Rights & Wrongs

Stories from the Human Rights Frontline

Rights & Wrongs is a podcast by Human Rights Watch that takes a deep dive into major human rights issues. The podcast taps into the expertise of our researchers around the world and the stories of local activists on the ground. While global in outlook it is human in approach, unpacking human rights work in a way that is engaging and shows what change is needed and possible.

May 20, 2024

What happens to cargo ships at the end of their lives? Often, they wind up beached on shores in the global south where untrained and unprotected workers are tasked with breaking them apart in dangerous conditions. In this episode, Host Ngofeen Mputwbwele takes listeners to the beaches of Bangladesh where Human Rights Watch recently completed an investigation of the shipbreaking industry. Here, in what the International Labour Organization calls the most dangerous job in the world, workers are hit with nails, maimed by exploding pipes, sickened by exposure to asbestos and have been trapped in burning hulls as they “recycle” the ships that transport consumer goods to Europe, the United States and beyond. 

Shipbreaking: The Most Dangerous Job in the World
May 2, 2024

The first episode of Rights & Wrongs looks at Human Rights Watch efforts to document the destruction of Mariupol as Russian forces laid siege and cut off communications to the Ukrainian city. Documenting what happened became all the more critical when Russia began destroying evidence of war crimes as it began to rebuild Mariupol in Russia’s image. 

Rights and Wrongs Ep1

Spotlight on Ngofeen Mputubwele, Host of Human Rights Watch’s New Podcast

Ngofeen Mputubwele could never have planned his route to becoming host of the new Human Rights Watch podcast, Rights & Wrongs, but it would be hard to find anyone better suited.  

The son of immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mputubwele was born in Indiana, where his father was a doctoral student. When his father was offered a professorship at Lane College, among the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the family moved to Jackson, Tennessee. Mputubwele’s high school, which had been desegregated through busing but remained socially segregated, provided a crash course in US race relations – though it remained confusing to the son of Congolese immigrants.

Ngofeen Mputubwele

Mputubwele’s father grew up during Belgian colonial rule in what was then known as the Belgian Congo, and later as Zaire. He managed to get an education beyond the 6th grade by embracing the church (the only way available), and eventually received a Fulbright to study linguistics at Indiana University. He went on to Purdue and received a doctorate in comparative literature. The elder Mputubwele steeped his children in anti-colonial doctrine from an early age. Ngofeen and his two brothers were given African names, and the comic books in the Mputubwele household included those about Toussaint Louverture, who led the Haitian Revolution against the Atlantic slave trade.   

“We were steeped in Blackness,” Mputubwele says. “Toni Morrison, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King – we read all of these books. But culturally, we were very Congolese. We ate our food at home with our hands and we spoke Kikongo and French.”  

But to the teachers and students at Jackson Central-Merry, Ngofeen was just another Black kid at a segregated high school in the American South, which made for alienating and lonely teenage years. At times, American Blackness felt illegible, he says, but by the end of high school, he began to find his own place inside Black American life. 

Mputubwele soon returned to Indiana, where he went on to study music at Ball State University. It was there, in 2005, that he saw the film “Invisible Children,” a documentary about the abduction of children in East Africa whom the Lord’s Resistance Army uses as child soldiers.     

“How in the world did I get to grow up here?” Mputubwele asked himself.  

He developed an interest in human rights and made his first trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. He went on to get a master’s degree in international development from the University of Pittsburgh. The master’s degree and Africa trip led to a desire to study something concrete – to have a skill, as Mputubwele describes it – which resulted in a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. That, in turn, led him to practice law for several years, though Mputubwele soon left to forge his path in podcasting.    

He moved to Brooklyn, New York and got jobs at the podcasting companies Gimlet Media and Stitcher, and then at the New Yorker magazine. The net result is an experienced podcast host with a long-standing interest in human rights, expertise in international human rights law and the lived experience of growing up in an immigrant family from a country at war.

“It’s funny, when I was getting my master’s degree, I would have been super happy to get an internship with Human Rights Watch,” Mputubwele said. “And now here I am, 15 years later, hosting a podcast for Human Rights Watch. And I’m like, so that worked.”  

Follow and subscribe

Follow us wherever you get your podcasts to make sure you don’t miss an episode.

Apple Podcasts
Amazon Music