Posts Tagged ‘Kenneth Roth’

New program director of Human Rights Watch generates interest

May 7, 2022

In 1 May 2022 the Times of Israel reported that “Sari Bashi, a longtime activist with the organization who is married to a Palestinian, to head up programming at HRW amid search for successor to departing director Kenneth Roth” {see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/27/after-almost-30-years-kenneth-roth-will-leave-human-rights-watch/]

I’m thrilled, honored, humbled and grateful to announce that next month, I will begin my appointment as @hrw’s new Program Director, supervising our research and investigations as we reorient ourselves to strengthen the broader human rights ecosystem and meet today’s challenges,” Bashi tweeted on Friday.

In the past, Bashi, a lawyer by training, co-founded and directed Gisha, an organization that pushes for freedom of movement for Palestinians in Gaza. From 2015 to 2018 she served as the director of Israel-Palestine for HRW, and returned to the organization last year as a special adviser.

A year ago, HRW issued a sweeping 213-page report accusing Israel of apartheid. Israel rejected the report, calling its “fictional claims… both preposterous and false,” and accusing HRW of having “a long-standing anti-Israel agenda.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/10/israeli-government-sponsored-app-goes-after-hrw-for-apartheid-categorisation/]

HRW’s Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, was expelled by Israel in 2019 over allegations that he supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to isolate Israel over its alleged mistreatment of Palestinians. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/06/human-rights-watch-omar-shakir-loses-his-appeal-in-israeli-supreme-court/]

In recent years, Bashi, a US native, has been open about her relationship with a Palestinian man originally from Gaza, and the struggles they have faced to live in the same place. They lived together for a few years in the United States as well as in South Africa, and have based their lives in Ramallah, she said, since they are unable to live together in Israel.

The reaction was quick in coming. On 2 May Just the News stated: “A powerful nongovernmental organization with a massive budget and an alleged ideological bias against Israel will continue targeting the Jewish state after it completes a major leadership change now underway, according to experts and lawmakers who spoke to Just the News.” “Unfortunately, the extremely biased attitude toward Israel which Kenneth Roth represented in Human Rights Watch will, most probably, be cemented with the appointment of Sari Bashi,” said Sarah Stern, president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a think tank. “Throughout her career, Ms. Bashi has constantly demonstrated her lack of objectivity and overwhelming animus towards the state of Israel.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/jewish-israeli-to-become-new-programs-director-of-human-rights-watch/

https://justthenews.com/accountability/whistleblowers/experts-human-rights-watch-continue-targeting-israel-after-leadership

After almost 30 years Kenneth Roth will leave Human Rights Watch

April 27, 2022
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth speaks during an interview
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth speaks during an interview with Reuters in Geneva, Switzerland, April 9, 2018. © 2018 Reuters/Pierre Albouy

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth has announced that he plans to step down at the end of August 2022, Human Rights Watch said on 26 April. Roth has led the organization since 1993, transforming it from a small group of regional “watch committees” to a major international human rights organization with global influence.

I had the great privilege to spend nearly 30 years building an organization that has become a leading force in defending the rights of people around the world,” Roth said. “I leave Human Rights Watch with confidence that a highly talented and dedicated staff will carry on that defence with great energy, creativity, and effectiveness.

Under Roth’s leadership, Human Rights Watch grew from a staff of about 60 with a $7 million budget, to 552 covering more than 100 countries and a nearly $100 million budget.

Roth began his human rights career as a volunteer, working on nights and weekends while serving as an attorney and a federal prosecutor. He joined Human Rights Watch in 1987 as deputy director. At the time, the organization consisted of Helsinki Watch, formed in 1978 to support dissident movements in Eastern Europe; Americas Watch, founded in 1981; and Asia Watch, formed in 1985. Shortly after Roth joined, the organization created Middle East Watch and Africa Watch. Early in his tenure, Roth moved the organization toward a single identity as Human Rights Watch…

Roth recognized the need for real time documentation of atrocities to generate immediate pressure to end them. That led to the creation of a group of specially trained researchers who could provide a surge capacity to the organization’s regular country researchers.

Roth also embraced new possibilities to bring perpetrators to justice. As Human Rights Watch researchers meticulously documented abuses, the organization pressed the United Nations Security Council, then in a more cooperative moment, to create international war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Human Rights Watch research was used to build some of the cases, and staff testified at both UN tribunals. Human Rights Watch also played a prominent role in establishing the International Criminal Court, fending off pressure from the US government seeking to ensure immunity for its own forces.

