Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Former Chairman Of Human Rights Watch: HRW Has Lost Focus (Updated)

In an op-ed in today's New York Times, Rights Watchdog, Lost in the Mideast, former Human Rights Watch chairman Robert L. Bernstein (1978-1998) writes that the focus of HRW has centered on Israel--unnecessarily:

Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.
Note that Bernstein does not claim that oversight by human rights groups is unnecessary. He instead points out that there are a multitude of groups doing what Human Rights Watch should be doing in those countries that lack the open criticism that Israel allows.

Bernstein makes another significant point, in direct contradiction to Judge Goldstone and the Goldstone Report. According to the Goldstone Report:
The [UN] Mission is unable to form an opinion on the exact nature or the intensity of their [Hamas's] combat activities in urban residential areas that would have placed the civilian population and civilian objects at risk of attack. While reports reviewed by the Mission credibly indicate that members of Palestinian armed groups were not always dressed in a way that distinguished them from civilians, the Mission found no evidence that Palestinian combatants mingled with the civilian population with the intention of shielding themselves from attack.
Recall that Richard Goldstone used to be a member of the board of Human Rights Watch--until he was pushed to resign because of the evident conflict of interest.

In contrast to the Goldstone Report's claim that there was "no evidence that Palestinian combatants mingled with the civilian population with the intention of shielding themselves from attack,"--Bernstein points out that exactly the opposite is the case:
Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields. These groups are supported by the government of Iran, which has openly declared its intention not just to destroy Israel but to murder Jews everywhere. This incitement to genocide is a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Leaders of Human Rights Watch know that Hamas and Hezbollah chose to wage war from densely populated areas, deliberately transforming neighborhoods into battlefields. They know that more and better arms are flowing into both Gaza and Lebanon and are poised to strike again. And they know that this militancy continues to deprive Palestinians of any chance for the peaceful and productive life they deserve. Yet Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of Human Rights Watch’s criticism.
Bernstein concludes:
Only by returning to its founding mission and the spirit of humility that animated it can Human Rights Watch resurrect itself as a moral force in the Middle East and throughout the world. If it fails to do that, its credibility will be seriously undermined and its important role in the world significantly diminished.
This is no mean feat. Another Bernstein, David Bernstein of Volokh Conspiracy has written:
From now on, every HRW report on Israel is going to be greeted with "you mean the Saudi-funded HRW," or "you mean the report written by the woman [HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson] who is a great admirer of Norman Finkelstein and lobbied Kofi Annan against Israel in the middle of the Second Intifada" or "you mean the report written by the guy [Stork] who supports the anti-Israel boycott movement and has been venting his hostility to Israel for almost forty years" or "you mean HRW, the organization that fails to take down from its website anti-Israel reports even when it has admitted they are inaccurate," and so on.
Human Rights Watch has a lot of work to do before it can regain its credibility.

UPDATE: Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom of the Hudson Institute, is not satisfied with the extent of Bernstein's critique:
But in his Times article, Bernstein does not go far enough. HRW’s critical reporting on Israel and its concomitant failure to detail fully the abuses of Muslim and Arab governments are only part of the problem. More broadly, HRW has long advanced an international criminal process that is blind to the stark moral and ethical differences between open and closed societies. HRW helped spearhead U.S. support for the U.N. Human Rights Council, despite prescient warnings that the Council would be no different from the politicized and discredited Human Rights Commission that it replaced. HRW continues lobbying for a permanent worldwide criminal system. Indeed, HRW wants the U.S. to join the International Criminal Court, a move that could lead to American leaders’ being charged as war criminals. It is this politically charged international human-rights process that has given the Goldstone Report traction, and that now poses an existential threat to Israel’s economy.

Once considered the world’s preeminent human-rights group, Human Rights Watch has been thoroughly discredited in both its substantive reporting and its strategy to advance a flawed international criminal process.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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