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Democracy vs. Autocracy in Ukraine and Beyond: A Human Rights Perspective
4:00pm - 5:15pm ET


Russia’s war against Ukraine has become a symbol of a wider conflict, a global struggle between democracy and autocracy, between freedom and oppression. Since Russian troops poured over the Ukrainian border in February 2022, Western, liberal democracies have rallied to support this emerging democracy in its fight against an authoritarian and expansionist neighbor. While the war has been brutal, the Ukrainian people have defended their country with grit and determination, making major gains on the battlefield in recent weeks.

Even if Ukraine ultimately triumphs, democracies still find themselves increasingly challenged by autocracies, especially China and Russia. In their own countries, autocratic powers have squashed free expression and association, undermined independent judiciaries, and coopted state institutions for partisan ends. Abroad, they have used disinformation to exacerbate political divisions, sought to redefine human rights standards, and worked to undermine global institutions for the defense of human rights.

How can democracy meet this broader challenge effectively? What is the best approach to fortify democracies and thwart autocracies? What does Russia’s war against Ukraine say about other autocratic states, and the strength of multilateral institutions and liberal democracies to respond? How does that contrast with the global response to Beijing’s repression, such as its crimes against humanity targeting Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang?

For the first event of Perry World House’s new Thakore Family Global Justice and Human Rights Program, Kenneth Roth, former executive director of Human Rights Watch and inaugural Thakore Family Global Justice and Human Rights Visiting Fellow, will explore these critical questions.


Kenneth Roth is the inaugural Thakore Family Global Justice and Human Rights Visiting Fellow at Perry World House. He served for nearly three decades as the executive director of Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s leading international human rights organizations, which operates in some 100 countries. Before that, Roth served as a federal prosecutor in New York and for the Iran-Contra investigation in Washington. A graduate of Yale Law School and Brown University, Roth has conducted numerous human rights investigations and missions around the world, meeting with dozens of heads of state and countless ministers. He is quoted widely in the media and has written hundreds of articles on a wide range of human rights issues, devoting special attention to the world’s most dire situations, the conduct of war, the foreign policies of the major powers, the work of the United Nations, and the global contest between autocracy and democracy. Roth is currently writing a book about the strategies used by Human Rights Watch to defend human rights, drawing on his years of experience.


Colum Lynch is an award-winning journalist and senior global correspondent at Devex, covering the United Nations and its development and humanitarian agencies. Prior to joining Devex, he spent a decade at Foreign Policy as a senior diplomatic reporter, publishing groundbreaking reporting on issues including international sanctions, UN corruption, and the rise of China’s diplomatic soft power. Before Foreign Policy, Lynch was the UN correspondent for the Washington Post, playing a central role in the paper’s diplomatic coverage in the lead-up to the Iraq war and the war on terror, and a reporter for the Boston Globe, where he covered the genocide in Rwanda. Lynch has an undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.

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