As part of Law Week, representatives from Human Rights Watch spoke in Santa Barbara’s public library on Wednesday evening. They shared their firsthand experiences in the Congo and in China, offering insight into the extremes of lawlessness and centralized regimentation.
According the their mission statement, Human Rights Watch seeks to deliver basic human protections and freedoms in an effort to deliver justice and uphold the standards of international human rights law. The speakers asked: “Is there some way to purge the culture of hate?”
In China, said the speakers, political reform has not matched the booming economic expansion of the past 30 years, though the country has made leaps and bounds. While China no longer publicly challenges the principles of human rights, the government does not do its part in delivering these rights to the people, and does its best to conceal its shortcomings. The limits on individual freedom, according to the presenters, are enormous. It is heresy to speak out or question the government, and the range of thoughts one is allowed to have in general is limited by severe censorship. There are on average 200 protests a day across the country, and most activists are simply jailed for demanding that the government uphold its promises.
Human Rights Watch stands by the oppressed and pressures governments, or whoever abuses power, into conforming with international standards. They do so by exposing offenses “factually and relentlessly,” through advocacy and documentation, which is mobilized into an effect. In the Congo, they have succeeded in convincing the president to issue a zero tolerance decree, which will ensure better protection for civilian women. In China, they work to defend activists and expose injustice and censorship. For more information from areas around the globe, go to www.hrw.org.