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Human Rights Watch records: Record Group 1: Helsinki Watch, 1952-2003 (Bulk, 1978-1994). 

Creator: 
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki (Organization : U.S.)
Phys. Desc: 
271 linear feet (645 document boxes and one flat box).
Call Number: 
HRW RG 1
Location: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Biographical Note

In 1978, under the direction of founder and former chair Robert L. Bernstein, Human Rights Watch (HRW) was established as Helsinki Watch (HW). HW's mission was to monitor the compliance of the former Soviet Union and some other signatories with the human rights provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. As the organization has grown, it has formed other watch committees to cover other regions of the world. In 1988, all of the committees were united under one organization to form Human Rights Watch. These watch committees -- now called regional divisions --produce research reports on violations of international human rights norms as set out by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other internationally-accepted human rights norms. These reports are intended to draw international attention to human rights abuses and to put pressure on governments and international organizations to reform. HRW researchers conduct fact-finding missions to investigate suspect situations and generate coverage in local and international media. Issues raised by HRW include social and gender discrimination, torture, military use of children, political corruption, and abuses in criminal justice systems, and violations of humanitarian and international law. In the ensuing years, besides issuing reports, HRW has also expanded its collaborative lobbying efforts to expose human rights abuses throughout the world. Human Rights Watch, for example, was one of six international NGOs that established the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers in 1998. In turn, it is also the co-chair of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a global coalition of civil society groups that have successfully lobbied to introduce the Ottawa Convention, a treaty that prohibits the use of anti-personnel landmines. Finally, HRW is an original member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, a global network of non-governmental organizations that monitor censorship worldwide. Each year, in turn, Human Rights Watch awards grants to writers worldwide who are in financial need and are victims of persecution. These Hellman/Hammett grants are financed by the estate of the playwright Lillian Hellman with funds established in her name and that of her long-time companion, the novelist Dashiell Hammett. In addition to providing financial assistance, the Hellman/Hammett grants attempt to raise awareness of censorship. Today, HRW remains the largest U.S. based human rights organization “dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world.” With more than 150 committed professionals, a growing number of devoted volunteers working in its five regional and almost two dozen thematic divisions and through special projects orchestrated from its New York and Washington D.C. offices, HRW tracks human rights developments in over 70 countries around the world.

Scope and Contents

Materials include correspondence and e-mail communications, professional and personal field notes, testimonies and interviews, material on research methodology, addresses and contact lists, confidential interoffice memos, legal and advocacy material, internal planning and policy material, declassified government and United Nations documents, published and unpublished human rights reports from individuals and fellow non-governmental organizations (NGOs), press clippings and news releases, as well as regional maps, posters and audiovisual material. Another category of documents consists of HRW reports and briefing papers, as well as press releases and open letters to heads of state, governments and various government agencies. Materials related to missions contain unpublished information on sources, cases, and the state of affairs in various countries. They include professional and personal mission notes taken by country researchers during investigative field trips, testimonies by and interviews with victims of various human rights abuses, pre-mission and post-mission memos, material on research methodology, correspondence and e-mail communications, addresses and contact lists, as well as photographic records. Regionally and thematically, these documents cover human rights events in the past quarter of a century. The material in the Helsinki Watch files is substantive in dissidents and opposition movements in the former Soviet Union and its satellites. The other Watches and thematic divisions contain extensive and detailed files on civil wars and conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina, Chile; on the Cambodian genocide, on the human rights record of Burma, China, North Korea, and Kashmir; on South Africa, Liberia, Nigeria, etc., the democratic transitions in various African countries, and the Rwandan genocide; on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Iraq; on the International Justice Program and the campaign for establishing the International Criminal Court; on the international coalition to ban land mines, ending the use of child soldiers; on women's and children's rights, campaigns to promote freedom of expression and academic freedom, and the prison project.