Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth has said he will resign this summer. A statement on the organization's website said he intended to leave at the end of August 2022 after leading the human rights group for almost 30 years.

'Time to pass the baton'

"As I have been telling my colleagues, for now, nothing can last forever. So I have concluded that it is time to pass the baton. I plan to leave Human Rights Watch at the end of August," Roth said in a video posted on Twitter. He said he was leaving with "great confidence" that the organization's "talented and dedicated staff" would continue its work as "a leading force for defending the rights of people around the world." In his Twitter biography, Roth noted that he had been "proudly" placed under sanctions by the Chinese government.

'An affable, non-hierarchical nice guy'

One of Roth's colleagues, China researcher Yaqiu Wang turned to Twitter to express her regret in seeing him leave. She recalled Roth being supportive when she had been "a newbie researcher" in Hong Kong. She added, "Above anything else, Ken is an affable, non-hierarchical nice guy."

"He leaves a tremendous legacy," tweeted Laila Matar, Advocacy and Media Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council and a former colleague of Roth.

She said she was "grateful for the years spent under his inspiring and principled leadership." The World Uyghur Congress also expressed "its heartfelt gratitude" to Roth on Twitter. "Mr. Roth has been a longstanding, crucial ally, working towards exposing China's repression and advocating for the rights of the Uyghur people," the organization said.

Writing in The New York Times, Aina Khan said Roth had been "an unrelenting irritant to authoritarian governments." The 66-year-old attorney had been a volunteer at the organization for six years before becoming first deputy director in 1987 and then executive director in 1993, Khan said.

Under his leadership, Human Rights Watch had gone from being "an obscure shoestring network of a few scattered offices" with 20 employees to becoming "a well-financed organization" with 450 employees, Khan noted.

She said Roth intended to write a book after retiring.

The Jerusalem Post noted that Roth was the son of a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the paper that Roth had made Human Rights Watch "a juggernaut for justice." Romero added, "No organization and no leader have had a greater impact on human rights on a global scale."

Under sanctions from China

Agence France-Presse (AFP) recalled that Chinese authorities had prevented Roth from entering Hong Kong in January 2022. Chinese state-run television broadcaster CGTN prepared a report about the decision of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to place Roth under sanctions.

The report, which has been posted on YouTube, showed Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang asserting that "facts and evidence have shown that relevant non-governmental organizations through various ways support anti-government rioters in Hong Kong." He said those organizations were responsible for the "chaos" which the former British colony was then experiencing. "These organizations ought to be sanctioned and must pay for what they have done," he said.

On March 3, The Guardian published an op-ed piece by Roth about the scope of atrocities to be expected from Russian President Vladimir Putin during the War in Ukraine. He encouraged international pressure on Russia to prevent atrocities in Ukraine but he also praised Russian dissidents who had opposed the invasion. "As the world’s governments impose targeted sanctions on people with complicity in the war and repression, they should avoid as much as possible harming ordinary Russians," he said.