Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) Emergencies Director and an expert in humanitarian crises, spoke to students at Los Angeles at New Roads School’s Moss Theater on October 2nd, describing HRW’s global mission, and the increasingly pivotal role that social media and everyday technology play in the group’s investigations into human rights abuses.
The presentation was part of New Roads School’s widely recognized “Workshop” program, a contextual curriculum that investigates a range of social, economic and environmental justice issues, and engages students in developing solutions. Speaking to an audience of more than 150 student activists, Mr. Bouckaert explained in detail the HRW’s methodology for investigating human rights abuses around the world. Using the example of the recent events in Syria, he walked students through how HRW was able to discredit the Syrian governments’ claim that opposition groups had been responsible for the using Sarin gas in Eastern and Western Ghouta. His message to students was clear: social media and technology are powerful tools for revealing facts; bringing atrocities to light, and holding those in power accountable for their actions.
Students listened raptly to Mr. Bouckaert and viewed film, video and photo images of human rights violations across the world, many of them deeply disturbing. Following the presentation, students asked questions ranging from “How did HRW start?” to “What accomplishment are you most proud of in our role with HRW?” to “What about human rights issues in the United States?” to “How do you continue your work, after seeing such terrible things and losing friends and colleagues to violence? Aren’t you afraid?” He told students that in spite of the danger, he plans to continue his work with HRW, because of the commitments they have made to the victims that have entrusted HRW with their stories. “We cannot betray them,” he said. “We cannot betray their hope.”