Human rights are a set of entitlements that all humans are granted by simply being alive. Every person is born with these rights, notwithstanding their race, religious or gender orientation, or socioeconomic status (Bix 409). Nonetheless, during forced migration times, refugees and migrants might experience human rights violations comprising being denied civil or political rights, for instance, torture, arbitrary confinement, or being restricted due process, as well as social, cultural, and economic rights such as health care, education, or housing access. A non-governmental organization like the Human Rights Watch (HRW) is established to advocate for civil rights globally by monitoring human rights in diverse countries, documenting human rights abuses, and carrying out advocacy campaigns against government practices and policies that violate human rights. The organization’s mission is grounded on natural law and natural rights tenets, which assert that every person has inalienable rights not granted by the state or any other authority but intrinsic in humanity. This essay argues that the Natural Law and Natural Rights theories have substantive implications for the Human Rights Watch’s work advocating for refugees and forced migration. These theories highlight all human beings’ inherent dignity and rights, regardless of nationality or legal status.
HRW is an international non-governmental institution (NGO) that safeguards and promotes civil rights internationally. Founded in 1978, HRW is based in New York, with branches in more than 90 countries (Influence Watch). The HRW was formed when Bernstein Robert L, the Fund for Free Expression originator, and Helsinki Watch later merged with other organizations to form the organization. Helsinki Watch was established to guarantee that governments in the Soviet Bloc complied with the human rights standards set out in the 1975 Helsinki Accords (Human Rights Watch). After Helsinki Watch’s formation, Americas Watch was established in 1981 to address the mistreatment of people in civil wars in Central America. Africa Watch, Asia Watch, and Middle East Watch were founded in 1988, 1985, and 1989, respectively (Human Rights Watch). These organizations were collectively known as the Watch Committees and re-named Human Rights Watch in 1988.
Human Rights Watch extended and reinforced its efforts in defending the rights of women, refugees, migrant workers, and children, incorporating a human rights viewpoint to topics such as trafficking, spousal abuse, underage combatants, and rape during war times (Human Rights Watch). The organization found novel methods to examine rights violations in shut societies like North Korea land Saudi Arabia. It illuminated previously neglected topics like the rights of LGBTQ individuals. It analyzed the international arms industry and the part of business in human rights, developing pioneering research, for example, on rights violations in the meatpacking, oil, and gold industries.
HRW is among the numerous organizations working on refugee and forced migration matters. Other notable NGOs include Amnesty International, the United Nations Refugees High Commissioner (UNHCR), and IRC (the International Rescue Committee). Altogether, these organizations are involved in advancing and guarding human rights with various associates in other areas of public life and personnel of the global/intergovernmental human rights surveillance system. According to Walling and Waltz (906), much like other agencies doing similar things within the field, Human Rights Watch is aware of the fact that it is challenging to gather real progress in civil rights efforts, especially in the short-term, and that it is dependent on a multitude of factors, most of which are beyond its control.
Whereas these institutions share a mutual goal of protection for refugees’ rights and well-being, they may vary in their tactics, priorities, and expertise areas. The most commonly used method is research on forced migration to comprehend the displaced’s activities, impacts, and difficulties to persuade authorities and organizations to construct more productive solutions (Rall et al. 171-172). Human Rights Watch (HRW) focuses on researching and documenting human rights violations of the right to seek asylum, exploitation, and discrimination and advocating for their protection. At the core of this mandate, HRW conducts research using interviews with refugees and migrants to document abuses and analyze government policies and laws. HRW seeks to use its research to advocate for policy transformation and raise public awareness about refugee rights (HRW). Investigating the issue is inextricably linked to studying the advocacy approach: the inquiry is not just about those who have been wronged and those who have caused harm, but about deciding who can and should take action to prevent infringements of rights and provide reparation, the specific and detailed measures they should take, and who else is capable of having a positive impact and exercise pressure.
Amnesty International campaigns to end human rights abuses. A considerable portion of the refugee research publications comprises records from human rights groups, including Amnesty International or HRW, which detail and expose human rights violations to persuade governments to safeguard refugees and enhance their welfare (Rall et al. 171). Unlike HRW, Amnesty International concentrates on mobilizing individuals to act on human rights issues. Both organizations conduct research and document human rights violations, but Amnesty International inclines a stronger focus on mobilization and campaigning.
Other organizations in the sector include the International Human Rights Federation. FIDH is a global human rights agency that promotes and safeguards civic rights. It focuses explicitly on protecting civic rights defenders and supporting civic rights abuse victims (FIDH). FIDH is known for closely working with local organizations and has a solid footing in many countries globally. While HRW also works with local organizations, it tends to have a more centralized structure and uses the natural law doctrine.
Other organizations include World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) and International Red Cross Committee (ICRC): OMCT works to prevent torture, among other inhumane, cruel, or degrading treatment forms (Ferris and Katharine 112). Like HRW, it also conducts research and advocacy work, but it has a particular focus on eliminating torture. OMCT also has substantial stress on the network building of local organizations and working with them in human rights advocacy. On the other hand, the ICRC provides humanitarian assistance and protection to armed conflict victims and violent situations (Ferris and Katharine 114). Whereas HRW also works on armed conflict and violence issues, its broader focus includes freedom of speech and LGBT rights. The ICRC also has a unique advocacy approach, concentrating on working with governments and other armed actors to encourage respect for global humanitarian law.
