Aryeh Neier is President Emeritus of the Open Society Foundations. He was for twelve years the Executive Director of ­Human Rights Watch.


Under Lock & Key: How Long?

Olivia de Havilland and Betsy Blair as inmates at a mental hospital in The Snake Pit, 1948
Although few people are satisfied with the quality of mental health services in the US, it is still startling to find physicians and psychiatrists enthusiastically calling for a return to asylums. One might think that the grim history of confinement would have precluded such advocacy. Whether in popular imagination (think …

The Burglars Who Exposed the FBI

Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover, Washington D.C., May 1969

The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI

by Betty Medsger
On the night of March 8, 1971, eight activists in the movement to end American involvement in the war in Vietnam broke into the small office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Media, Pennsylvania, a town near Philadelphia, and stole all its files. One of the burglars, William Davidon, …

Guatemala: Will Justice Be Done?

Efraín Ríos Montt, center, at the time of his military coup in Guatemala, March 1982
Between 1990 and 2009 there were some sixty-seven prosecutions of heads of state or heads of government for human rights abuses or corruption, or both, a far greater number than ever before. Yet the trial of former dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt, who served as president of Guatemala from the time of his military coup in March 1982 until he was forced out in August 1983, was unique. For the first time, a former head of state was tried for genocide in the courts of his own country. In effect, the prosecution of Ríos Montt also condemned the policies of the Reagan administration, which was a resolute apologist for the Guatemalan dictator.


El Salvador: Waiting for a Reckoning

Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero, the year before his murder by right-wing paramilitaries, El Salvador, 1979

In the absence of criminal prosecutions in El Salvador, there have still been efforts to bring some measure of accountability to those who committed flagrant abuses of human rights during the civil war. Matt Eisenbrandt—a lawyer who took part in a court case in the United States to bring to justice one of the people who murdered Archbishop Romero—details the process of tracking down the killer in Assassination of a Saint.

Guatemala’s Shameful Repudiation of Justice

Guatemala's Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz at a press conference in Guatemala City, October 11, 2012

If countries were ranked by lawlessness, Guatemala would score near the top. The country is ridden by crime and corruption and has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Now, a decision to remove Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz seems aimed at derailing her pursuit of those who committed genocidal violence in the 1980s.

Spying on Americans: A Very Old Story

J. Edgar Hoover; drawing by David Levine

Much of the political surveillance of the 1960s and the 1970s consisted in efforts to identify organizations that were critical of government policies and gather information on their adherents. The surveillance practices of the NSA revealed in recent weeks are fundamentally different. They attempt to identify patterns of electronic behavior that arouse the government’s suspicion rather than individuals associated with certain organizations or causes. Yet these new forms of surveillance, over time, may lead in the same direction. Those who are targeted may be excluded from certain benefits or opportunities on the basis of having been identified for engaging in activities that are legitimate. If that were to happen, they are unlikely ever to find out that they have been blocked on such grounds.

Reckoning with Genocide

General Efraín Ríos Montt (center) announcing his military coup, Guatemala City, March 23, 1982

The trial of General Efraín Ríos Montt, who served as president of Guatemala from the time he seized power in a military coup in March 1982 until he was forced out in another military coup in August 1983, began on March 19 in Guatemala City. The prosecutor alleged that Ríos Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez, his chief of intelligence, were responsible for the killing of 1,771 Ixils—one of Guatemala’s twenty-two distinct indigenous peoples—and the forced displacement of another 29,000, many them tortured or sexually abused by the army. For the first time, a former head of state is being tried for genocide in the courts of his own country.