DON’T MISS: Banding Together

By on August 2, 2017

Library hosts key player in the fight for human rights around the world.

Sifola, age 13, stands in the home she shares with her husband and in-laws. Her parents took her out of school and arranged her marriage because they were struggling with poverty and wanted to conserve their resources in order to pay for her brothers’ schooling. (Photo: © 2015 Omi for Human Rights Watch)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – After a generation of progress, the global human rights movement finds itself at a critical moment. There are the traditional challenges of conflict, refugees and autocrats, but there are also new threats all the time. The nonprofit Human Rights Watch fights for human rights around the world in a constantly changing global landscape. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, will speak about the organization and its successes and efforts around the world, from noon to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Ordway Auditorium at the Teton County Library.

Ann Lurie, a recently appointed member of the Teton County Board of Health and a passionate philanthropist involved with Human Rights Watch, brought Roth to Jackson, originally for a private dinner to discuss timely human rights issues, explained Robbin Levy, who helped Lurie organize the dinner. Lurie quickly realized she wanted to share Roth’s message with more people than could attend the dinner. They spoke with the library to host the free event.

While Levy wasn’t sure exactly what Roth would discuss and Roth was unavailable for an interview, she did note that there are human rights issues around the world, including in the United States that people aren’t always aware are happening.

“There is so much he could say and talk about. That’s the part I find pretty interesting,” Levy said. “We live in our little bubble in Jackson Hole and sometimes it’s good to pop your head out and see what’s going on. People are willing to go out on a limb to protect a moose or an elk, but human beings don’t get as much attention here.”

It isn’t because people don’t care about other people, its more that they aren’t aware of issues, even those in their own community, Levy said. There are even human rights issues in Jackson.

“There are human rights issues at all levels, they are just very nuanced here,” she said.

She hopes that Roth’s talk will shed light on issues people aren’t aware of, and resonate with listeners so they take action.

Action is indeed what Human Rights Watch is all about, Tara Golden, senior director for the Americas Initiative for Human Rights Watch, said. The organization isn’t about simply raising awareness about an issue, it’s about actually creating policy change, she said.

The organization works in more than 90 countries around the world. While she wasn’t sure what Roth would talk about in Jackson, he usually speaks on timely issues, she said. For example, if his talk was scheduled for July 26, when Trump tweeted about banning transgender people from serving in the military, Roth might have talked about it, Golden said.

Human Rights Watch also recently launched a new environment and human rights division, which Roth might discuss in environmentally-conscious Jackson Hole, Golden said. The organization is creating a new model to bring a human rights lens to environmental issues around the world. The organization will work on issues where environmental degradation is impacting human rights. It will use the same methodology it uses for other human rights violations. The organization conducts and documents extensive investigations and then uses its findings to create policy change and hold perpetrators accountable, Golden said.

For example, under its new environmental division, it will investigate logging in Brazil where companies are taking over land where indigenous people have lived for hundreds of years, she said.

Human Rights Watch will also work to protect activists. “In some parts of the world, doing environmental work is devastatingly dangerous,” Golden said.

Human Rights Watch defends human rights defenders, and will apply the same efforts to environmental activists, she said. They don’t take on individual cases, but instead look at places where there are systematic attacks on activists, she said.

While Human Rights Watch isn’t normally as concerned about raising awareness as it is in changing policy, Golden said the talk in Jackson could get more people engaged with the organization and give them a better understanding of what it does. “We have the ability to create change in a lot of places,” she said. PJH

Human Rights Watch: Confronting Global Challenges to Human Rights, noon to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, August 8 at Ordway Auditorium in Teton County Library, free.

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