Speaker Extols Virtues of Human Rights Watch While Admonishing U.S. Actions

Carroll Bogert discusses organization’s work during recent visit to The College of Wooster

October 28, 2013 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Efforts by the United States to advocate for human rights around the world are being met with increasing skepticism and resistance, in large part because of our nation’s own human rights record. Carroll Bogert, deputy executive director for external relations for Human Rights Watch, made that point and several other compelling arguments during her address at the final Fall Academy of Religion lecture of the semester last week in Wishart Hall.

“U.S. diplomats can no longer raise the issue (with any credibility) to foreign governments,” said Bogert to a near capacity crowd in Lean Lecture Room. “It has compromised our ability to advocate for good.”

Bogert, on campus for a five-day visit as Wooster’s Theologian in Residence and Woodrow Wilson Fellow through the Council of Independent Colleges, was critical in her remarks about U.S. responses to human rights violations and even more so about its own transgressions, including the use of drones.

“The U.S. government is not on the ground to witness the devastating results of drone strikes, but our representatives are,” she said. “We justify the use of drones because of their chillingly precise nature and their ability to limit collateral damage, but many recent attacks have killed a number of innocent bystanders in the process.”

Human Rights Watch is a global non-governmental organization committed to reporting on violations and devising strategies to stop them. Active in 90 countries around the world, the group seeks to “bring the faces of those who are suffering to the conversation.”

To achieve its objectives, the organization employs a three-pronged methodology, which begins with a thorough investigation; progresses to an effort to expose the violations, primarily through the media; and concludes with a push to affect change by pressuring government leaders and policymakers. “We treat all cases of human rights abuse as a crime,” said Bogert. “Our primary target is not a mass audience but instead key policy makers, who can change laws to protect human rights.”

Bogert noted that Human Rights Watch is not a peace organization and does not fundamentally oppose warfare, but instead monitors the way in which war is waged. “We don’t judge nations that go to war,” she said. “Our primary concern is the prevention of civilian death in these conflicts.”

The organization also closely monitors the use of chemical weapons and practice of genocide. In addition, the group examines the credibility of the justification nations use to intervene. “Humanitarian intervention has to be genuine,” she said. “We also have to ask whether intervention will do more harm than good. In Syria, for example, we continue to ask, ‘what are the options?’ Right now the belief is that military intervention is not called for because there is no guarantee (that it will bring about the desired results).”

In concluding her presentation, Bogert noted that the U.S. government still has significant influence in many parts of the world, and its engagement on behalf of human rights can be decisive, but she offered several words of caution for America’s leaders. “The United States played a major role in the establishment of international law to protect citizens around the world, but (in recent years) we have been violating that,” she said, “and we are making a huge mistake.”