Phil Robertson on Defending Human Rights in East Asia

By Shaun Tan

By Shaun Tan

Founder, Editor-in-Chief, and Staff Writer

26/5/2022

Phil Robertson

If you follow the news in East Asia closely, you’ve probably come across Phil Robertson. Whenever human rights are threatened in the region, Robertson, who has been the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division for the past 12 years, is on it: drawing attention to it, criticizing it, lobbying for change. Although the work he and Human Rights Watch does is invaluable, it’s not always appreciated by the authoritarian governments of the region and their supporters, who often view them as troublemakers.

 

Robertson has a long and deep connection to the region: before joining Human Rights Watch, he spent 15 years working on human rights, labor rights, protection of migrant workers, and counter human-trafficking efforts in Southeast Asia with a variety of NGOs, trade union federations, and UN agencies. He is fluent in Lao and Thai, and lives in Bangkok. But how does an American end up defending human rights in East Asia, how does an idealistic organization like Human Rights Watch work in a world of realpolitik, and where does he find hope in a region that, arguably, has only grown darker over the past few years? He discusses these questions, and more, with us today.

Experience this interview your way.

Listen to it here.

Read it here. (This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)

Rabbit Hole: Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about your background. How does someone from Bridgewater, Massachusetts, end up caring enough about human rights in East Asia to devote his career to it?

 

PR: Well, it’s a good question. I actually was always interested in international issues, and getting out of college I was very involved in Latin America issues, particularly Central America; this was during the period when Ronald Reagan was president, and there were all the issues related to Nicaragua and El Salvador. But I got a job working on the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the Asia-Pacific subcommittee in the US Congress, and worked there for several years, and decided because of the work I’d done there, particularly on refugee issues, that I wanted to come out to Southeast Asia – I wanted to be out here and see what was actually going on. And I thought that I would originally go out for a year or two, work in some refugee camps on the Thai-Lao border and the Thai-Cambodian border, and then head back to Washington and continue my career there, but I was really taken with Thailand, I was amazed by everything I saw: there was so much going on, so many issues, so many things that were really hidden from the ordinary views of Americans and others that they would normally see, and the reality was that I wasn’t ready to let go after being out for a couple years, and so I’ve remained in Southeast Asia, I’ve engaged on human rights issues all along because I feel very personally engaged with some of the victims and others that I have met over the years, people I’ve worked with, people who’ve needed assistance, needed help, and it really feels good to try to be involved, to try to make the world a better place, even if it’s case-by-case, even if it’s issue-by-issue.

So, I’ve always been engaged out here, and Human Rights Watch as an organization has the international heft, you know, such a strong reputation, that we really do get the attention, not only of the government that we’re critiquing, but also the governments and others, like UN agencies, who we’re trying to persuade to take up the human rights issues and to be advocates for the things that we want to have done, and so that is a big part of what we do – we may not be the welcome messenger that the Cambodian government or the Vietnam government want to hear from, but we can reach policymakers and other governments and UN agencies and other organizations, and try to persuade them to be the messengers, that these are issues that should be taken up, and need to be taken up in order for human rights progress to be made. And we win some and we lose some. Certainly, we’ve seen a significant amount of backsliding in the region on human rights issues. Within ASEAN, we’ve seen the diminishing of democracy in places like Thailand and Malaysia and other spots. So, clearly, there is an ongoing issue where we are facing challenges to meet, to take on these key issues related to democracy and human rights, and for us, as an advocacy organization, as well as a research organization, it’s imperative that we get our facts straight, that we advocate on those facts, and that we don’t back down, regardless of what sort of excuses governments bring to bear.

 

Rabbit Hole: Well, I mean, you’re an American, right, so you could have furthered the cause of human rights in the Americas, or in Africa, or in South Asia, or in any other parts of the world you could name, right? So, what makes Asia so special, specifically East Asia?

 

PR: Well, I think most people will tell you when they leave their country and go overseas, and particularly live overseas for a while, that often the first country you come to is the one that’s most special. And that’s certainly the case for me with Thailand. I have been living in Thailand for now over 25 years. If you had told me within the first two or three years that I was living overseas that I would be overseas this long, I would have basically said: “It’s never gonna happen.” But it becomes something that you just become really engaged in. I find it fascinating – every day the work I do. I’m talking with people that are interesting, I’m dealing with complex situations, we’re trying to bring light to darkness in many cases, we’re trying to help people – all these things are endlessly engaging for me and I find that the ability to contribute the way I can out here really makes it worthwhile for me. So, people say “Why don’t you do these sort of things in the United States? Why don’t you do these sort of things somewhere else?” Well, there are other people who are doing that, you know? I’m doing it here because I can, and I want to, and I find it to be both personally and professionally very, very fulfilling.

