Definitions

constructive criticism

Criticism of Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch, a United States-based international non-government organisation that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, has been criticised in the form of commentaries from various organisations, journalists, and bloggers.

Allegations of anti-American bias

Conservative American news media have published several articles accusing Human Rights Watch of ideological bias and unreliable reporting. The media alleged that Americas Watch gave too much credence to alleged Contra abuses and systematically tried to discredit Nicaraguan human rights groups such as the Permanent Commission on Human Rights, which blamed the major human rights abuses on the Sandinistas.

Discover the Networks argues that there is disproptionate criticism of the United States.

Allegations of pro-American bias

Writing on August 3 2007, Michael Barker, a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, asserts that:
"the activities of HRW’s Americas advisors are closely entwined with those being pursued by various ‘democracy promoting’ elites. In fact, the numerous overlaps that exist between HRW’s Americas advisory board and the ‘democracy promoting’ establishment are so extensive that in many cases you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two groups. This raises a number of serious issues, as if HRW were really genuinely concerned with the promotion of democracy and human rights, then knowledge of their links to anti-democratic organizations – which they must certainly be aware of by now – should surely give them cause to rethink their choice of advisors at the very least. However, given HRW’s elitist origins (fully outlined in the introduction) it seems more likely that such ‘democratic’ ties are actually an integral part of their modus operandi. Indeed, HRW’s intimate relations with ‘democracy promoters’ like the NED and USIP may be merely seen as a reflection of the high degree of influence liberal elites and liberal foundations have over the running and funding of HRW.

Allegations of bias against democracy in Latin America

ZMag has criticized HRW for not condemning the situation in Haiti strongly enough and stated that Human Rights Watch "has assisted the US in its efforts to crush democracy in Latin America.

Allegations of Western and pro-homosexual bias

According to a report in the Egyptian press, "the government often accuses human rights groups [including Human Rights Watch] of importing a Western agenda that offends local religious and cultural values. This was in response to a report produced by Human Rights Watch on the perceived torture of homosexuals in Egypt. After HRW released a report critical of press freedom in Egypt, Egyptian President Mubarak responded "I am not against criticism... but there is a difference between constructive criticism which seeks to benefit society, and destructive criticism which seeks to undermine society's achievements.... This is not criticism, this is abuse of freedom of the press," he said.

Edward S. Herman, David Peterson, and George Szamuely argue that despite constructive efforts, Human Rights Watch "has at critical times and in critical theaters thrown its support behind the U.S. government's agenda, sometimes even serving as a virtual public relations arm of the foreign policy establishment". They charge HRW "accepts the NATO-friendly view that civilian deaths from high-tech warfare such as in aerial bombings and missile strikes are not prima facie “deliberate” as are face-to-face and low-tech killings of civilians". They further charge that "HRW facilitates the supreme international crime [wars of aggression]" by "virtue of biases which regularly underrate U.S. and allied human rights violations and inflate those of their targets.

David Peterson asserts that Human Rights Watch "was training its 'human rights' binoculars at the Sandinistas far more earnestly than at the foreign power seeking their overthrow by sponsoring armed guerrilla and terrorist campaigns against them" during the 1980's in Nicaragua.

Allegations of anti-Israel bias

Human Rights Watch has been criticized as having an anti-Israel bias by the Anti-Defamation League and pro-Israel non-governmental organization NGO Monitor director Gerald Steinberg. Human Rights Watch has further been criticized as ignoring anti-Semitic behavior as an issue of importance over other human rights issues by Ana Palacio. York University Professor Anne Bayefsky and Abraham Cooper also criticized the 2001 World Conference against Racism, which Human Rights Watch attended but moved to distance itself from.

Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth defends Human Rights Watch's allegations that Israel breaks humanitarian law, referring to "assassinating suspects when they could be arrested, punishing families for the acts of one of their members, employing abusive interrogation techniques, imposing punitive restrictions on the Palestinian population that go well beyond security requirements, building a security barrier not on the Green Line but with deep incursions into the West Bank to protect settlements that themselves violate the Geneva Conventions". Aryeh Neier, a founder of Human Rights Watch and former Adjunct Professor of Law at New York University, writes "the criticisms are based on misunderstandings and distortions of international humanitarian law. They contribute to an atmosphere that makes rational discussion in the United States of Israel's policies and practices increasingly difficult."

