Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Kenneth RothDenver: Most every citizen around the world is concerned about human rights and shudders at the thought of another person’s rights being violated. And that is why we should all be grateful that there is an organization solely dedicated to this – always vigilant, 24/7, 365 days a year, all around the world– exposing human rights abuses like torture, violence against women, and child exploitation. It is Human Rights Watch, and it is a great pleasure to have with us this evening their Executive Director, Kenneth Roth. Good evening, Ken, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Kenneth: Thanks for having me! My pleasure to be here.

Denver: Before we get into the work of the organization, tell our listeners specifically what are human rights? Their genesis?  And source documents upon which they are based?

Kenneth: That’s a good question. In fact, they’re quite familiar to many Americans in that many of the rights are things you find in the Constitution. The right to free expression and free association; the right not to be mistreated or tortured; the right to a fair trial; the right not to be discriminated against – those are all in the Constitution. But also, human rights include other things that are not in the US Constitution like: the right to access to healthcare, the right to education, the right to employment. All of these are contained in a series of international treaties. The first founding document was something known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is actually not a treaty. It was a declaration.

Denver: Of 1948, right?

Kenneth: Precisely. But that gave rise in 1966 to the two founding treaties. One is called the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the other: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  And thereafter, there were other specialized treaties on women’s rights and children’s rights and the like. But these treaties are widely ratified, often by a hundred plus governments around the world.  The US is a party to some of them, but not all of them.

Denver: Give us a bit more about the evolution of the modern day human rights movement. And I know you’re exactly the guy to ask because when you were at Yale Law School– late ‘70s to around 1980– they offered only one human rights course, and you dutifully signed up for it every semester… only to see it canceled because of a lack of interest.  And there were certainly no jobs in the field when you got out. So, tell us how this field has evolved and grown over the past 35 years or so.

Kenneth: You’re right. It didn’t start off very auspiciously for me. But it began really with Amnesty International in terms of the big international organizations in 1961. But even Amnesty was pretty tiny by the time I graduated from law school. And Human Rights Watch at that stage, in 1980, had two employees. It had started just a couple of years before. But what we’ve seen is Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both have grown incredibly over the years and have been joined by many smaller groups around the world. And so, if you’d go to almost any country today, there is a local human rights organization or more that are our close partners in monitoring and defending human rights practice.

…we put public pressure on governments. And foremost, we shame governments, because in today’s world, most governments find it shameful to violate human rights. Almost everybody pretends that they respect human rights; they then fall short. And if we can highlight that discrepancy between pretense and practice, that embarrassing gap forces the government over time to change.

Denver: Well, your organization has an exemplary reputation for being “factually accurate.” In fact, some people might say you’re a little obsessive about all that. So with that said, Ken, how do you go about your work? How do you decide what countries to go into? How do you gather your information? And then, how do you make a determination whether something is a human rights violation or not?

Kenneth: We are meticulous with the fact finding, and we have to be because it’s the key to our credibility. But Human Rights Watch works today in about 90 countries around the world, basically every place where there are serious human rights violations. And in each place, we begin by conducting a very detailed investigation on the ground. We have what we call “researchers” who could be lawyers; they could be journalists; they could be academics, and many, many different nationalities. We have 77 nationalities on staff. They often live in the country, or if that’s not possible, they live nearby.

And their job is to go and talk to the victims of human rights abuse, talk to the eyewitnesses, talk to the government.  So they get all sides and put together as complete and accurate a picture as they can of what actually happened. We will then analyze that fact situation under international human rights law to see “Were human rights violated or not?” If they were, we publish our findings. And that publication becomes the source of an effort to pressure governments to change.

Human Rights Watch doesn’t go to court. We operate in many countries where, frankly, the court systems are broken. They don’t restrain governments. So instead, we put public pressure on governments. And foremost, we shame governments, because in today’s world, most governments find it shameful to violate human rights. Almost everybody pretends that they respect human rights; they then fall short. And if we can highlight that discrepancy between pretense and practice, that embarrassing gap forces the government over time to change.

We also work with various powerful governments who care about human rights. And so, we will go to the U.S. government or the European Union or various governments around the world and say, “Would you help us put pressure on government “so and so” until they change their human rights practices?” “Would you condition your military aid until they stop executing people?”  “Would you make sure that they don’t get the next state visit until they release their political prisoners?” You figure out: What does the target government want, and you try to pressure them until they change.

Denver: Looking at both sides of this now– both gathering the information and then trying to pressure the governments at the other end of it– how has technology or social media changed the nature of how you go about that work?