Robertson with Win Tin, Burmese journalist, politician, and political prisoner, in 2013

Rabbit Hole: Can you tell us a bit about the work Human Rights Watch does, as well as the limitations it operates under?

 

PR: Well, we are, first and foremost, a human rights documentation organization – we document human rights, we investigate human rights abuses. And then once we have got the goods, once we have developed the information that is quite clear about what is happening, we’ve cross-checked all our facts, we’ve made sure that we’ve got it absolutely right, then we move forward to publish what we’ve got, and to expose those human rights abuses, and to ultimately call to account the people or the governments or the businesses or whoever who we believe are responsible for these rights abuses. And we are aiming at getting change, we are aiming at changing policies or changing attitudes or changing laws to ensure that rights abuses do not continue, and that people who have committed egregious human rights abuses are held accountable. And so it’s all part of a larger strategy of trying to improve the overall human rights situation in the region. We’re taking on numerous different issues; it could be refugee issues, it could be issues related to sexuality and gender, like LGBT rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, disability rights, basic civil and political rights which, of course, many people associate with Human Rights Watch, to protect freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of peaceful public assembly – all these things are issues that we take on because we are all about investigating, exposing, and changing the world that we’re living in.

 

Rabbit Hole: Can you tell me a bit more about the limitations that an organization like yours operates under? Obviously, you’re an NGO: you don’t have military power, you don’t have the power to impose economic sanctions, you don’t even have the diplomatic power that a country has, right? So, what are the limitations you operate under and how do you navigate those-

 

PR: Well, what we have is, we have our reputation as an organization that gets our facts right, and so it’s important that we have a good name, and that good name is something that is critical for the work that we do. I would say that it’s important to understand that despite the fact that we don’t have those sources of power, we do have people who listen to us, we do have organizations, groups, and governments who view our interventions and our information as being critical and important.

So, therefore, I would say that it’s our reputation that is our biggest source of strength for our work. I would also say that we as an organization recognize that we have to advocate for others to take up the issues that we’re working on. It’s important, for instance, if you look at the US-ASEAN special summit, which took place at the White House on May 12th and 13th, we were trusting the US government to raise human rights issues with a whole bunch of visiting government delegations; in some cases they did, in some cases they didn’t, and we will continue to push them to do more. But we, as advocates, have to rely on like-minded governments and UN agencies and others who believe, as we believe, that human rights are a core part of the international being – that these are international laws that have to be followed, and that the reputation of the international community and the world itself relies significantly on the addressing of human rights. You know, it’s interesting that many of the people who denigrate or downplay human rights are particularly the governments and the government officials who are violating those rights, and that if you talk with ordinary people across Southeast Asia and East Asia, you will find that, broadly, when they understand what human rights are, they will basically say “Yes, we’re for that, we are in favor of having our rights respected. We don’t want governments to do things to us that are unfair and unjust.” And it’s a part of the common humanity that people want to have their rights, and this is a universal thing, and I think that is the real power that we have; we’re harnessing that understanding of what human rights are, and that if, in fact, human rights abuses are exposed, and they are often exposed because we have very good relations with the media, and we can explain issues very clearly, and what we talk about is often covered very prominently by the media, that the word gets out, and that human rights abusers are embarrassed, and in some cases they have to make adjustments.

 

Rabbit Hole: So you don’t buy Lee Kuan Yew’s notion of “Asian values” – that Asian people, due to their cultural heritage, care less about civil-political rights like freedom of expression, freedom of the press and assembly and so on, rather than socio-economic rights?

