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Human Rights Watch Essay Sample

Human Rights Watch


In recent years, calls for universal recognition and protection of human rights together with frantic efforts to create human rights awareness have been on the rise. In the 21st century, human rights violations have been condemned on a global scale, hence fuelling the process of safeguarding every individual’s human rights. Non-profit organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) are key contributors in achieving universal human rights. The organization is extensively involved in investigating and reporting human rights abuse together with carrying out a series of humanitarian works. The HRW faces numerous challenges in the course of its operations. The following paper discusses ethical challenges facing the HRW and the organization’s strategic plans in its operations in order to maintain responsible conduct and uphold human dignity. Additionally, the paper provides several recommendations to the HRW in terms of the most effective and rational avenues that the HRW can adopt in dealing with ethical challenges facing the organization.


Human Rights Watch (HRW) is one of the largest top international human rights groups. As a non-profit organization, the HRW is an independent body concerned with the advocacy of human rights worldwide. The organization has the task of conducting global researches on human rights violations and aims to promote human liberty. The mission of Human Rights Watch is to defend rights of every human being in the world. It is through comprehensive investigations on human rights violations that the HRW can highlight the plight of those suffering. It also exerts pressure on leaders to safeguard rights of every individual regardless of race, culture, social status, or gender. Founded in 1978, the Human Rights Watch organization has its main headquarters in the iconic Empire States Building in the City of New York. Additionally, since the organization is tasked with greater advocacy to become a voice of justice on a worldwide scale, the HRW has various offices located across the world in over 70 countries. The organization strives to bring to national attention rampant issues that adversely lower human dignity, respect, and value for life. The HRW focuses on issues of human trafficking, discrimination, and capital punishment among other political and social injustices. Similar to other human rights non-profitable organizations, the HRW operates within the provision of the International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.  The law acts as a guide in ensuring that ethics and core values are highly adhered to in the course of preserving humanity. However, good intentions and deeds do not always produce desirable outcomes amid numerous obstacles and constraints in the world that is increasingly becoming unpredictable and imperfect. One of the main ethical issues facing the HRW as a human rights lobby group is the dilemma of dealing with governments in foreign lands and the surging problem of global poverty. The following paper discusses ethical issues facing the HRW and the organization’s strategic plans in its operations in order to maintain responsible conduct and uphold human dignity. Additionally, the paper provides several recommendations to the HRW in terms of the most effective and rational avenues that the HRW can adopt in dealing with ethical challenges facing the organization.

Ethical Issues related to Two or More of the Philosophical Theories

The HRW carries out its operations in diverse communities across the globe, which have different priorities in terms of human rights maters. Human rights definition differs from one region to another, depending on the historical and cultural background of the society in question (Donaghue, 2010). Due to varied viewpoints on human rights, the HRW faces several ethical issues in advocating for individual rights of every human being. One of the prominent ethical issues facing Human Rights Watch is dismissal of economic, social, and cultural rights as irrelevant human rights by the Western world. On the one hand, the ideology that only civil and political rights are fundamental human rights greatly underscores efforts of the HRW to achieve universal human dignity and advocacy of humanitarian works. The theory of idealism has been used to support notions that economic rights are an individual affair, thus bringing out a capitalistic nature that the HRW has to tackle in order to achieve universal human rights goals.

On the other hand, the HRW also faces the ethical issue of defining human rights in different regions. The shift in meaning and regional perspectives of human rights advocacy is a contesting issue that seems to water down universal objectives of human rights attainment by the HRW. The use of rationalism to approach the issue displays a disparity between actual knowledge and prior perceptions on human rights and its violations. Understanding of the works carried out by the HRW differs across regions. In addition, various emerging trends overlap over the essence of human rights advocacy. Thus, a rational approach in promoting human rights is one of the best means to consolidate universe understanding of the definition of human rights from a common viewpoint.

Ethical Challenges Facing the HRW

The Issue of Dealing with Governments

The first ethical challenge facing the HRW is the issue of dealing with governments, especially in foreign regions. As mentioned earlier, the HRW has its offices in over 70 countries and the organization stretches its operations in many other nations across the globe. Therefore, the HRW largely relies on interaction and cooperation with governments in order to effectively execute its mission of protecting rights of every individual. The dilemma that the HRW grapples with is the issue of funding by local governments. Most governments are keen to fund non-profit organizations, but the HRW is nonetheless different from other organizations. Due to the nature of the HRW, the organization significantly depends on donations and grants as a source of its funding.  In many occasions, such funding is not adequate to sustain the work and operations of the organizations, thus explaining the need to accept government funds. Acceptance of government funding gives human rights organizations a benefit to access larger proportion of resources needed to carry out its operations without wasting time on charity/fund-raising activities. Unfortunately, this type of partnership with governments tends to blur the element of independence that is primarily the hallmark of any human rights organization.

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The use of funds to aid the NGOs is one of the measures that many governments incorporate as a means of controlling the flow of information, sovereignty, and independence of human rights NGOs such as the HRW. In the light of this, the HRW does not receive funding from governments. The organization does so as a means of maintaining control and independence in investigating and reporting abuse of citizens’ rights. The ethical problem of whether or not to accept funding from governments is a tough dilemma that the HRW seeks to address in the best way possible so as to remain a sovereign and reliable organization.