Kenneth: In the old days, you would hear about a problem in a distant country, and you might start off by writing a letter – remember those things? – and put them in the post.  And two months later, you might get a response. Perhaps you could afford an international phone call, but they were outrageously expensive, so you didn’t do that very often. (more…)

The Business of Giving Visits the Office of The Nature Conservancy

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social businesses and nonprofit organizations. 



Denver: And for this edition of Better Than Most, you’ll be traveling to Arlington, Virginia and the corporate headquarters of The Nature Conservancy, the largest nonprofit environmental group in the world.

We will begin with their President and CEO, Mark Tercek, and then hear from several of the dedicated members of the TNC team.

Mark: So we have 4,000 people on our team. We have 1,500 or so volunteer leaders we call trustees. Everywhere we work, we’ve got boots on the ground. In other words, therefore, we’re not just telling other people what to do. We’re trying to do it ourselves. Now, whenever we do these things on the ground, we’re doing it in partnership with others too, often local organizations, local people, but it kind of keeps you humble, keeps you focused. We don’t get carried away with crazy ideas. I think it’s a very good formula for us.


Denver Frederick and Mark Tercek

Rosita: Another thing I love about this organization especially as a woman of color who works here is that the organization is constantly self-critical and trying to be better, and part of the team of that I work on is actually focused exclusively on how can we make this organization better in terms of a place where all employees feel valued and can actually thrive. And it’s a testament to that self-criticism that as an organization we don’t rest on our laurels and it’s always “how can we be better and smarter and more impactful?”

Gondan: I started off as a conservation staff and then after five years, I moved to development, and then went back to conservation and now, here, I’m in development, in changing countries at the world office. So at TNC, as long as you know what to do and you proved that you can do the work and that you can do it while you’re having fun, really lets you do whatever you want to do that fits with our mission and our core work.

John Bender: It is that ability to reinvent yourself that has been one of the greatest strengths I think of the organization. And part of that reinvention has been our recognition over many years of the desire and the need for a more diverse workforce. And we have a more inclusive workforce and we’ve taken a number of runs at it over my career here at the organization, but we finally, I think, have a lot of heft from the whole organization behind it, and that has made a big difference. I think that going forward, you’ll see many more different faces siting in the cubes, both here at WO and then around the offices, the business units outside of the US.


Jon Fisher: And if you’re in a conservation organization, you kind of know the outcome before you do the science. So talking to colleagues at other organizations—I won’t name any—but the scientists’ job is to prove what you want the message to be. At the Conservancy, of course, we’re doing science to meet the mission, but when we have an inconvenient result, we still publish it. And so as somebody who has honest – one of our core values is integrity beyond reproach – and that’s something that I just really think is so important, especially at a time when trust in scientists is declining.

Johnny: I work in the legal department for The Nature Conservancy, and I tap dance to work. I tap dance to work because I love the people.

Professional development is really important to me and my supervisor has been really helpful. He empowers me to be the best person I can be, not only for myself but for the Conservancy, because a better me is a better conservancy. A great example, I support folks in Brazil. I told my boss, “I speak Portuguese but I think I could be better at it.” So he said, “You need a strength in that skill set, let’s send you to Brazil.” So I spent a month in the Rio de Janeiro office, both working and in a language immersion program. And it was an incredible experience because I got to work in a different culture, see the mission from a different perspective, learn Portuguese, and also work from the beach on occasion, which is a part of the mission.

Tom: Because the mission is what brings people here, but the people are what make you stay. I think I had more folks walk in to my office in the first week I was here at the Conservancy than in the first year I was at my last private sector job. And all of them were coming in largely with the message that said, “Hey. Welcome to the team. Welcome to the party. How can we help you be more successful? How can we help you help the mission and help us all be the kind of organization we want to be.” I’ve been around the block a few times like a couple of other folks in this room, and that really is something rare and it’s something that’s very special about this place.

John Bender: We have some guidance, we’re getting tons of input, but we’ve got leadership who are actually making what I think are some really interesting decisions and are really putting us on a path to some pretty heavy goals but also some really exciting work, and that is one of the things that I find so rejuvenating.

Jon Fisher: And I’ve come to realize that a lot of people don’t eat lunch together. I think it’s partly, aside from being introverts, a lot of people, we just have this almost panicked devotion to the mission. And so I think a lot of times, people are like, “I can’t take time for lunch. I can’t take time for coffee. I got to get back to saving the planet.” And so like I said, it took me a while to kind of get through that but it’s also kind of endearing in a way that it’s not that people don’t want to hang out with you. It’s that they’re all really caring about the same thing you’re caring about.