Ken’s fearless passion for justice, his courage and compassion towards the victims of human rights violations and atrocity crimes was not just professional responsibility but a personal conviction to him,” said Fatou Bensouda, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. “He has indeed been a great inspiration to me and my colleagues.”

Today, amid the horrific abuse taking place in Ukraine, an infrastructure is in place to hold perpetrators accountable.

Roth also created special teams to address the needs of certain marginalized people, including women, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, refugees, people with disabilities, and older people. He also oversaw the development of specialized programs on poverty and inequality, climate change, technology, and corporate social responsibility. In addition, he initiated a program to address human rights in the United States.

Roth changed the way that Human Rights Watch directed its advocacy. The organization began focusing mainly on US foreign policy. Roth globalized the organization’s advocacy, establishing offices in Brussels, London, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Tokyo, Sao Paolo, Johannesburg, and Sydney. He also spearheaded the organization’s work with the United Nations, with dedicated advocates in New York and Geneva.

After the 9/11 attacks, Human Rights Watch documented and exposed the use of “black sites” where US officials interrogated and tortured terrorism suspects. Under Roth, Human Rights Watch pressed the US government to investigate and prosecute those responsible for issuing the orders. Eventually the US Senate issued the Torture Report confirming Human Rights Watch’s findings and denouncing the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of torture.

Ken Roth turned Human Rights Watch into a juggernaut for justice,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “He has inspired a generation of human rights defenders to fight for a better world. During the so-called ‘war on terror,’ Ken went to Guantanamo and brought to bear his acumen and stature in exposing the farce of the military commission process. No organization and no leader have had a greater impact in human rights on a global scale.

Human Rights Watch’s communication strategy evolved dramatically under Roth. The organization began by writing reports. Over time, it also began producing shorter and quicker reports and built a strong multimedia capacity, so that videos, photos, and graphics now routinely accompany the organization’s publications and sometimes are the publication itself. The organization also embraced social media. The organization has amassed nearly 14 million followers on the major social media platforms. Roth himself has more than half a million Twitter followers.

In his nearly 30 years at the helm of Human Rights Watch, Roth traveled the world, pressing government officials of all stripes to pay greater respect to human rights. He met with more than two dozen heads of state and government along with countless ministers and made investigative or advocacy trips to more than 50 countries. Whenever he could, he also met with communities affected by human rights violations. During his early years with the organization, he conducted fact-finding investigations himself, including in Haiti, Cuba, Israel-Palestine, Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion, and Serbia after the US bombing. In recent years, he has been especially concerned with addressing atrocities during the Syrian war as well as Chinese government repression in Xinjiang.

Roth inevitably earned many enemies. Despite being Jewish (and having a father who fled Nazi Germany as a 12-year-old boy), he has been attacked for the organization’s criticism of Israeli government abuses. The Rwandan government was particularly vitriolic in its criticism of Roth after Human Rights Watch, which had issued a definitive account of the genocide, also reported on atrocities and repression under President Paul Kagame.

The Chinese government imposed “sanctions” on him and expelled him from Hong Kong when he traveled there to release the annual World Report in January 2020, which spotlighted Beijing’s threat to the global human rights system. Roth responded to these and many other criticisms by noting that the organization employs the same fact-finding methodology and applies the same human rights principles in every country where it works.

Roth has written extensively on a range of human rights issues. In addition to writing the introduction to the World Report since 1990, he has published more than 300 articles including in the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and Foreign Affairs. I quoted him often in this blog: see e.g. : https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/kenneth-roth/

Roth plans to write a book drawing on his personal experiences about the most effective strategies for defending human rights. “I am leaving Human Rights Watch but I am not leaving the human rights cause,” Roth said.

Human Rights Watch will conduct an open search for Roth’s successor. Tirana Hassan, chief programs officer, will serve as interim executive director.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/26/kenneth-roth-step-down-human-rights-watch

https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2022-04-26/head-of-human-rights-watch-to-resign-after-nearly-3-decades

Major NGO offices in Russia now closed

April 9, 2022

On 8 April 2022, the Russian government closed the offices of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and several other NGOs such as Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, Friedrich Ebert Foundation. This decision has been taken “in connection with the discovered violations of the Russian legislation.

On 11 March, Russia’s media regulator had already blocked access to Amnesty International’s Russian-language website.

