Human Rights Watch Director Sarah Leah Whitson Speaks about the Arab Spring at AUA

On August 23, 2012, Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa Director of Human Rights Watch, gave a presentation at the American University of Armenia about the sources and lessons of the Arab Spring.  She pointed out that the Arab Spring was remarkable in a number of ways.   It was long expected, but unpredictable.   It was brought about by a unique confluence of factors, a “black swan” in Taleb’s parlance, set off in each country by seemingly small incidents of human rights violations.  These were the proverbial straws that broke the camel’s back and turned passive victims into dignity-seeking protesters.


In tune with the dispersed, social network structure of the internet age, it was not the large organized political opposition parties, but the disorganized crowd or spontaneous groups that were catalyzed by these incidents, causing the movement to gel.  Coming to her work at HRW, she emphasized HRW’s credibility as source of objective, non-partisan fact-finding and documentation.   She underscored that facts are hard to find, but that facts are power, enabling people to transform high ideals into a force for policy making.


She concluded her talk by stating that the rule of law and ordinary people’s belief that they have a right to human dignity played a central role in the dramatic developments in the Mideast.  The ability to articulate concerns and document facts in legal frameworks that compel action is the core of advocacy.  She advised students to develop excellent writing skills if they wish to pursue careers in human rights.    Ms. Whitson is a graduate of Harvard Law School and UC Berkeley.



The American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia.  Founded in 1991, AUA is affiliated with the University of California.  Through teaching, research, and public service, AUA serves Armenia and the region by supplying high-quality, graduate and undergraduate education, encouraging civic engagement, and promoting democratic values.


The American University of Armenia is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, 985 Atlantic Avenue, #100, Alameda, CA 94501, 510-748-9001.