public. The student cited a moment from a course last semester, in which her professor was unaware of a church bombing in Nigeria that the student had read about online. She questioned why the human rights violation had not gotten more media coverage.

Roth replied that the organization uses the press as a means of motivating governments to action, though continued coverage is not always necessary after a quick United Nations response to incidents.

The nonprofit first goes in with a research staff to conduct “on-the-ground investigations,” when human rights violations come under its radar, he continued. With “limited staff” covering over 90 countries, “I’m not sure there’s a lot more we could be doing,” Roth said.

Roth joined the nonprofit, nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch in 1987 and has since worked to conduct investigations and missions, with special attention devoted to international justice, counterterrorism and the United Nations’ work, according to the Human Rights Watch website.

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  1. Ken Roth and HRW are paid for and owned by the Saudi Royal family.

    Ken, what about this?

    Modern Muslims have religious conflict with: Hindus in Kashmir;
    Christians in Nigeria, Egypt, and Bosnia; atheists in Chechnya; Baha’is in
    Iran; Animists in Darfur; Buddhists in Thailand; each other in Iraq, Pakistan,
    Somalia, and Yemen; Jews in Israel; Why is Islam involved in more sectarian and
    religious conflicts than any other religion today? In fact, why is Islam the
    only religion in conflict with every single one of today’s major world

    But you think belligerent pugnacious Islam has legitimate grievances in this
    constant conflict, and that, for example in Palestine, Islam is just defending
    its own reasonable interests?

    No, not at bottom. At bottom what we have in Islam is a violent,
    expansionist totalitarianism. That’s why Islam is in conflict all over the
    world with every other religion.

  2. “This is blisteringly ridiculous, but is already getting (predictably enough) wide play in the mainstream media. What would it take for you to commit an act of jihad mass murder? Could an FBI agent convince you by any combination of love or money to do such a thing? “In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act.” Ridiculous. A law-abiding individual cannot be coaxed to commit jihad mass murder. One would have to be already sympathetic to the cause, and at very least eager to act. These jihadis in every case were given numerous opportunities to say no and opt out of the jihad plot. They did not. Thus they, not the FBI, bear responsibility for their actions.

    Consider this also: I oppose jihad terror and Islamic supremacism. Leftists and Islamic supremacists constantly propagate the lie that this means that I, and others like me, hate Muslims and want to see them harmed. Accordingly, every now and again I get an email from a Leftist or Islamic supremacist who thinks he is cleverer than he is, inviting me to applaud, support, or join him in doing harm to Muslims. I turn these messages over to the FBI and that is the end of the matter, because in reality I stand for the equality of rights of all people before the law, and do not support any vigilante action or harming of any innocent Muslim (or any innocent person). I am, in other words, not able to be entrapped. Why are so many Muslims, by contrast, susceptible to the blandishments of these FBI agents who are supposedly cajoling them to commit jihad violence?

    “FBI pushed Muslims to plot terrorist attacks: HRW,” AFP, July 22, 2014 (thanks to all who sent this in):

    WASHINGTON: The FBI encouraged and sometimes even paid Muslims to commit terrorist acts during numerous sting operations after the 9/11 attacks, a human rights group said in a report published on Monday.

    “Far from protecting Americans, including American Muslims, from the threat of terrorism, the policies documented in this report have diverted law enforcement from pursuing real threats,” said the report by Human Rights Watch.

    Aided by Columbia University Law School’s Human Rights Institute, Human Rights Watch examined 27 cases from investigation through trial, interviewing 215 people, including those charged or convicted in terrorism cases, their relatives, defence lawyers, prosecutors and judges.

    “In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act,” the report said.

    In the cases reviewed, half the convictions resulted from a sting operation, and in 30 percent of those cases the undercover agent played an active role in the plot.

    “Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US,” said Andrea Prasow, the rights group’s deputy Washington director.

    “But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.” The report cites the case of four Muslim converts from Newburgh, New York who were accused of planning to blow up synagogues and attack a US military base. — AFP

  3. BigSticksWalkSoftly says:

    Bottom line:
    US government policy has never been focused on maintaining and preserving human and civil rights.
    US government policy has always been focused on money and power.
    This is most obvious in the US government policies of unconditionally supporting the ethnic cleansing, oppression, apartheid, subjugation and Jim Crow discrimination that the extremist colonial settler right-wing Israeli government has been doing to Palestinians for 70 years now, and continues right this moment.
    Palestinians have a right to full civil and human rights,
    Unfortunately the US government has passed laws making it illegal for Palestinians to even try to get their inalienable rights

    • CrookedStickGooseSteps,

      YOY can’t the US be like Russia, China, Saudi Arabia or Sudan?


      Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia: there should be no churches
      in Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE

      This is on Muhammad’s
      orders: “I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula
      and will not leave any but Muslim.” (Sahih Muslim 19.4366)

      And that doesn’t mean just
      Saudi Arabia. That means Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, Bahrain, Qatar and the United
      Arab Emirates.

      Islamic Tolerance Alert:
      “Saudi Arabia Declares Destruction of All Churches in Region,” from Charisma News, April 1
      (thanks to Rene):

      Earlier this month, news reports surfaced out of Saudi Arabia that
      raised the red flag for Christians.

      Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs USA, says,
      “The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia—the top Islamic official in the country
      of Saudi Arabia—has declared that it is ‘necessary to destroy all the churches
      of the region.'” Nettleton goes on to note that the report hasn’t surfaced
      anywhere except on the Council on Foreign Relations Web site, which was then
      picked up by The Atlantic.

  4. Angelina Gurski says:

    There is a human rights emergency on College Hill, as Christina Paxson and Margaret Klawunn allow girls to be raped on campus, and as actively they protect campus rapists.

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