 

PR: That whole conception is a conception that was brought by two dictators: Lee Kuan Yew from Singapore, and Mohamad Mahathir from Malaysia, and what it boils down to, and let’s be very clear about this, is that they are saying that Asian people, because they are Asian, should have less rights than others, that, because they are Asian, they shouldn’t have civil and political rights. In some ways, it’s a bit of a racist theory, that somehow one group of people, because they’re from one region, would get less human rights than everybody else in the globe. And when you actually examine the “Asian values” argument that has been made by these two dictators, you realize that it’s exactly that – there’s nothing there. This is an excuse that they were trying to make to say that “We can violate rights, and we have the right to do so.” And that argument was completely repudiated by the global human rights conference in Vienna in 1993, which both those men attended, and they backed-down. So, you know, the only people who are still talking about “Asian values” are governments like Laos and Vietnam who missed the memo, because they’ve been stuck in their warped Marxist-Leninist anachronistic political situation for so many decades. No one is really arguing that the “Asian values” critique is still relevant in today’s world.

“‘Asian values’ is a bit of a racist theory, that somehow one group of people, because they’re from one region, would get less human rights than everybody else in the globe.”

Rabbit Hole: At times, Human Rights Watch tries to persuade and work with governments to address human rights violations. At other times, it condemns them. When do you employ these different approaches?

 

PR: Well, we always have recommendations to improve human rights. That may not be the headline in every report, but if you look at our reports, you will see that there is a very clear set of concrete recommendations to governments and other key players in any given situation to improve human rights. We critique human rights abuses because they are clearly against international law, and all our work is done on the basis of the UN international human rights conventions, which have been ratified by governments all around the world. When governments claim that these rights don’t apply to them, people just need to pull out the history books and look at the ratification of these international human rights instruments, and they can see that these same governments that are saying that these don’t apply to them are the ones who voted for them when push came to shove at the UN General Assembly. So, the condemnation happens because, clearly, they are doing something wrong. But we are always interested in trying to improve human rights issues, and we will work with governments, companies, and whoever is abusing rights to address the human rights issues and human rights abuses that we have brought up into the international attention. We are not just name-and-shame for the purpose of naming and shaming – we’re here to try to change things, and that’s a critical piece that often governments deliberately overlook in their rush to try to condemn whatever we’ve said.

 

Rabbit Hole: Well, my guess, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that you will probably take the more cooperative approach with governments first, right? At least you would try that, and as long as there’s a genuine willingness to address an issue and improve a human rights situation you’d cooperate with them-

 

PR: Mm hmm.

 

Rabbit Hole: I suppose there are times, though, where the human rights violation is not the result of negligence, it’s not the result of an oversight – it’s a deliberate strategy, a deliberate policy to stay in power, right, when they, let’s say, persecute political opponents, or when they persecute free press because they’re writing unflattering stories about them. I mean, that’s not a mistake; that’s a deliberate strategy so that they can look good and they can remain in power. Or, alternatively, there may be cases where a policy may not be that necessary to remain in power, but for some reason that government is very wedded to it, like China’s persecution of the Uyghur minority – they’ve very stubbornly wedded to it, they’re not gonna reverse themselves on it anytime soon. And, in those cases, you would go from trying to cooperate with them and go into condemning them.

 

PR: Yes, well, we would certainly condemn human rights abuses wherever they occur, and in some cases, for instance, if you look at North Korea, there’s a deliberate policy by North Korea to intimidate and create fear amongst the North Korean people, because that’s the way that the government maintains power, maintains control. And if you look at North Koreans, if they’re given the opportunity, they will try to escape the country, rather than trying to fight the power, to fight against Kim Jong-un and his regime. I think there are many cases where governments are trying to, in fact, intimidate the population so that they remain quiescent, and in those cases it’s outside voices like us- We always face difficulties operating in closed environments like Vietnam or North Korea, but we’re able to get interviews, we’re able to talk to people, we have our ways of doing this. And, in China, the same. I think that there’s always an effort to try to expose governments, especially where they’re trying to keep the lid on it by intimidating the people, that is a core strategy within many governments: they’re trying to use their power to – there’s an old Chinese adage, to “kill the chicken and show it to the monkeys” – the idea is that you can intimidate one person, make an example of them, and [that] will keep everybody else in line. And we are involved in trying to break that pattern, we are involved in trying to bring the abuses to light so that ultimately people recognize that it’s not just them that are facing these rights abuses and that others have as well, and the international community is prepared to speak up about it and do something about it.

 

Rabbit Hole: Tell me more about working with authoritarian governments like Laos and Vietnam; in many ways, they often seem intransigent, and you would think that they would not be too receptive to an organization like Human Rights Watch telling them what to do. So how do you persuade them to improve human rights and to listen to you?