Denver: I want to extend my thanks to Tom Casey and Geraldine Henrich-Koenis for setting up my visit and to those who participated in addition to Tom: Gondan Renosari, Johnny Cabrera, Rosita Scarborough, John Bender, and John Fisher. If you’d like to listen to this again, read the transcript, or see pictures of the participants and the offices of TNC, go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com and while you’re there, you can hear my full interview with Mark Tercek, the President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy.

*The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @BizofGive on Twitter and at Facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving.

Roxane White, CEO Of the Nurse-Family Partnership

In this segment, Roxane White describes the mission of the Nurse-Family Partnership, which is to help transform the lives of vulnerable first-time moms and their babies. Roxane outlines how the organization creates a culture of success through mutual motivation.  Through ongoing home visits from registered nurses, low-income, first-time moms receive the care and support they need to have a healthy pregnancy, provide responsible and competent care for their children, and become more economically self-sufficient.


Roxane White, President and CEO of the Nurse- Family Partnership

The following is conversation between Roxane White, President and CEO of Nurse- Family Partnership, and Denver Frederick, host of The Business of Giving, on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Denver: Over the last several months, we’ve had on the show the CEOs of the organizations that rate charities–from Charity Navigator to GreatNonprofits. And if you visited their websites to check on how they rated the Nurse-Family Partnership, you would see that it’s been awarded the maximum number of plaudits and stars. And here to tell you why that is the case, is the President and CEO of the Nurse-Family Partnership, Roxane White. Good evening, Roxane, and welcome to The Business of Giving.
Roxane: Thank you so much. It’s delightful to be here!

Denver: Tell us about the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP)–what the central mission and purposes of the organization are.

Roxane: Well, what we do is really pretty basic and simple in many ways. We work with moms who are low-income, and we go into the home before they deliver their baby.  We help them deliver a healthy baby; we support the mom to raise a healthy child, and then we help Mom get back on track as well.

Denver: Let me ask you this:  What compelled you to take the CEO job at the Nurse-Family Partnership? I know you’ve been a tireless advocate for fighting homelessness and supporting youth.  Most recently, you served as the Chief of Staff for the governor of Colorado. What inspired you to take on this job?

Roxane: My first encounter with the Nurse-Family Partnership was when I was working with street kids.  I had a young mom who was ready to get off the street, and she was becoming a mom. And I called Nurse-Family Partnership, and I was like: “Yeah, right. Nobody really wants a street kid.” And they took her!  They helped her, and she turned her life around. The second time I was working in child welfare, and I was at an autopsy of a young person who had died. Family had failed: the foster family had failed; government, sure as Hell, can’t raise kids. So,  I was asking our staff,  “What can we do?”   They said, “There’s a program that can reduce child abuse by over 48% and has a track record of doing that.”  And we started working with Nurse-Family Partnership and got much better outcomes for families.

And then when I was Chief of Staff for the governor of Colorado, we were looking at what the heck do we do about Medicaid costs that were completely out of control!  And we brought in Nurse-Family Partnership as a way to reduce the cost to taxpayers of delivering unhealthy babies.

Denver: They made quite an impression on you. Let’s walk through the process a little bit.  Give us a picture of the typical mother you serve–her age, education, race, marital status– things like that.

Roxane: All of our moms are low-income, and all of our moms are at risk for a high-risk pregnancy. So they’re identified by their docs, by pregnancy testing places, by community advocates who say: “Hey, we got a mom here that’s going to deliver a baby.” Often, they are young moms; they may be teen moms. We don’t take any moms generally under the age of 14–but from 14 until about 30. There are moms who are at risk of having a baby born into the ICU unit, a baby being born unhealthy, a mom who’s not prepared to be a mom. So, our most vulnerable moms are the most expensive moms in terms of that delivery. And then we go into the home, and we start working with her.  We’re in the home at least every other week, if not more often before she delivers the baby, to help her deliver a baby on time, at a healthy birth weight.

Denver: Let me pick up on that  teen mom issue– that has always been a big question. Are we making any progress in this country, Roxanne, in getting teen mom birth rates down?


Misconceptions About Humanitarian Aid

Jason Cone, Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders, discusses misconceptions about humanitarian aid, how medical facilities are now being targeted in conflict areas, and the brave people who put their lives at risk to help others.

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How to Use Volunteers Effectively

David Campbell, Founder & Chair of All Hands Volunteers, discusses the secret of how to use volunteers effectively.

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