Kenneth Roth to resign from Human Rights Watch after 30 years at the helm

The child of Jewish parents, whose father fled Nazi Germany as a teenager, Roth was outspoken on human rights abuses by or in many countries.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, gestures during an interview with Reuters in Geneva, Switzerland, January 12, 2021. Picture taken January 12, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE)
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, gestures during an interview with Reuters in Geneva, Switzerland, January 12, 2021. Picture taken January 12, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE)

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth plans to resign in August after 30 years at the helm of the global nonprofit organization.

During his tenure, the watchdog NGO was often criticized for its statements and publications against the Jewish state, including its release this year of a major report in which it accused Israel of apartheid against the Palestinian people.

“I am privileged to have headed Human Rights Watch for three decades,” Roth tweeted on Tuesday. “With my colleagues and our supporters, we have built a global organization and a powerful defender of people’s rights. But it is time to pass the baton. I will be leaving in August.”

“I can assure you that while I am leaving HRW, I am not leaving our cause,” he stated in a video message.

Roth joined HRW in 1987 and became its executive director in 1993, growing the organization’s budget from $7 million to $100m. and its staff from a 60-person team to one of over 550, covering human rights issues in some 100 countries. Roth was also linked to the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the International Coalition to Ban Landmines, of which HRW was a founding member.

Human Rights Watch logo (credit: Wikimedia Commons)Human Rights Watch logo (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The child of Jewish parents whose father fled Nazi Germany as a teenager, Roth was outspoken on human rights abuses by or in countries including Russia, Ukraine, Rwanda, China, Myanmar, Egypt, Yemen, Haiti, Cuba, Serbia, Ethiopia, Syria and Venezuela.

“Ken Roth turned Human Rights Watch into a juggernaut for justice,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “He has inspired a generation of human rights defenders to fight for a better world. During the so-called ‘war on terror,’ Ken went to Guantanamo and brought to bear his acumen and stature in exposing the farce of the military commission process. No organization and no leader have had a greater impact on human rights on a global scale.”

NGO Monitor, however, charged that Roth had been instrumental in harnessing the issue of human rights as a battering ram by which to attack the State of Israel.

“In his 30-year reign as head of HRW, Ken Roth has obsessively distorted and exploited human rights to demonize Israel,” NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg said. “His language reflects a deeply personal hostility to Judaism and Jewish self-determination, regardless of policies, and he has hired many staffers who share this antipathy, amplifying the structural bias against Israel in the UN and other institutions.

“By abusing HRW’s power and $129 million annual budget [as of 2021] to systematically single out Israel and in applying double standards, instead of using these resources to address the worst human rights abuses, Roth has caused major damage to the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Steinberg said.

The group said that HRW had a central role in the “blatantly antisemitic NGO Forum of the Durban Conference in 2001.”

Fatou Bensouda, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, said that Roth’s “fearless passion for justice, and his courage and compassion toward the victims of human rights violations and atrocity crimes, was not just professional responsibility but a personal conviction to him.”