Human Rights Watch - History

History

Human Rights Watch was founded as a private American NGO in 1978, under the name of Helsinki Watch, to monitor the former Soviet Union's compliance with the Helsinki Accords. Helsinki Watch adopted a methodology of publicly "naming and shaming" abusive governments through media coverage and through direct exchanges with policymakers. By shining the international spotlight on human rights violations in the Soviet Union and its European partners, Helsinki Watch contributed to the democratic transformations of the region in the late 1980s.

Americas Watch was founded in 1981 while bloody civil wars engulfed Central America. Relying on extensive on-the-ground fact-finding, Americas Watch not only addressed perceived abuses by government forces but also applied international humanitarian law to investigate and expose war crimes by rebel groups. In addition to raising its concerns in the affected countries, Americas Watch also examined the role played by foreign governments, particularly the United States government, in providing military and political support to abusive regimes.

Asia Watch (1985), Africa Watch (1988), and Middle East Watch (1989) were added to what was then known as "The Watch Committees." In 1988, all of the committees were united under one umbrella to form Human Rights Watch.

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