 

PR: Well, it’s hard. In the case of Laos, we’ve not been able to persuade them to do the right thing, in fact, they’re in complete denial about, for instance, their enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, about their abuses in drug detention centers, about so many different things, and the Lao government just denies everything. In Vietnam, it’s interesting that, up to about 2013, 2014, we were actually in a discussion with Vietnamese government representatives about a possible trip, [an] official delegation by Human Rights Watch to Vietnam. But we were in the negotiation process and they were discussing how it would happen and what we would be able to do and what we wouldn’t be able to do, but we also continued our work on reporting on Vietnam, including the issue of deaths in custody caused by the police. And we brought out a report that the Vietnam government didn’t like, and they shut down the dialogue, they shut down the discussion. And, as a result of that, I have not been able to go back to Vietnam since 2014. So, it is difficult, but we just put out another report about Vietnam this past February, about restrictions to people’s right to freedom of movement, particularly dissidents and activists who face a phalanx of police and thugs who try to prevent them from leaving their homes. We can get the information, we can do the reporting, and if the government is prepared to talk to us about these issues then we’re prepared to discuss it with them as well.

But oftentimes what we get is governments that are just refusing to have any sort of discussion with us whatsoever. Another case is Malaysia. During the period of time when Najib Razak was prime minister, freedom of expression in that country took a tumble – it was really quite horrific, there was literally dozens of people being tried for sedition and other cases because they were saying negative things about the government and saying negative things about [the] 1MDB [corruption scandal], but when the 2018 election took place, and all of a sudden the Pakatan Harapan [political party] was in power, all of a sudden we had access to all levels of government. I met the foreign minister several times, I met the minister of home affairs, I met the minister of finance and others – people who we knew from when they were in opposition, and who were prepared to talk to us now that they were in government because they recognized that we had good suggestions about what they could and couldn’t do on human rights issues […] But, of course, now that the government has changed back again, we’re back out in the cold. And that’s the way it goes: we find the access points where we can, we do what we must to try to reveal what is happening in the country on human rights issues, and if a government is prepared to talk to us on these issues, we’re prepared to talk to them too. We’re prepared to do it confidentially as well as publicly depending on how they want to handle it, but we’re tactically very nimble, but where we don’t compromise is on our principles, and our principles are: We’re independent of governments, we work on human rights issues based on international human rights conventions, full stop.

 

Rabbit Hole: How does an organization like Human Rights Watch, which is chiefly driven by principles and ideals, deal with governments, which are chiefly driven by self-interest?

 

PR: Well, you have to figure out where their self-interest coincides with doing the right thing on human rights, which is sometimes difficult. But sometimes you can find it. For instance, we’ve had cases where governments in other parts of the world are prepared to do something positive on one aspect of human rights in order to get the pressure off on other issues. So sometimes they’re tradeoffs. It depends on a government’s perception of international pressure, it depends on who’s talking to them and what leverage they have, it depends on what are the sensitivity of the issues on human rights in various areas that the government is addressing. If it’s something that they care less about, they might be prepared to make some compromises.

 

Rabbit Hole: Would you – and would Human Rights Watch – consider tradeoffs as well when deciding what to say about particular governments? Let’s say, you may be cooperating with a government very well to address a certain human rights issue, say, the rights of disabled people. But then that government does something really awful in another area. Would you think to yourself “Ok, maybe I might refrain from condemning them too harshly in that area because I don’t want to jeopardize the good work we’re doing cooperating with them on human rights in another area”?

 

PR: No, I mean, obviously this is in the realm of the hypothetical, but, in general, no. Human rights are indivisible, one human right doesn’t get priority over another human right. There have been times where we have done projects, for instance, on disability rights, that you mentioned, where the report that we did, for instance, on Russia, five or six years ago, was something that the Russian government found to be very helpful, and they’ve viewed this in a very positive light as good recommendations where they could improve the situation, and for them it wasn’t political. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t, for instance, speak out fully about the rights abuses that are happening in Chechnya. So, no, there’s no tradeoff there. We’re not gonna play that kinda game.

 

Rabbit Hole: What are the most challenging parts of your job?

