Kenneth Roth (born September 23, 1955) is an American attorney who has been the
executive director An executive director is a member of a board of directors for an organisation, but the meaning of the term varies between countries. United States In the US, an executive director is a chief executive officer A chief executive officer (CE ...
Human Rights Watch Human Rights Watch (HRW) is an international non-governmental organization, headquartered in New York City, that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. The group pressures governments, policy makers, companies, and individual human r ...
since 1993.

Early life

Kenneth Roth was born on September 23, 1955 in
Elmhurst, Illinois Elmhurst is a city mostly in DuPage County and overlapping into Cook County in the U.S. state of Illinois Illinois ( ) is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern region of the United States. It has the List of U. ...
. Roth's parents were Muriel T. Roth and Walter S. Roth, and Walter was a Jewish refugee from Germany. Roth graduated from Brown University in 1977 with a BA in history and received his JD from Yale Law School in 1980. In 2011, Roth was married in an Anglicanism, Anglican church.


Roth worked in private practice as a litigator and served as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Southern District of New York and the Iran-Contra investigation in Washington DC. Roth’s career in human rights began inauspiciously. The one human rights course offered at Yale Law School was repeatedly cancelled, and upon graduation he found that jobs in the field were few. As a result, as he worked as a lawyer, he volunteered nights and weekends doing human rights work, focusing on the Martial law in Poland, Soviet imposition of martial law in Poland in 1981. He joined Human Rights Watch in 1987 as deputy director. His initial work centered on Haiti and gradually extended to Cuba and the Middle East, among other places. Since 1993 (when Aryeh Neier left to become head of George Soros' Open Society Institute), Roth has been the executive director of Human Rights Watch, which conducts investigations in around 100 countries that the organization uses to generate pressure for change.  During Roth’s tenure, Human Rights Watch has grown from an organization with an annual budget of about US$7 million to one today of $90 million. As one of the world’s leading human rights organizations, it has a staff of roughly 450 people representing 70-plus nationalities based in more than 50 countries. Under Roth’s leadership, Human Rights Watch has helped to win global bans on the use of child soldiers, the use of land mines and cluster munitions, and sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as the creation of the International Criminal Court. Human Rights Watch shared in the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize as a founder member of the Coalition to Ban Land Mines. Key issues include: upholding the rights of specific groups including women, children, people with disabilities, LGBT people and migrants; how poverty and inequality harm rights; the human rights impacts of climate change; systemic racism and other forms of discrimination; and protecting rights in the digital age. Roth has led human rights missions around the world, meets regularly with heads of state and government as well as other government ministers, is quoted widely in the media, and has written extensively on human rights issues.  Roth has received honorary degrees from Brown University, Bowdoin College, the University of Ottawa, and the American University of Paris. He also was a recipient of the Athens Democracy Award, the William Rogers Award from Brown University and the Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award from Tufts University. He serves on the Watson Institute Board of Overseers at Brown University, the Board of Governors of Bard College Berlin, and the Humanitarian and Development Advisory Panel of the Novo Nordisk Foundation. His tenure has been very controversial, and in 2009, HRW founder Robert L. Bernstein, Robert Bernstein issued numerous condemnations of Roth's bias, including in an opinion article in ''The New York Times''.

Criticism and controversies

Under Roth's leadership, Human Rights Watch has been criticized for perceived biases and misconstructions, as well as funding corruption.


In December 2019, China announced unspecified sanctions against Human Rights Watch and several other NGOs because of links to the Hong Kong democracy movement. In January 2020, Roth said that he was denied entry to Hong Kong. He was planning to launch the organization’s World Report, which had an essay saying China is a growing threat to human rights around the world. Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, told reporters he would not read the report, accusing Human Rights Watch of distorting the truth and claiming China’s human rights situation is “the best it’s been in history.” In August 2020, the Chinese government announced that it had imposed unspecified “sanctions” on Roth.


In 2014, the Egyptian government blocked Roth from entering the country. He was traveling to Egypt to release a report on its government’s 2013 Rabaa Square massacre of 817 sit-in protesters.

