Human Rights Watch (HRW) Executive Director Kenneth Roth had good reason to present his organization's annual report in Berlin on Thursday.
Roth told DW, "If you look around the world, the traditional powers were largely absent" when it came to championing human rights over the past year. Roth praised German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, noting her work on applying pressure on rights abuses in Hungary and ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Most importantly he said that Merkel had helped prevent a bloodbath in Syria: "In a step that probably saved more lives than anything else, Chancellor Merkel was at the forefront of pressing Russian President Vladimir Putin to agree to a ceasefire in the Idlib Province in Syria, where 3 million civilian lives were at risk because Russia and Syria were about to begin an indiscriminate bombardment there."
USA and UK no longer reliable
Roth said, "These are very important steps that Germany took. And we look to it to continue to take these steps in a leadership role."
The HRW director voiced frustration over lack of support from traditional partners too bogged down in populism and domestic issues to defend human rights or investigate war crimes, calling them no longer reliable.
Roth said: "Trump was too busy embracing the autocrats he sees as friendly. Britain was completely preoccupied by Brexit. French President Macron talks a good game, but really didn't implement it. Even in Germany, where Chancellor Merkel has been a real hero, she has also been beleaguered by a far-right challenge."
Merkel, too, has been weakened domestically in recent years and intends to step down as chancellor at Germany's next general elections in 2021.