 

PR: Coping with all the human rights abuses that come across my desk every day. It’s like trying to take a drink of water from a firehose. There’s just too much for us to be able to handle on any given day, and so there’s always prioritization which takes place that, you know, we have to decide what can we work on right now, what can we push off to next week, and what are the things that we’re just not going to get to. That’s a tough time to make those kind of decisions because ultimately we recognize that there are a lot of issues and situations on human rights abuses that deserve our support, but we just don’t have the capacity or the resources to do that kind of job we need to do if we’re gonna take it on. We’re not going to try to do something in a shoddy way; [if] we’re dedicated to do something, we’re gonna to do something on it, and we’re gonna do it our way, which means making sure it’s comprehensive, making sure it’s fact-checked every way, and making sure that we can stand behind whatever we’ve come up with in terms of the research and the conclusions.

 

Rabbit Hole: And how do you do that? How do you prioritize these cases? Or rather-

 

PR: Trade secret! Trade secret!

 

Rabbit Hole: Sure. Ok, but could you tell us, let’s say-

 

PR: I would say that there’s always- Possibility of success may be one issue. The imperative right in front of us, whether something is a urgent crisis, whether something is a perennial problem, you know, there’s too many dynamics here to say that there’s one formula – it’s simply not that, you just basically over a period of time recognize what the organization can do, what you can do, and you basically develop a sense of what you’re able to take on.

 

Rabbit Hole: There’s no shortage of serious human rights issues in East Asia, but which are the most serious right now?

 

PR: Well obviously Burma is a tremendous mess, you’ve talked about it- A government that was democratic, albeit not perfectly, backsliding into what is now civil war, with all the attending abuses. It’s hard to overstate how bad the situation is in Burma. Countries like North Korea, where the rights abuses are so bad that they’re hard to believe, except when you do the research on it and you realize these things are really happening. China is a problem across the region, not only because it’s a big country, but also because it’s an influential country. And what we’re seeing is China’s trying to change the rules of the international system, particularly at the UN, to diminish concern and focus on human rights issues, and trying to bend the rules for themselves and their allies, so that’s a big problem. We have countries where ostensibly they’re democratic, but there’s been a great deal of backsliding, countries like Thailand, countries like the Philippines, countries like Malaysia. In Indonesia, the kind of harassment and abuse that social and sexual minorities face – whether they be a religious minority, whether they be LGBT – it’s disastrous, the kind of things that they’re facing. The list goes on and on, you know, Vietnam has got over 200 political prisoners – how come we don’t hear about that? All these things are something that we’re working on, but we try to also figure out how we can get leverage on these issues and do more, and that is always difficult.

 

Rabbit Hole: Can you tell us more about how China’s trying to change the rules in the UN in order to diminish the focus on human rights?

 

PR: Well, certainly they’re creating problems at the Human Rights Council. They have continuously tried to pass resolutions that erode rights. We see them at times teaming up with Russia on quasi-populist approaches, sort of preserving cultural traditions as a human right, sort of thing. It’s on and on. There’s a committee on NGOs that is involved in granting UN recognition of observer status at ECOSOC [the UN Economic and Social Council, which discusses economic and social issues] and the, sort of, hoops that are being placed in front of NGOs that are, for instance, hostile to Vietnam or hostile to China – in their perception – I mean, they’re really legitimate human rights groups, they’re basically prevented from getting registration through the manipulation of the committee. I’ve been dealing with a group that works on Khmer Krom issues – the Khmer Krom minority in Vietnam – and they’ve been trying to get registration for the better part of 10 years and are getting nowhere, in part because China and Russia block every effort to get them registered. It’s not supposed to work that way, but what we have is governments throwing their weight around to try to prevent groups from accessing a UN that is supposed to belong to all the peoples of the world.

 

Rabbit Hole: How would you evaluate ASEAN as a body in dealing with human rights violations?

