• While the obligation of the government to protect the rights of those deprived of their liberty is clear, governmental failures to protect individuals who are not in custodial settings also raise human rights concerns. The United States has an international legal obligation to protect individuals from violence perpetrated by the state and by private actors. And when public officials such as border agents or police officers have the authority to use force, human rights standards require that it be used proportionally, and only when necessary. Unfortunately, either because abuse happens at the hands of public officials, or because public officials turn a blind eye to victims of private abuse, the United States sometimes fails those who seek and deserve government protection. In so doing, it violates basic human rights and erodes public safety by making it less likely that victims will seek justice when they believe they will be met with abusive treatment, inaction, or indifference.

  • (Left to right) Eleanor, Roxanne, and Marisa, who all reported sexual assaults to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), stand in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC.
    Victims of sexual assault in Washington, DC are not getting the effective response they deserve and should expect from the district’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Sexual assault cases are too often not properly documented or investigated and victims may face callous, traumatizing treatment, despite official departmental policy to the contrary.


The Failure to Protect

  • Apr 9, 2014
    A bill making its way through the DC Council would be a significant step toward improving police response to sexual assault in the District of Columbia. The DC Council unanimously approved the bill, which adopts recommendations Human Rights Watch has been making for over a year, on April 8, 2014. It is scheduled for a second vote on May 6. If passed, it would go to DC Mayor Vincent Grey for his signature.
  • Mar 12, 2014
    The United Nations Human Rights Committee should conclude that US electronic surveillance and intelligence gathering violate fundamental civil and political rights, including the right to privacy.
  • Jan 21, 2014

    The US Congress should build on the progress made in 2013 and enact immigration reform early in the new year, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2014.

  • Jan 6, 2014
  • Sep 4, 2013
    It's a good day to remember Rodney Hulin, a physically slight teenager who was serving time for arson in a Texas prison. Repeatedly sodomized and beaten by older inmates, he killed himself in 1996 after prison officials refused to protect him. None of the rapists were ever punished. Rodney’s story was one of many accounts of brutal sexual violence and impunity that helped galvanize political momentum behind PREA.
  • Jul 26, 2013
    The United States should mark July 26, 2013, the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, by strengthening legal protections for people with disabilities at home and abroad, and should ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the Disability Rights Treaty – without further delay.
  • Jul 26, 2013
    Human Rights Watch sent a letter to US senators, urging them to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act by ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
  • Jun 17, 2013
    Human Rights Watch and Student Action with Farmworkers write to voice opposition to Section 1 of the North Carolina Commerce Protection Act of 2013, SB 648, and to express concern that the bill would stifle investigations that expose workplace abuses and deter employees from reporting abuses, including unsafe working conditions.
  • Jun 17, 2013
    With the New York State legislative session scheduled to end on June 20, 2013, Human Rights Watch urges Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos to schedule a vote on the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, and further urges the New York State Legislature to pass this important bill.
  • Jun 7, 2013
    Human Rights Watch wrote to urge the North Carolina Senate to pass House Bill 585, which would bring all correctional and juvenile facilities in the state into compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).