Each organization has its unique methodology for addressing forced migration and human rights issues. However, they all share a mutual goal of advocating for the refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants’ rights. They may differ in their specific focus or strategies, but they all critically promote and protect human rights globally.
HRW’s work on forced migration and refugee issues is committed to upholding global human rights law principles. The organization believes that all people, regardless of nationality or legal condition, have inherent rights which must be respected and protected. This approach aligns with the Natural Law and Natural Rights theories that emphasize all humans’ intrinsic dignity and worth.
HRW’s advocacy of forced migration and refugee issues focuses on several key areas, comprising refugees’ and migrants’ protection from violence and abuse. HRW exposes and documents human rights transgressions against migrants and refugees, constituting sexual and physical violence, compelled labor, and arbitrary arrest (HRW). The organization also advocates for legal protection and accountability approaches to avert and address these abuses. The organization also seeks to guarantee access to essential services and protections. The organization ensures that refugees and migrants can access critical healthcare, education, and shelter. The organization also advocates for legal protections, including the right to seek asylum and the family reunification right.
Human Rights Watch relies on donations from donors like the Open Society Foundation, who gave 100 million US dollars over a decade, to tackle local human rights issues worldwide daily. Soros encouraged a boost in the organization’s efficiency internationally to set global agendas for other establishments (Steinberg 35). Due to its strong association with wealthy donors, there is concern over the influence of these donors on civil society and the organization’s autonomy, as it leads to the selection of human rights improvements being affected (Steinberg 35). Steinberg showed that HRW’s decisions on human rights reporting consider multiple factors, such as media engagement, international donor strategy, and the power of the country being surveyed. This prioritization can interfere with the reports’ ability to impact transition countries (36). This contradicts the outlook of international Human Rights Organizations like HRW, which state that governments are obligated under international law to be held accountable for serious civil rights violations.
HRW draws on diverse approaches and theories from international law, political science, and human rights in pursuing its goals. The Natural Law and Natural Rights theories are particularly appropriate to HRW’s work, as they stress the universal nature of civil rights and the significance of protecting all individuals’ inherent dignity and worth.
The natural law concept dates back to ancient Greek philosophy and that there is a universal moral law accessible to all humans through reason (Langlois 990). According to natural law theorists, moral law is not contingent on human convention or law but reflects the universe’s order and purpose. For instance, John Locke, renowned for his advocacy of the theory, declared that natural law is the product of human reason, which impedes the selfishness of individual desires (Hobbes) and encourages more cooperative conduct (Langlois 991). Natural law theory holds that humans have inherent worth and dignity and are endowed with certain intrinsic rights to their nature as social and rational beings. The law is grounded on the notion that all humans have inherent dignity and worth and that particular actions are inherently right or wrong grounded on this universal moral law.
There are significant impacts on the implications of natural law theory for HRW’s activities. Firstly, HRW grounds its human rights advocacy in the belief that objective moral principles apply to all humans without considering their ethnicity, religion, or nationhood status. HRW’s mission statement upholds this by arguing that “we believe that all human beings are entitled to equal respect and dignity and that their rights and liberties should be safeguarded by law” (HRW). This universal human rights commitment aligns with the natural law theoretical principles, which assert the universality of moral law and its application to all human beings.
The natural law theory provides a basis for critiquing governmental actions and other authorities violating human rights. Locke’s political theory of liberalism argues that governments have a role in upholding the moral law and protecting the citizens’ rights (Langlois 990). When governments fail to do this, they act contrary to the natural law and are thus illegitimate. HRW’s human rights advocacy often involves exposing and criticizing government activity that violates their citizen’s rights, including arbitrary detention, censorship, and torture (Slezkine 34). Natural law theory provides a theoretical basis for this critique, asserting that governments have a role in protecting their citizen’s rights and that failing to do so violates the moral law.
Natural rights, which emerged in the Enlightenment era, build on the human rights topic by stressing the individual rights and freedoms which all humans possess by their humanity. The natural rights theory proposed by John Locke in the 17th century states that every individual has certain inalienable rights which any authority or government cannot take away (Zuckert, 113). In its work, HRW promotes the right to life by revealing human rights abuses, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and other violent forms that threaten individuals’ lives (Slezkine 346). The organization also promotes the right to liberty by advocating for political prisoners’ release, opposing arbitrary detention and torture, and fighting against freedom of expression and association restrictions.
In conclusion, the Natural Law and Natural Rights frameworks hold significant implications for organizations such as Human Rights Watch, which advocates for refugees and forced migration. The theories emphasize all human beings’ fundamental and inherent dignity and rights, irrespective of their legal status or nationality. Such an understanding requires that refugees and forcibly displaced persons’ rights be protected, maintained, and treated with dignity and respect. Recognizing the universal nature of human rights through these theories provides a powerful tool for addressing refugees’ challenges worldwide. Human Rights Watch and other organizations could draw upon the theories to develop strategies and policies committed to human dignity, justice, and human rights for all. Ultimately, by working together and upholding these fundamental principles, there is optimism in creating a more just and equitable world for forcibly displaced persons and refugees.
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