“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” -Nelson Mandela // “Can the U.S. Lead on Human Rights in the 21st Century?”

On Monday, October 27, 2014, Caroll Bogert spoke at Muhlenberg College about human rights around the world and the organization she works for, “Human Rights Watch.” I found her to be informative and surprisingly engaging, given that I was expecting a dull lecture-style environment. Bogert’s lack of a prepared PowerPoint both shocked and compelled me. She spoke incredibly passionately about the defending human rights; and that struck me.

I found the information about Human Rights Watch fascinating. Their detailed procedure for investigating with extensive interviews and eyewitness accounts shocked me. I always thought that the people who did that sort of work were with the government, and they only did a subpar job. But the fact that an organization outside of the government (all their funds are privately raised!) was working on improving global human rights definitely made me look at the issue with a different perspective. The intensity of the research that goes into the research was also astounding – how can they possibly tell apart the liars and exaggerators from the truth? And who specifically is responsible for the crimes committed? The exposition process also intrigued me. I figured that Human Rights Watch would want to get the story out everywhere, regardless of the anticipated audience. However, Bogert’s explanation of how they go about getting the information in the hands of people at the government was eye-opening. Finally, the change process: using the information to charge persecutors.

By mentioning specific recent examples of human rights violations across the world, she gave the discussion to a contemporary feel. Instead of talking about age-old crimes such as those in Iraq and Bosnia, she mentioned lesser-known, more recent abuses to emphasize the point that few of us know about these things…and that’s a problem. From the Central African Republic to Bahrain, the US has actively made a decision to either help or not, but how many of these involvements has the average American heard about on the “world” news? My bet is very few because they’re all too worried about contracting Ebola.

Bogert quickly shifted gears to talk about human rights violations on a domestic scale – including immigration and torture of prisoners. I was glad that she didn’t praise the United States for setting a glowing example for the rest of the world, because that’s just not true. America has blood on its hands too, and if it continues denying it, things will only get worse. The first step in making the United States a leader in human rights in the 21st century is admitting to our crimes and taking the necessary cleansing precautions (i.e. firing the higher up government officials that approved torture on Guantanamo Bay prisoners) that every other country would take. Just because we’re one of the most powerful countries in the world doesn’t mean we’re exempt from international laws and treaties. Then, and only then, will the United States be a leader and set a proper example for the rest of the world in their struggle to abide by human rights laws.

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