The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, said Tuesday he will step down after three decades which have seen the New York-based NGO become a thorn in the side of authoritarian regimes and rights abusers across the world.
Roth, who has led the organisation since 1993, will step down at the end of August, HRW said in a statement.
“Nothing can last forever,” he said in a video message. “It is time to pass the baton.”
He expressed “great confidence” that the HRW team would continue to effectively defend human rights. “While I am leaving Human Rights Watch, I am not leaving our cause.”
Under his leadership, HRW has grown from a small-scale campaign group into a global rights organisation that now employs over 500 staff across the globe.
In 1997, it shared a Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to ban antipersonnel landmines and played a critical role in establishing the International Criminal Court.
Evidence gathered by its staff during conflicts around the world helped ensure the convictions at international tribunals of figures including former Liberian leader Charles Taylor over the war in Sierra Leone and wartime Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.
“Today, amid the horrific abuse taking place in Ukraine, an infrastructure is in place to hold perpetrators accountable,” the HRW statement said.
His role brought controversy and HRW’s statement acknowledged that “Roth inevitably earned many enemies.”
In April 2021, HRW became the first major international rights group to accuse Israel of using policies of apartheid — the segregation of blacks and whites in white-ruled South Africa — against Palestinians.
Israel vehemently denied the allegation and denounced HRW’s report. But in February this year a similar allegation was made by HRW’s London-based counterparts at Amnesty International.
“Despite being Jewish — and having a father who fled Nazi Germany as a 12-year-old boy — he has been attacked for the organisation’s criticism of Israeli government abuses,” HRW said.
In recent years, Roth had also become a bitter enemy of the Chinese authorities after repeatedly singling out Beijing over its rights violations.
China imposed sanctions against Roth personally and expelled him from Hong Kong when he travelled there to release HRW’s annual World Report in January 2020, “which spotlighted Beijing’s threat to the global human rights system”, the organisation said.
A search for a successor is now underway, it added.