Today we had the incredible opportunity to visit Human Rights Watch, an American-founded international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. While there, we were able to meet and talk with Andrew Stroehlein, the European Media Director at Human Rights Watch. As a media director, Stroehlein basically acts as the spokesperson for HRW on the European stage. He is extremely active on social media and noted that his work days tend to start at 6 am because that is the best time to reach journalists and prominent news outlets. He then briefed us on how Human Rights Watch works and the major human rights issues that the NGO is dealing with today.
Stroehlein began by explaining that HRW does three main things: investigate human rights abuses, expose these abuses and push for change in the areas they are committed. HRW also covers a wide range of human rights from LGBT rights to refugee rights. Each year, HRW publishes more than 100 reports and briefings on human rights conditions in some 90 countries. HRW implements public and private advocacy by meeting with governments, the UN, regional groups like the European Union, financial institutions, and corporations to fight for changes in policy and practices that promote human rights around the world.
Stroehlein encouraged more of a discussion-based briefing and urged us to ask questions. A range of topics were covered by our questions. For instance, someone from our group asked how HRW deals with uncooperative governments when HRW wants to enter a country for research. Stroehlein said that sometimes HRW struggles to obtain visas or even be able to talk to people once in the country. He used North Korea as an example by saying that HRW obtains most of their information regarding North Korea’s human rights abuses by people who have escaped the authoritarian regime. He also added that HRW had been denied visas to countries like Israel and Azerbaijan recently.
Someone then asked which country has the most investigative funding going into it, and to my surprise, the answer was that the US has had the most articles published on its human rights abuses annually. The reason being, as HRW is an American NGO they are more easily able to look within their own country and identify when individuals’ rights are not being recognized. It was also explained that the human rights abuses in the US are not systematic as they might be in other countries and may be less severe. Most investigation in the US is about domestic issues, but there are still a good number of issues that arise out of how the US projects its power in the international arena. Stroehlein then mentioned how HRW was highly critical of former President Obama and his administration regarding issues like the use of drones and the closing of Guantanamo Bay.
I’m amazed at Human Rights Watch’s power to affect change, especially given that they are a staff of 450 covering 100 countries. When asked how they got to be so widely known Stroehlein responded “be big and be loud.” This site visit was definitely one of my favorites so far as we learned a great deal of information. The briefing was a great introduction to our human rights course and Stroehlein was an engaging and enthusiastic speaker!