Twenty years later, Human Rights Watch works in a far more fluid and complex context than when we began. With the end of Cold War dichotomies, human rights no longer serve the same purpose for governments that they once did, while the influence that governments wield is itself overshadowed by the power of a global economy.
Yet, with all its loss of predictable allies and foes, this new world offers a proliferation of ways to influence events and a dizzying multiplication of potential partners. As shown by the campaigns to ban landmines and establish an International Criminal Court, Human Rights Watch can work in coalition with citizens of other nations to persuade their governments to defend human rights – taking the lead even when the U.S. government abdicates its responsibilities. Our office in Brussels engages such significant actors as the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and their member states. Our program on business and human rights challenges corporations to avoid complicity in human rights violations. Through the Internet, we cross the boundaries of closed societies, giving the power of information to those from whom it is deliberately withheld.
After two decades, the movement that we joined with the Helsinki monitors has not only endured, but grown beyond any expectations. Human rights defenders flourish in some places, struggle in others, triumph occasionally, and still give their lives – but their sheer numbers, and the ability of communications technology to bring these activists together, as if distance did not exist, convince us that their power will grow. We see this power in the emergence of open and expressive civil societies that honor our dearest goals – the freedom of citizens to hold their governments accountable, respect for truth and justice, the protection of civilians from the brutality of armed conflict, and the right of all people to live free from discrimination and violence.
We at Human Rights Watch take pride in the part we have played in preserving and nourishing the core principles of human rights and this movement of human rights defenders. In celebrating our twentieth anniversary, we are gratified to find in our earliest beginnings the seeds of the contributions we hope yet to make.