Moreover, in line with political theories, different governments have varying levels of democracy, a factor that greatly affects outlining of human rights and justice in the regions. Some countries are democratic in the sense that human rights efforts are fundamental while some nations are less democratic and as such. Human rights efforts are relatively given little or no priority. The HRW is mandated as an international human rights organization to carry out human rights operations in all countries within their reach despite the level of democracy held in a particular nation. It hence becomes a great challenge for the HRW to collaborate with less democratic nations in achieving humanitarian goals and enforcing justice at all levels (Donnelly, 2013). The ethical issue surrounding collaboration with less democratic nations is that, in the long run, the HWR is forced to avoid addressing politically sensitive issues such as the freedom of press and political rights of non-conformists in the country.

Additionally, less democratic nations may take advantage of collaborations with the HRW organization to suggest that their policies on human rights are indeed improving. Through such manipulations, many less democratic nations can shun away and weaken any criticism brought forth by any other international human rights organization. In instances where the HRW has turned down funding offers and collaborations with less democratic governments, the organization has faced hostility and massive suspicion from such governments. Such opposition from governments can cripple efforts of the HRW in its path to promote human rights and political and social justice.

The Challenge of Global Poverty

Another main ethical issue facing the HRW organization is the challenge of global poverty. Realization that poverty is seemingly becoming an international concern has in many ways shaped the entire definition of human rights and humanitarian efforts.  Traditionally, Human Rights Watch is focused primarily on political and civil rights efforts. As it stands, political and civil rights are immensely prioritized by many Western governments and international organizations. Calls for a shift in focus have been on the rise, with subsequent demands to governments and human rights lobby groups to embrace economic, cultural, and social rights as fundamental aspects in the community today.  In the wake of demand for economic, social, and cultural justices, the HRW has been forced to expand its scope of operations and broaden its objectivity in the areas pertaining to economic, social, and cultural rights (Rights, 2009).  The ability to comprehend what is universally wrong from what is right is a paramount task for any lobby group that aims to promote humanitarian efforts. As a human rights organization, the quest to uphold humanity requires tenacity in understanding, weighing different situations, and outlining morally correct approach to take. The HRW has successfully managed to adopt economic, social, and cultural rights (ESC) as equally important aspects in the society, which require the same efforts and attention as civil and political rights (CP). The challenge facing the HRW concerns the best avenues to deploy in ensuring that, while addressing ESC rights, there is equally no biasness in addressing the CP rights. In order to ensure that the ESC rights are effectively addressed, the HRW group uses a four-part methodology. Elements encompass the parts of investigating, shaming, documenting, and publicizing actions and behaviors of governments and other key players that are deemed morally wrong in accordance with the norms of international human rights (Roth, 2004).

Nevertheless, there is a thin line between promoting the ESC rights and ensuring that effective measures are set up by governments to reduce poverty through proper re-distribution of wealth and resources. Additionally, adoption of the ESC rights into the HRW mandate is relatively viewed as an additional burden to the organization. Keeping in mind that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done pertaining to political and civil rights, an ambit of concern surrounds the purpose and objectivity of Human Rights Watch and its ethical responsibility to ensure that solutions to bring an end to global poverty are implemented (Sen, 2005).

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Individual Conflicts of Responsibility

As a human rights lobby group, the HRW has a collective team of staff who specialize in different fields and expertise that are efficient in achieving the organization’s humanitarian objectives and goals. The team of staff working for the HRW entails lawyers, journalists, country specialists, and a panel of academics all of whom all share a common goal in human rights activism. Individuals working for the HRW are of different nationalities and come from diverse backgrounds. Given the nature of work carried out by the Human Rights Watch organization, there are various ethical challenges that employees face in the line of duty. In addition, conflicts of responsibilities are inevitable due to a highly demanding nature of human rights lobbying in terms of employee performance.

Individuals working at the HRW are often required to work in hostile regions such as areas facings wars and conflicts, famine-stricken regions, and other politically high-tensioned regions. Such individuals face oppression from hostile and foreign governments and many face victimization or arrests and, in extreme cases, some are subjected to torture, especially in regions where their operations are deemed non-bureaucratic (Pogge, 2008). Moreover, individuals face harassments, threats, and fear instilled by governments who aim to intimidate operations of the HRW. For instance, shutting down of the HRW offices in Uzbekistan led to harassment of the staff working in that region. They were constantly living in fear of prosecution and this greatly affected their ability to condemn injustices witnessed in the nation. Individuals working in the HRW offices, which are located in hostile environments, grapple with the challenge of safeguarding their own interests and life or doing what is morally right by openly condemning inhuman injustices that are carried out (Gaer, 1995).

