PL-6. The Role of the Human Rights Community in Limiting Violence and the Abuse of Human Rights

The human rights movement seeks to defend human rights and curtail violence abuse. In countries with mature legal systems and the rule of law, victims of human rights abuse can look to the courts for enforcement. But in most countries where organizations like Human Rights Watch work, the courts are too weak or compromised to rein in official abuse. In such circumstances, the human rights movement employs a variety of techniques to exert pressure on authorities to respect human rights. These include public shaming, diplomatic appeals, withholding or conditioning certain forms of economic assistance, depriving abusive forces of arms, and threatening violent officials with the possibility of international prosecution. Critical to the successful employment of these techniques is the collection of reliable and accurate information about human rights abuses. This information is then deployed to create a sense of outrage on the part of the relevant public and to spur powerful governments and institutions to use their influence to curb abuses. Governmental conduct in the human rights realm is measured against legal standards that are codified in a series of binding treaties. But in the "pre-legal" environment in which the human rights movement often must work, the power of exposing abuses lies less in the revealed violation of legal standards than in a contrast with popular moral judgments. Reinforcing a sense of moral outrage in the face of human rights abuse is thus a major priority. The task is most difficult when governments claim to act in the name of religious or cultural tradition. Partnerships between local and international human rights organizations can be particularly effective in such circumstances. Other contemporary challenges facing the human rights movement include promoting accountability for violent abuses without creating an incentive for tyrants to cling to power; exerting economic pressure on abusive governments at a time when government-to-government assistance often pales in comparison with private investment; exerting influence when abuses are committed armed factions in failed states rather than formal governments; and convincing the international community to deploy military force in the most extreme cases when it is the sole feasible option to stop genocide or comparable crimes against humanity.