Funding corruption

In 2020, Alex Emmons in ''The Intercept'' published a detailed expose on a secret $487,000 gift to HRW which was solicited and managed by Roth, and hidden for many years. The donor was a shadowy Saudi billionaire who himself had been the subject of an HRW investigation for coercive business practices. Roth agreed to the Saudi demand that HRW not use this donation to support LGBT advocacy in the Middle East and North Africa. HRW returned the donation, the article said. Despite these revelations, Roth was able to continue as head of HRW.


On February 18, 2021, Roth stated on behalf of HRW that it is supporting that (Muslim) women wear veil (such as Niqāb, Niqab - hiding all head & face), because of "their right" and explained that not allowing women to wear it is similar to considering women to be children. This statement was given in the context of an upcoming referendum in Switzerland to Hijab by country#Switzerland, ban the wearing of the niqab in public. Roth admitted not to follow discussions ongoing in Switzerland on the topic.


On December 17, 2009, 118 scholars from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, México, the UK, the US, Venezuela and other countries publicly criticized HRW in an open letter to the HRW Board of Directors in response to an HRW report, ''A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela''. The report was criticized for bias against the government of Venezuela and its President, Hugo Chavez, stating that it "does not meet even the most minimal standards of scholarship, impartiality, accuracy, or credibility." One of the letter's authors, Hugh O'Shaughnessy, accused HRW of using false and misleading information, and said the HRW report was "put together with the sort of know-nothing Washington bias..."Hugh O'Shaughnessy, ''New Statesman'', 26 September 2008
HRW v Chavez
/ref> Roth responded, stating that the letter misrepresented "both the substance and the source material of the report."


Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah, of Rwanda's ''The New Times (Rwanda), New Times'', questions Roth's impartiality and equates his criticism of Human rights in Rwanda, Rwanda's human rights record to a "love affair" with the "genocidaires" that carried out the Rwandan genocide, Rwandan Genocide of 1994. "As a western human rights personality [Roth]…will always fail to understand the intricacies and complexities surrounding the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. Wrapping it up simplistically the way he has done will only serve to undo the gains already registered in driving the very delicate process of bringing forth a new dispensation in Rwanda and by extension the African Great Lakes, African Great Lakes region," Oluoch-Ojiwah wrote.


Roth has been criticized by the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor for allegedly being Anti-Zionism, biased against Israel. Professor Gerald M. Steinberg (founder of the Institute for NGO Research, which runs the NGO Monitor project) is a long-time critic of what he refers to as Roth's obsessive targeting of Israel as head of Human Rights Watch from 1993. In a 2004 The Jerusalem Post, ''Jerusalem Post'' article Steinberg rejected Roth's op-ed which accused NGO Monitor of "fictitious allegations of bias" and a "fantasy-based discourse" which "does a deep disservice to Israel". Similarly, HRW founder Robert Bernstein issued numerous condemnations of Roth's bias, including in an opinion article in ''The New York Times'' which accused Roth of "turning Israel into a pariah state." This history was analyzed in detailed by Gerald M. Steinberg in "Human Rights Watch’s anti-Israel Agenda", published in the scholarly journal, ''Israel Affairs'' (2021). In August 2006, during the 2006 Lebanon War, war between Hezbollah and Israel, Roth wrote a letter to the editor of ''The New York Sun'' in which he criticized the alleged "excessive" Israeli response to Hezbollah’s indiscriminate rocket attacks on northern Israeli towns. "Eye for an eye, An eye for an eye — or, more accurately in this case, twenty eyes for an eye — may have been the morality of some more primitive moment." A following editorial in ''The New York Sun'' decried this statement as antisemitic, calling it a slur on the Jewish religion and breathtaking in its ignorance, a form of supersessionism, de-legitimization of Judaism, and antisemitism.  And the head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) referred to Roth's rhetoric as a reflection of "classic anti-Semitic stereotype about Jews". In reaction to Richard Goldstone's recantation of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict report, HRW Founder, Robert Bernstein, said to ''The Jerusalem Post'' in April 2011, referring to Roth, that it "is time for him to follow Judge Goldstone's example and issue his own mea culpa." An analysis of his tweets by NGO Monitor alleges that Roth shows "significant levels of sarcasm, vitriol, and deep-seated hostility" towards Israel. According to the Jewish newspaper ''Algemeiner Journal'', "Roth has long been noted for his hatred of Israel and his use of antisemitic rhetoric to attack it." On April 26, 2015, Roth drew criticism for attacking Israel for sending humanitarian aid to Nepal during the April 2015 Nepal earthquake. Roth is critical of the blockade of the Gaza strip, which he saw as a humanitarian crisis of "Israel's own making".