Strategies to Maintain Responsible Conduct

The process of defining and developing a responsible code of conduct is a paramount aspect of every international human rights organization. The code of conduct should extensively cover elements that support and value human rights activities. In order to function effectively as an international human rights movement, the Human Rights Watch organization has incorporated the use of various strategies in its operations. The HRW does so as a means of upholding and maintaining the organizational code of responsible conduct that is essential in the delivery of human rights-related services. In order to ensure that the developed code of responsible conduct is maintained, the HRW ensures that, first and foremost, the board of directors and executive managers is entirely committed to overseeing responsible conduct within the organization. Frequent reviews of the code of conduct by the board and senior managers has enabled the HRW to maintain responsible conduct at all levels of engagement since participation of top managers and the board of directors has a great influence on the organizational culture.

Secondly, the organization ensures that there is an international multi-disciplinary committee developed to oversee review of the contents of the code of conduct and the regulation of acceptable staff behavior (Donaghue, 2010). Finally, the HRW maintains responsible conduct by continuously creating awareness and promoting a code of conduct among its staff. An awareness program is also availed to all its organizational members as a means to emphasize the integral role of responsible conduct and compliance in achieving human rights goals. In addition, through the awareness program, staff members are familiarized with the consequences of irresponsible behavior and its penalties.


Human Rights Watch is concerned with the advocacy for human rights. The organization is dedicated to investigating, researching, and exposing various types of human rights violation on the international media. However, there are various obstacles and possible challenges that constrain operations of Human Rights Watch in its battle against human rights abuse across the globe. Nevertheless, there are various recommendations that the organization can adopt as a means of mitigating the impact of ethical challenges it faces in different regions of the world. The following are proposed recommendations for Human Rights Watch. They include:

–     Above all, the primary purpose of Human Rights Watch should always be to protect and promote human rights in the most ethical and moral manner. Human rights of every individual should receive first priority whether political, civil, economic, social, or/and cultural rights regardless of challenges and obstacles that are present.

–    The HRW should establish an international legal and policy framework that supports and safeguards its operations in foreign regions as a means of controlling interference with hostile governments. In addition, the HRW should establish rules of engagement when dealing with foreign governments so as to avoid cases of intimidation of its staff and the organization as a whole.

–    It should promote coordination and cooperation with governments in the human rights efforts. Government involvement is significant in achieving humanitarian goals. By establishing platforms for communication with governments, the HRW can persuade governments to support its cause by signing and ratifying legislation that guarantees human rights support to all citizens.

Implementation of the above recommendations requires an in-depth consideration so as to achieve successful outcomes. Several factors can affect effective implementation of the recommendations such as poor communication channels. The use of an ethical decision-making model is a useful framework for finding suitable solutions when faced with ethical dilemmas. One of the factors that would hinder successful implementation of the recommendations is the inability to identify the problem at hand and its related potential issues. Additionally, a failure to review relevant ethical guidelines, laws, and regulations will cause poor understanding of ethical problems and potential solutions. As an organization, the HRW should also be able to consult and identify a possible cause of action to be followed in the implementation process. Another factor that would affect Human Rights Watch’s implementation of the stated recommendations is gaining a clear understanding of possible consequences and keenly identifying the best outcome to employ.

Successful implementation of these possible recommendations will generate several beneficial outcomes for the Human Rights Watch organization. The expected outcomes following the implementation of the recommendations include:

–    Further expansion of the HRW operations into untapped regions

–    An increase in the human labor capacity

–    Extensive achievements in human rights-based activities

–    International recognition and cooperation with foreign governments

–    Financial and resource support from governments and concerned parties without manipulations of the organization’s independence.

–    The ability to research and report with biases through the use of technology as a means of becoming the voice of victims of human rights violation.

Relation of Issues to Social Justice Themes

One of the issues that face the HRW is interaction with governments, especially in foreign regions. Governments are key players in matters pertaining to human rights and human rights abuse. The social justice theme of human rights is well brought out in the ethical issue of dealing with governments. In most cases, governments are major offenders of human rights. The level of human rights in a nation is a direct reflection of the type of governance present. Hence, human rights relate to governments and safeguard of these rights is important (Uvin, 2004).

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The issue of global poverty is also an ethical challenge facing the HRW in its advocacy to maintain human dignity. Global poverty relates directly to the social justice theme of equality. Equality can be described in terms of equal distribution of resources and wealth among all citizens regardless of their ethical or social status. Poverty is largely a product of inequalities in the distribution of resources done by governments. Therefore, global poverty contravenes universal economic rights that each should enjoy.


Human Rights Watch (HRW) is an international non-profit organization that largely involves itself in advocating for human rights and criticizing acts of human rights violations. The HRW operates in accordance with the International Human Rights Laws and promotes humanitarian works across the globe. There are various ethical challenges that face operations of the HRW. They include issues of how best to deal with governments and the continuous rise in global poverty. Due to these ethical challenges, the work of the HRW has faced numerous obstacles both as an organization and its individual staff members. Various recommendations are available and successful implementation of these recommendations will bring forth effective outcomes that will ease the operation of the HRW and its personnel who frequently witness harassment and intimidation. Despite constant constraints, Human Rights Watch has continually managed to promote humanitarian works and adopt methodologies that report on abuse of human rights.

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