Human Rights Watch had maintained an office in Russia for 30 years. The action was announced just days after an appeals court upheld the liquidation of Russia’s human rights giant, Memorial. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/12/it-had-to-happen-russian-authorities-move-to-shut-down-memorial/]

Human Rights Watch has been working on and in Russia since the Soviet era, and we will continue to do so,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This new iron curtain will not stop our ongoing efforts to defend the rights of all Russians and to protect civilians in Ukraine.”

Reacting to the news, Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said: “Amnesty’s closing down in Russia is only the latest in a long list of organizations that have been punished for defending human rights and speaking the truth to the Russian authorities. In a country where scores of activists and dissidents have been imprisoned, killed or exiled, where independent media has been smeared, blocked or forced to self-censor, and where civil society organizations have been outlawed or liquidated, you must be doing something right if the Kremlin tries to shut you up.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/08/russia-government-shuts-down-human-rights-watch-office

https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/04/08/moscow-shutting-down-amnesty-human-rights-watch-in-russia-a77290

Human Rights Watch World Report 2022: work to be done

January 18, 2022

Autocratic leaders faced significant backlash in 2021, but democracy will flourish in the contest with autocracy only if democratic leaders do a better job of addressing global problems, Kenneth Roth, executive director at Human Rights Watch, said today in releasing the Human Rights Watch World Report 2022.

From Cuba to Hong Kong, people took to the streets demanding democracy when unaccountable rulers, as they so often do, prioritized their own interests over those of their citizens, Roth said. However, many democratic leaders have been too mired in short-term preoccupations and scoring political points to address serious problems such as climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, poverty and inequality, racial injustice, or the threats from modern technology.

In country after country, large numbers of people have taken to the streets, even at the risk of being arrested or shot, which shows the appeal of democracy remains strong,” Roth said. “But elected leaders need to do a better job of addressing major challenges to show that democratic government delivers on its promised dividends.

The Human Rights Watch World Report 2022, its 32nd edition, describes the human rights situation in nearly all of the approximately 100 countries where Human Rights Watch works.

World Report 2022, Human Rights Watch’s 32nd annual review of human rights practices and trends around the globe, reviews developments in more than 100 countries. READ IT HERE

In his introductory essay, Roth challenges the common view that autocracy is ascendent and democracy is on the decline. Many autocrats claim to serve their people better than democratically elected leaders, but they usually deliver mainly for themselves and then try to manipulate electoral systems so citizens cannot deliver a negative verdict. Autocrats typically try to divert attention with racist, sexist, xenophobic, or homophobic appeals, he said.

Covid-19 spotlighted this self-serving tendency, with many autocratic leaders downplaying the pandemic, turning their backs on scientific evidence, spreading false information, and failing to take basic measures to protect the health and lives of the public.

In an important and growing development that must worry some autocrats, a broad range of opposition political parties has begun to gloss over their policy differences to build alliances that prioritize their common interest in getting corrupt politicians or repressive leaders voted out of office, Roth said. 

In the Czech Republic, an unlikely coalition defeated Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. In Israel, an even unlikelier coalition ended the longtime rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Similar broad alliances of opposition parties have formed for forthcoming elections against Viktor Orban in Hungary and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey. A comparable tendency within the US Democratic Party contributed to the selection of Joe Biden to contest the 2020 election against Donald Trump.

Moreover, as autocrats can no longer rely on subtly manipulated elections to preserve power, a growing number, from Nicaragua to Russia, are resorting to overt electoral charades that guarantee their desired result but confer none of the legitimacy sought from holding an election. This growing repression is a sign of weakness, not strength, Roth said.

However, to persuade people to abandon the self-serving rule of autocrats, democracies need to do better in addressing societal ills, Roth said.

For example, the climate crisis poses a dire threat to humankind, yet democratic leaders are only nibbling at the problem, he said, seemingly incapable of overcoming national perspectives and vested interests to take the major steps needed to avert catastrophic consequences. The World Report 2022 includes assessments of the climate policies of the world’s top 10 greenhouse gas emitters, as well as more than a dozen other countries where there have been significant policy developments related to the climate crisis.

The Covid-19 pandemic also exposed weaknesses of democratic leaders. Democracies met the pandemic by developing highly effective mRNA vaccines with remarkable speed but have failed to ensure that the people of lower-income countries share this lifesaving invention. Some democratic governments took steps to mitigate the economic consequences of Covid-19 lockdowns, but have yet to tackle the broader and persistent problem of widespread poverty and inequality or to build adequate systems of social protection for the next inevitable economic disruption, he said.