The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has taken issue with the credibility of Roth's accusations that Ethiopia's government is corrupt and uses Foreign aid to Ethiopia, international aid funding for "repressive purposes." The EHRC accused Roth of impartiality caused by a desire to "appease…wealthy financiers." It cited his evaluation of the Democratic Institution Program (DIP) as "superficial" and said that his allegations of corruption were based on "poor methodology." EHRC also called his recommendations a "contradiction" that called "for the promotion of human rights at the expense of human rights programs and their implementers."

Syria and Iraq

Roth said that there was "sectarian" and "violent" persecution by Prime Minister of Iraq, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Maliki, while ISIS reportedly tried not to alienate the local population. Maliki's abuses against certain Iraqi groups radicalized them, Roth said, boosting recruitment to extremist groups that present themselves as defenders. Foundation for Defense of Democracies Deputy Director for Research Oren Kessler criticized Roth's tweet as the "Worst tweet ever". Roth said that "Bashar al-Assad#War crimes, Assad's atrocities" are being stood up to by ISIS. Roth said that the Syrian civil war, Syrian Revolution was deliberately being poisoned by the June 2011 setting free of Zahran Alloush by Assad. After the death of Zahran Alloush, Roth said that it was an attempt to level the field to only ISIS or Assad as part of a plan by Assad. In October 2019, Roth said that Turkey and its allies have previously Turkish involvement in the Syrian civil war#Related criticism of Turkey, unlawfully killed, arbitrarily arrested, and wrongfully displaced civilians and the 2019 Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria operation risks repeating these abuses unless they take steps now.

Published articles

*"We Can Beat the Virus Only By Protecting Human Rights," ''The Washington Post'', May 6, 2020 *"Why the UN Chief’s Silence on Human Rights is Deeply Troubling," ''The Washington Post'', Apr 24, 2019 *"The Saudi Crown Prince Should Fear the Long Reach of Justice," ''The Washington Post'', Nov 28, 2018 *"We Are on the Verge of Darkness," ''Foreign Policy'', January 12, 2017 *"Egypt’s NGO funding crackdown," ''Foreign Policy'', April 9, 2013 *"Putin's Miscalculation", ''Foreign Policy'', October 5, 2012 *"No Safe Haven?", ''Foreign Policy'', May 26, 2011 *"New Laws Needed To Protect Social Media", GlobalPost, ''Global Post'', April 14, 2011 *"Falling for Empty Talk on Human Rights", ''International Herald Tribune'', January 21, 2011 *"Eat, Drink Human Rights", ''Los Angeles Times'', January 23, 2011 *"9/11 Justice for New Yorkers," ''The Guardian'', November 16. 2010. *"Canada no longer leads on human rights," ''Ottawa Citizen'', October 15, 2010. *"The Abusers' Reaction: Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations, and Institutions," ''Brown Journal of World Affairs'', Spring/Summer 2010. *"Empty Promises? Obama's Hesitant Embrace of Human Rights," ''Foreign Affairs'', March–April 2010. *"Geneva Conventions Still Hold Up," Foreign Policy in Focus, Dec. 30, 2009. *"Don't smear the messenger," ''The Jerusalem Post'', Aug. 25, 2009. *"Death Squads: A Murderous Plague," ''Far Eastern Economic Review'', May 20, 2009. *"The power of horror in Rwanda," ''Los Angeles Times'', April 11, 2009. *"Justice or impunity: What will Kenya choose?" ''The EastAfrican'', April 3, 2009. *"G20: The summit must not forget human rights," ''The Guardian'', April 2, 2009. *"Ballots and Bullets," ''The New York Times Book Review'', March 22, 2009.


External links

Official HRW Biography of Kenneth Roth

Lecture transcript and video of Roth's speech at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice at the University of San Diego, September 2007
* {{DEFAULTSORT:Roth, Kenneth 1955 births Living people American human rights activists American lawyers American people of German-Jewish descent Brown University alumni Human Rights Watch people People from Elmhurst, Illinois Yale Law School alumni