Kenneth Roth is the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. (September 2015)

Slavery: The ISIS Rules

Yazidi sisters who escaped from ISIS captivity and are now living in the Sharya refugee camp, Duhok Province, Iraq, July 3, 2015
Introduction Modern slavery takes many forms, but most slaves are forced to work in the shadows. Those who control modern slaves—whether men compelled to work on Thai fishing boats, domestic workers trapped in the homes of their Saudi employers, children ordered to beg in Senegal, bonded workers in India, or …

The End of Human Rights?

Two eight-year-old brides with their husbands, Hajjah, Yemen, July 2010
Human rights organizations today have a major part in international affairs. My organization, Human Rights Watch, works in ninety countries, including virtually all those suffering war or severe governmental repression. Amnesty International, the largest rights group, has similar coverage and three million members around the world. These two big international …

Africa Attacks the International Criminal Court

A painting of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on display during his inauguration, ­Kasarani, Kenya, April 9, 2013
What are we to make of the fact that in its eleven-year history, the International Criminal Court has prosecuted only Africans? Should the court be condemned for discrimination—for taking advantage of Africa’s weak global position—as some African leaders contend? Or should it be applauded for giving long-overdue attention to atrocities in Africa—a sign that finally someone is concerned about the countless ignored African victims, as many African activists contend? This debate is at the heart of one of the most serious challenges the ICC has ever faced. If the current attack on it succeeds, the court’s future may be in doubt.

The NSA’s Global Threat to Free Speech

Following months of Snowden disclosures, the extent to which the National Security Agency’s extraordinary surveillance infringes on the privacy of our communications and other vast areas of our lives has become widely apparent. Far less appreciated, however, is the global threat it poses to freedom of expression. After the revelations about NSA surveillance, many countries have said they may require Internet companies to keep data about their citizens on servers within their own borders. If that becomes standard practice, it will be easier for repressive governments to monitor Internet communications.

Syria: What Chance to Stop the Slaughter?

A pro-Assad poster in Damascus, Syria, September 29, 2013. The text reads: ‘Because we are Syrians, we love you. The conspiracy failed.’
A negotiated peace may well be the best way to avoid a complete collapse of the Syrian state. Mindful of the disastrous precedent of Iraq, even many die-hard Assad opponents hope the basic structure of the state will remain intact, though without Assad and his senior lieutenants. A negotiated peace also would provide a chance of ensuring the security of all Syrians, without regard to the sectarian animosities now dividing the country. But few believe a negotiated peace is anywhere near. Civilian deaths continue, making it urgent to find some way to curtail the slaughter in the interim. Most paths for doing so go through Moscow.

Rethinking Surveillance

As a federal prosecutor in the 1980s, I used to think nothing of scooping up the phone numbers that a suspect called. I viewed that surveillance as no big deal because the Supreme Court had ruled in Smith v. Maryland (1979) that we have no reasonable expectation of privacy in the phone numbers we dial, as opposed to the content of the calls. And in any event, I had limited time or practical ability to follow up on those numbers. Today, by contrast, when I look at the government’s large-scale electronic surveillance of private communications, I see an urgent need to rethink the rationale—and legal limits—for such intrusion.

What Rules Should Govern US Drone Attacks?

Drone aircraft at a US base, Afghanistan, 2011
As bits and pieces of the Obama administration’s legal justifications for its drone attacks trickle out, what is most striking is their deliberate ambiguity. The recent Justice Department “White Paper,” for example, is meant to give the impression that, at least for US citizen targets, the program has been carefully reviewed by lawyers, but it seems written to maximize the program’s latitude. That is obviously troubling for people who believe that the United States should conduct its counterterrorism operations in accordance with international law. It also sets a worrying precedent as other governments inevitably develop their own drone programs.

The Court the US Doesn’t Want

As cheering broke out in the UN conference room on the Viale Aventino in Rome this past July, David Scheffer, the US ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, was not pleased. While delegates from around the world celebrated a historic agreement to establish a new International Criminal Court (ICC), he sat …

Haiti and Clinton

Among the few foreign policy statements Bill Clinton made during the campaign was his vow to restore democracy in Haiti and to end the Bush administration’s summary repatriation of Haitian boat people. In the first week of his presidency Clinton revived diplomatic efforts on behalf of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the liberation …

Haiti: The Shadows of Terror

Haiti’s civilian leaders, including President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, have recently agreed to a plan for resolving the nation’s political crisis. But the Haitian army remains the key to the plan’s success. For as the army created that crisis late last September when it overthrew Aristide, the first freely elected president in …