Democracies regularly debate the threats posed by technology, he said. These include the dissemination of disinformation and hate speech by social media platforms, the large-scale invasion of privacy as an economic model, the intrusiveness of new surveillance tools, and the biases of artificial intelligence. But democratic leaders have taken only baby steps to address them.

Democracies fare no better when acting outside their borders. They frequently descend to the compromises of realpolitik, bolstering autocratic “friends” to curtail migration, fight terrorism, or protect supposed “stability” rather than defending democratic principles.

In contrast to Trump’s embrace of friendly autocrats when he was US president, Biden promised a foreign policy that would be guided by human rights. But the US has continued to provide arms to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel despite their persistent repression. In the face of an autocratic trend in Central America, Biden mainly prioritized efforts to curtail migration rather than autocracy.

Other Western leaders displayed similar weakness in their defense of democracy. Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government helped to orchestrate global condemnation of the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. But while holding the European Union presidency, Germany helped to promote an EU investment deal with China despite Beijing’s use of ethnic Uyghur forced labor.

The government of French President Emmanuel Macron helped to coordinate broad condemnation of Beijing’s conduct in Xinjiang but was blind to the abysmal situation in Egypt.

If democracies are to prevail, their leaders must do more than spotlight the inevitable shortcomings of autocratic rule, Roth said. They must do a better job of meeting national and global challenges of making sure that democracy in fact delivers.

“Promoting democracy means standing up for democratic institutions such as independent courts, free media, robust parliaments, and vibrant civil societies even when that brings unwelcome scrutiny or challenges to executive policies,” Roth said. “And it demands elevating public discourse rather than stoking our worst sentiments, acting on democratic principles rather than merely voicing them, and unifying us before looming threats rather than dividing us in the quest for another do-nothing term in office.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/13/future-autocrats-darker-it-seems

https://www.rferl.org/a/human-rights-watch-autocracy-democracy-rights/31652052.html

Human Rights Watch publishes World report 2021, covering its work in 2020

January 14, 2021

World Report 2021, Human Rights Watch’s 31st annual review of human rights practices and trends around the globe, reviews developments in more than 100 countries.

In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth calls on the incoming US administration to more deeply embed respect for human rights as an element of domestic and foreign policy to counter the “wild oscillations in human rights policy” that in recent decades have come with each new resident of the White House. Roth emphasizes that even as the Trump administration mostly abandoned the protection of human rights, joined by China, Russia and others, other governments—typically working in coalition and some new to the cause—stepped forward to champion rights. As it works to entrench rights protections, the Biden administration should seek to join, not supplant, this new collective effort.

For last year’s report see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/15/human-rights-watch-issues-world-report-2020-covering-2019/

https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021

Kenneth Roth speaks plainly on international human rights: China a violator and US “unprincipled”

September 29, 2020
In Newsweek of 21 September 2020 did an interview with Kenneth Roth who has spent 27 years as the executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in which he warns that China poses a threat to the global human rights system, that U.S. is no longer to be relied on as a supporter of human rights and how this has left a void, emboldening autocrats who have used the pandemic to undermine democratic societies.

China and the threat it poses to human rights both at home and around the world is a huge issue,” he says, identifying the current period as the darkest in China’s history when it comes to human rights since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. More than a million Uighur Muslims have been put in internment camps in the country’s Xinjiang province, According to the United Nations (U.N.). China says the camps serve as “re-education” centers designed to combat extremism, but those who have managed to escape share stories of forced labor, torture, medical experiments and rape. Roth says: “The Uighurs are the most severe example of worsening repression under Xi Jinping (China’s prime minister). It’s quite clear that this is the darkest moment in China in human rights terms since the massacre of Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989, the Uyghurs have been the most grievous sufferers of that where a million or more have been detained essentially to force them to abandon Islam and their culture.” The worsening repression doesn’t just extend to minorities, it’s something Roth says we can see also occurring in Hong Kong and Tibet as well as against China’s own population more widely.

There is no independent civil society,” he says. “There is no independent media, human rights defenders are routinely imprisoned. There is a complete lockdown on any organized public dissent and that is just across the board, not just minority population areas. China’s also building this so-called social credit system which is designed to condition access to various governmental benefits on one’s social reliability. So it’s using high-tech tools to control the population.“…

….

On the human rights challenges facing Europe, Roth expresses particular concern about the situation in Belarus, where the man dubbed “Europe’s last dictator“, Alexander Lukashenko, is facing widespread protests over a disputed election. Lukashenko has been in power since 1994, with the government frequently accused of repressing the opposition….

