When Robert Bernstein first approached Aryeh Neier in 1978 to create the Helsinki Watch Committee, neither party knew the extent to which their organization would grow. Beginning out of a desire to criticize the Soviet Union’s human rights violations, both men found a startling lack of strong organizations that were willing and able to speak out against the great injustices of the world. Bernstein’s background was that of a book publisher, but he had a heart for humanity that compelled him to seek out Neier’s assistance, who was Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union at the time. The combination of both their talents and efforts allowed for the birth of an international entity that sought to defend rights all around the world, regardless of politics, socioeconomics, gender, or more.
The remaining of Helsinki Watch to now renowned Human Rights Watch (HRW) signaled an extension of the organization outside of Eastern Europe. Though it initially began with a specific cause, HRW has gained international fame and respect for documenting violations of human rights and warfare by all parties, showing no partiality. All must be held by the same standards, and by adhering to this mantra, HRW has become a world leader in advocacy and justice. HRW’s process to exposing abuses begins with investigating violations, fact checking claims, and then finally applying pressure to leaders in power to secure positive change.
Whether it be requesting Zimbabwe to hold free, fair elections or relentlessly advocating to end impunity in Syria over chemical weapon attacks, there is no part of the globe that Human Rights Watch has not sought to report on. Though neither founder is currently still playing a prominent role in the organization’s leadership, both men contributed greatly to the trajectory and success of HRW as a forerunner in the field of global human rights advocacy.
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