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Apr 27, 2017

In Episode 7 of Series 2, Todd talks to Iain Levine, Programme Director of Human Rights Watch about how the NGO collects and uses evidence to bring about change.


  • Iain explains what HRW does, where it works and which human rights issues it gets involved in including women’s rights, children’s rights and the rights of the disabled
  • How HRW approaches its work by investigating and exposing human rights violations to bring about change including raising awareness among policy makers and journalists and making recommendations about what needs to be done to end violations, bring perpetrators to justice and to ensure people are better protected going forward
  • What investigation involves: witness statements and interviews, photography, satellite imagery, statistics, records etc. to build a full picture
  • At what point in an investigation HRW judges it has enough info to move to start exposing violations - being sure of the rigour and credibility of the findings including an internal review process and timing of release to maximise impact.
  • Iain’s concerns around ‘Fake News’ and what he sees to be as a declining respect for objectivity, expertise and facts


  • Todd asks how HRW cuts through human rights compassion fatigue to get their stories and messages out into the public domain, . Iain agrees it has become more challenging but talks about the relatively recent power of social media and how HRW uses it to maximum effect. He also talks about the importance of human stories and visual imagery and the need to be concise in whatever language they are using. HRW has more than 3 million Twitterfollowers
  • Explanation of how HRW analyses and evaluates its engagements on Twitter


  • How HRW documents and understands any change it may be responsible for. Iain acknowledges it’s an area where HRW wants and needs to be stronger
  • How researchers are able to describe progress and the trajectory the work is on but ultimate goals such as passing a new law, the implementation of sanctions or deploying a peacekeeping force to protect civilians in a conflict are harder things to come by and take time. HRW is working internally to improve this side of their work and to learn and employ good practice from other organisations etc.


  • The work HRW undertakes in the United States (looking at things like foreign policy, surveillance, torture, Guantanamo Bay etc.) and how and why it is important.
  • The implications for human rights of the election of Donald Trump and how that has impacted HRW’s work.
  • The work that HRW is doing on Environmental rights including looking at climate change
  • Iain mentions recent work in Kenya looking at how climate change is impacting on the indigenous population, HRW’s efforts on pollution and toxicity in terms of securing people’s rights to health and water including access to information, rights to free speech etc and protecting environmental activists who he says are most under threat.
  • Todd mentions the Dakota pipeline controversy in which environmentalists and indigenous local people objected to the building of a pipeline over fears of contamination and damage
  • Iain explains that HRW’s role was small but agrees the case highlights the importance of the organisation’s role in protecting people’s right to speak out and protest against developments that they believe could be harmful to the environment and its people.
  • Iain concludes by outlining the scale of HRW’s operations in 90 countries with more than 400 staff and how they are placing more staff on the ground in countries where violations are taking place to secure its international footprint.

Additional resources from our partners at OpenGlobal Rights