Kenneth Roth
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch

He also thinks India‘s Prime Minister Modi has got away with what he calls his systematic discrimination against the country’s 172 million Muslims because of the West’s desire to tap into Indian markets and use it as a counterweight against China, which Newsweek will be reporting on in the coming days.

Roth is highly critical of the Trump administration, accusing the president’s foreign policy of being driven by the guiding principle of “self-glorification” and only speaking out in defense of human rights when the offending country is a perceived adversary.

Trump is utterly uninterested in calling out any human rights violation by anybody other than a handful of perceived adversaries, China, Venezuela, Iran, Nicaragua and Cuba and that’s about it, which is a completely unprincipled approach to human rights which does not attract any adherence and greatly weakens the force of US intervention,” he says. “Human Rights Watch has been living with Trump for four years now and we have already stopped relying on the U.S. as anything like a principled supporter of human rights.”

With the U.S. increasingly withdrawing from the world stage and with the European Union not really filling the void, as he says, is there a new approach to the defense of human rights emerging?

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/19/are-human-rights-defenders-making-a-comeback-kenneth-roth-thinks-so/

https://www.newsweek.com/human-rights-china-u-s-foreign-policy-trump-democracy-europe-human-rights-watch-1533239

Human Rights Watch issues World Report 2020 (covering 2019)

January 15, 2020

On 14 January 2020 Human Rights Watch published it 30th annual World Report (entitled 2020 but covering events in 2019). From the preface:

It summarizes key human rights issues in more than 100 countries and territories worldwide, drawing on events from late 2018 through November 2019. In a keynote essay, Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth examines the increasingly dire threat to the global system for protecting human rights posed by the Chinese government under President Xi Jinping. Deepening and increasingly sophisticated domestic repression show that China’s leaders view human rights at home as an existential threat. That, in turn, has led Beijing to see international laws and institutions for the defense of human rights as an existential threat. As a result, Chinese authorities seek to censor criticism of China overseas, mute attention to human rights in its global engagements, and weaken global rights mechanisms. At stake is a system of governance built on the belief that every person’s dignity deserves respect—that regardless of official interests, limits exist on what states can do to people. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/19/are-human-rights-defenders-making-a-comeback-kenneth-roth-thinks-so/]

Noting that global institutions are built in part “on the belief that every person’s dignity deserves respect, that regardless of the official interests at stake, there are limits to what states can do to people,” Roth concludes that China is not simply a new and emerging power finding its place, but a country that poses an existential threat to the international human rights system.

The rest of the volume consists of individual country entries, each of which identifies significant human rights abuses, examines the freedom of local human rights defenders to conduct their work, and surveys the response of key international actors, such as the United Nations, European Union, African Union, United States, China, and various regional and international organizations and institutions.

The book reflects extensive investigative work that Human Rights Watch staff undertook in 2019, usually in close partnership with human rights activists and groups in the country in question. It also reflects the work of its advocacy team, which monitors policy developments and strives to persuade governments and international institutions to curb abuses and promote human rights.  As in past years, this report does not include a chapter on every country where Human Rights Watch works, nor does it discuss every issue of importance. The absence of a country or issue often simply reflects staffing or resource limitations and should not be taken as commentary on the significance of the problem. There are many serious human rights violations that Human Rights Watch simply lacks the capacity to address.

The factors we considered in determining the focus of our work in 2019 (and hence the content of this volume) include the number of people affected and the severity of abuse, access to the country and the availability of information about it, the susceptibility of abusive forces to influence, and the importance of addressing certain thematic concerns and of reinforcing the work of local rights organizations.

The World Report does not have separate chapters addressing our thematic work but instead incorporates such material directly into the country entries. Please consult the Human Rights Watch website for more detailed treatment of our work on children’s rights; women’s rights; arms and military issues; business and human rights; health and human rights; disability rights; the environment and human rights; international justice; terrorism and counterterrorism; refugees and displaced people; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people’s rights; and for information about our international film festivals.

(The book was edited by Danielle Haas, senior editor at Human Rights Watch, with assistance from Naimah Hakim, Program associate. Grace Choi, director of publications and information design, oversaw production of visual elements and layout.)

Human Rights Watch takes populist leaders in UN to task

September 25, 2019
World leaders gathering for the United Nations General Assembly should reject the abusive policies of autocratic populists and promote greater respect for human rights worldwide, Human Rights Watch said ton 23 September 2019. Four leaders who have spearheaded aggressive attacks on human rights at home and at times abroad – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, US President Donald Trump, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – will open the annual General Debate at UN headquarters on September 24, 2019.

