The Price of Rights

(also in espanol).

Linked with Kenneth Roth – USA, with Human Rights Watch HRW, with After Guantánamo, and with Cop violence up due to the culture of impunity.

Published by Human Rights Warch HRW (and published in The Guardian), by Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, December 10, 2008.

… In situations of serious abuse, the human rights movement often cannot rely on local courts to enforce rights. Abusive governments have long figured out that killing, corrupting or compromising a few judges and lawyers is enough to secure impunity for human rights abuse. Instead, the human rights movement has developed the capacity to put intense pressure on abusive governments with the goal of forcing them to resist the temptation to violate human rights.

Most important is the power to shame. Today, in light of the movement set in motion by the declaration, no government wants to be known as a human rights violator. By carefully investigating, reporting, and publicising misconduct, human rights groups can subject abusive governments to intense public opprobrium. Because that embarrassment undermines legitimacy at home and abroad, governments will go to great lengths to avoid it. They often begin by denying the problem or attacking the messenger, but ultimately they recognise that the key to their public-relations problem is to acknowledge and change abusive practices.


Second, working in influential capitals around the world, human rights groups have developed the capacity to exert intense diplomatic pressure. The declaration has encouraged governments not only to respect human rights at home but also to promote human rights in their relations abroad. They might withhold the sales of arms, or condition budgetary support, or simply refuse to invite a leader to prestigious summits, until the abusive government curbs serious violations. These forms of pressure increase the cost of abuse.

Third, in extreme cases of genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity, the human rights movement has helped develop the capacity to prosecute individual offenders, including sitting heads of state. The emerging system of international justice, culminating in the International Criminal Court, provides venues for prosecution that are beyond the reach of abusive governments to shut down. Having worked intensively to establish these tribunals, human rights groups now provide evidence, expert testimony, and political support.

Finally, in situations of ongoing mass murder, human rights groups can sometimes convince the world to deploy military force to stop the killing. The concept of government responsibility to protect people facing mass atrocities is still contested, but increasingly, at the behest of the human rights movement, states are willing to put pressure on an abusive government until it relents and agrees to the deployment of an international protection force … (full text).

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