 

PR: *Chuckles* Pathetic. ASEAN doesn’t do human rights. Let’s just be clear about this. The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights is the only human rights commission that I know of that doesn’t have the capacity to receive human rights complaints. I mean, ask yourself: “What does a human rights institute, like a commission, do?” Everybody would say they receive complaints. Well, this one doesn’t. What we see within ASEAN is, of course, the use of veto power of any government to basically refuse to have certain things put on the agenda – it’s used to block human rights issues consistently. And their insistence on consensus. The fact that ASEAN in August decided not to invite the political representative of Myanmar to a meeting was taken as a big step forward. You know, I’m sorry, but the fact that somebody wasn’t invited for a meeting, yes, maybe in the ASEAN context that means something, but everywhere else in the world, it’s quite silly. ASEAN is probably the least capable organization to deal with the crisis in Myanmar, but this is the group that the US and European Union and others keep saying has to handle it, they say, “Well, we believe in ASEAN centrality.” Well, ASEAN centrality in Burma means nothing, because ASEAN has no consensus on what it’s supposed to do. It has a five-point consensus it agreed to with the military junta. As soon as the junta supremo Min Aung Hlaing got back to Myanmar, he said “We’ll implement that when we’re good and ready.” Which means that basically it’s just a piece of paper. ASEAN is not serious about human rights, full stop. They view human rights as being somehow destabilizing and dangerous. And they want to be able to say that they believe in human rights, but what they really believe [human rights is] about is the equivalent of a caged bird. They want it safely locked away where it can’t get out and cause problems.

“ASEAN is not serious about human rights, full stop. They view human rights as being somehow destabilizing and dangerous.”

Rabbit Hole: Is there a structure for a transnational organization that would work better? I ask because, let’s say we look at the EU. The European Union is a collection of mostly liberal democracies, so you’d think that it would have good mechanisms for enforcing actions against violations of human rights. But even in the case of the EU, it hasn’t always been fantastic – countries like Hungary have been moving away from democracy towards dictatorship, and far from holding it to account, in some ways, the rest of the EU is almost held hostage to Hungary, right?

 

PR: Mhm.

 

Rabbit Hole: A lot of EU resolutions require unanimous consent, a unanimous vote, in order to pass, so Viktor Orban in Hungary can basically, to an extent, hold the EU hostage by threatening to veto those things, by threatening to torpedo the EU’s budget. So, if even in the European Union, which is mostly comprised of liberal democracies, the enforcement mechanism for human rights violations is not actually that great, is there a structure that would work better for ASEAN?

 

PR: Well, don’t forget you have the European Court for Human Rights. You have a court where rights abuses in various different European countries can be appealed. You also have in Latin America an inter-American court, where, again, human rights issues can be appealed, and the court’s decision is final. If you look within ASEAN, there is no such regional structure. ASEAN is it, warts and all. The problem is there isn’t a regional human rights commission, there isn’t a regional human rights court: those things exist in other regions of the world, but for some reason they don’t exist within ASEAN. And if you look at East Asia – Japan, the Koreas, and China – there isn’t even an agreement for a regional organization to exist. So you’re really dealing in Asia with a region that is bereft of some core human rights regional infrastructure that needs to be there. I don’t know when we might see such things.

Some of the hopes for the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights was that somehow that would play that role, but it was clear as the terms of reference were being hammered out by the ASEAN governments that they didn’t want to have a commission that was gonna be able to do anything. They wanted to have a commission in name only, one that could study human rights and hold meetings, but that couldn’t receive complaints, and certainly couldn’t raise issues without the agreement of the government concerned. So, without some significant improvements in regional rights infrastructure, we’re not gonna see the kind of accountability that we need to, particularly when you have a recalcitrant government trying to control its own people, and those people don’t have a course of redress except, for instance, by going to the Human Rights Council of the UN, and that’s quite difficult – that’s a very busy place and only the worst abuses get there.

 

Rabbit Hole: I’m sure being a human rights NGO in East Asia can be rather depressing. Most of the governments here are authoritarian, including my own home country of Malaysia, and view you with suspicion, if not outright hostility. In the past few years, we’ve seen Malaysia fall back into the hands of the authoritarian UMNO party through a political coup, Myanmar fall back under the yoke of the junta through a military coup, and Hong Kong go from one of the freest places in the region to one of the most repressive. How do you manage this and keep going? What gives you hope?

 

PR: Two things. First of all, you have to be an optimist to work in the human rights movement. That’s point one. Point two: I don’t get disappointed or depressed by human rights abuses. It makes me angry, and it makes me want to fight them […] I’m not going to take something lying down; I’m gonna try to stand up and do something about it […] The Indo-Pacific is a very troubling place for human rights, and the only thing that gives me some comfort now and again is to think that there’s some other regions of the world that are perhaps even worse.

 

Rabbit Hole: Phil Robertson, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

 

PR: Thank you very much, appreciate it.

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