Are Human Rights Defenders making a comeback? Kenneth Roth thinks so!

January 19, 2019

Kenneth Roth – the executive director of Human Rights Watch – published on 17 January 2019 a long post in Foreign Policy which summarizes his introduction to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2018. [for last year’s report, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/human-rights-watch-and-kenneth-roth-take-a-stand-against-trumps-dictator-friendly-policies/]. “With larger powers in retreat”, he says, “small countries and civil society groups have stepped up—and they have won some significant victories”. Here some large extracts:

A participant holds a banner with photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in front of the presidential palace during a demonstration on Dec. 21, 2018.

Read the rest of this entry »

Illustrative storm in a Zimbabwean teacup: billionaire vs HRW

January 3, 2019
 Human rights defender … Dewa Mavhinga, the southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch

In a Facebook post the billionaire Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa defended his wife Tsitsi’s philanthropic work ands lashed lashed out at an unnamed human rights defender while also appearing to demand his sacking by his employer. This person was soon identified as Dewa Mavhinga, the Southern Africa Director of Human Rights Watch.

Masiyiwa wrote: “Sadly, one of the foremost bullies is a Zimbabwean who works for an international organisation that is highly respected for its work on human rights. It’s founder, now 95, is a close family friend. I hope my human rights friend is happy now that he has stopped her from using Twitter. Maybe now he and others like him will stop this pathetic misogyny. What about the rights of women like my wife to also express an opinion?

In December, Mavhinga took issue with a post by Tsitsi Masiyiwa, in which she suggested human rights causes should only be supported after establishing the motive of those sponsoring them.“Some outcries and actions in pursuit of justice seem and look so right until you discover the source of the outcry and sponsor of the cause. Take a step back and reflect on some of the things we consider good and just causes,” Tsitsi said in a December 18 tweet. In reply, Mavhinga told Masiyiwa’s wife: “If you are implying that all and any outcry and pursuit of justice is sponsored, then that really is sad. When your husband pursued his fight to be licensed [Econet mobile phone network] it was a just cause. In such position of privilege, you should choose your words more carefully, lest you promote injustice.” Mavhinga was not the only one to see this post an an effort to brush up the government’s human rights record and many others expressed similar dismay. As a result Strive Masiyiwa and his wife wife both felt forced to close their Twitter accounts. 

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth on Wednesday weighed in on the side of Mavhinga, telling Masiyiwa that their employee “didn’t bully anyone”. Roth said Tsitsi’s comment “closely paralleled the claim of President Mnangagwa and some of his supporters that critics of human rights conditions under his rule are not genuine but are sponsored by outsiders.” He insisted that Mavhinga’s response was “entirely fair – an appropriate way to ensure that your wife’s comment, despite what her intentions might have been, wasn’t understood as an endorsement of the president’s and his allies’ attacks on human rights critics.”

Strive Masiyiwa and his wife

With no further instigation, others took up the theme as well, so your wife chose to close her Twitter account,” he added. “Unlike your statement here, the responder (Mavhinga) didn’t bully anyone – and certainly not your wife – but simply responded to what he feared, whatever her intentions, would be taken as an attack on t he credibility of the human rights movement. That others picked up on this point, without any encouragement or prompting by him, does not make him a bully but speaks to the resonance of his comment,” said Roth. Roth was also dismissive of the claim that Mavhinga was a misogynist, insisting “he would have responded to comments along the lines that your wife made regardless of who had made them.

Zimbabwean lawyer Brighton Mutebuka said he was “thrilled” that Human Rights Watch had backed Mavhinga.  “To seek to use his influence inappropriately to get Dewa fired is unacceptable. Human Rights Watch is a global brand. They would not have taken making such a swift rebuttal and backing Dewa lightly,” Mutebuka said, writing on Facebook. “Whilst Strive and his wife are entitled to their very optimistic views concerning the political trajectory that Mnangagwa’s government is on, they should be aware that a great many people do not share those views. They should also stand ready to be challenged on that, provided that such exchanges are nuanced, proportionate and civil. This is what democracy is founded on.”

Mavhinga and Human Rights Watch had come out of the exchanges as “principled, fearless and uncompromising” whilst Masiyiwa and his wife came across as “petulant, haughty, entitled, patronising and intolerant of divergent views”, he added.

https://www.zimlive.com/2019/01/human-rights-watch-rejects-strive-masiyiwa-bid-to-get-its-southern-africa-director-fired/