Gerard Steinberg, director of pro-Israel non-governmental organization NGO Monitor, had earlier argued “During the height of the terror attacks against Israel, Human Rights Watch focused one-third of its entire Middle East effort on condemnations directed at Israel.” Steinberg asserted, “The most infuriating instance of Human Rights Watch’s bias came in 2004, when Roth went to...Jerusalem to promote 'Razing Rafah', a one sided denunciation of Israeli policy. Its contents were based primarily on unsubstantiated reports of Palestinians, selected journalists, and so-called experts on tunneling.”

Roth responds to Gerald Steinberg's accusation that Human Rights Watch "was present in Durban when the NGO community hijacked a UN conference on racism to promote its own racist anti-Zionist agenda", pointing out that "Human Rights Watch publicly disassociated itself from the NGO's manifesto because of its unfounded attacks on Israel". Roth denies Steinberg's allegations of only one exception to '"consistent silence" in the face of Palestinian suicide bombing', pointing to 11 condemnations available to see on Human Rights Watch's website, and similarly denies his charge of "protecting Middle Eastern tyrants".

In a 2005 address to the Anti-Defamation League, Ana Palacio, a former Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs in the centre-right People's Party (PP), asserted that Human Rights Watch ignored anti-Semitism as an issue of importance over other human rights issues, such as gay or refugee rights. In this address she stated, “Disinterested NGOs like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International pay little attention to anti-Semitism.”

Aryeh Neier, a founder of Human Rights Watch and former Adjunct Professor of Law at New York University, writing in the New York Review of Books, defends Roth and Human Rights Watch from charges of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel bias. "Unfortunately, the criticisms are based on misunderstandings and distortions of international humanitarian law. They contribute to an atmosphere that makes rational discussion in the United States of Israel's policies and practices increasingly difficult."

2001 World Conference against Racism

Anne Bayefsky, a Professor at York University and editor of Eye on the UN, argued that Human Rights Watch allowed anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents to occur, based on her participation in the 2001 World Conference against Racism. Bayefsky also wrote, “When it comes to anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias, Human Rights Watch still has a lot of explaining to do, notwithstanding Executive Director Ken Roth's umbrage at criticism.” Bayefsky commented, “As we arrived at our meeting the chief Durban representative of Human Rights Watch, advocacy director Reed Brody, publicly announced that as a representative of a Jewish group I was unwelcome and could not attend.” Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the international Jewish human rights organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center, wrote “Contrary to the May 27 letter by the executive directors of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International U.S.A., Anne Bayefsky...was correct to criticize those two groups for their roles at the [Durban] conference”. Cooper added regarding the forum document, “The concerns of one group of victims -- the Jewish people -- were left off that document, with the silent acquiescence of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.” He also recounted, “Like many other Jewish delegates at the conference, I was subjected to physical intimidation and threats.”

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International moved to distance themselves from the 2001 World Conference against Racism forum. Mary Robinson, the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights and general-secretary of the U.N. Conference at the time, said that the equation of Zionism with racism was regrettable and would almost certainly not become a part of the main conference's final statement.

Battle of Jenin

In late April and early May of 2002, the UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released reports about the Israeli military incursions into Jenin. The reports documented that approximately 30 Palestinian militants, 22 Palestinian civilians, and 23 Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting. HRW said that Israel "committed serious violations of international humanitarian law, some amounting prima facie to war crimes, while Amnesty International similarly alleged evidence that Israel had committed war crimes.

The Anti-Defamation League, in response to coverage of the Battle of Jenin, asserted that Human Rights Watch “pre-judged Israel's behavior.” The Anti-Defamation League further commented, “Human Rights Watch charged Israel with violations of international law and war crimes. Neither discussed the international law violations involved in arming a refugee camp, or demanded the United Nations be held in any way accountable for its lack of oversight in the camp. In a May 2002 report, Human Rights Watch stated that Palestinian gunmen had contributed to endangering Palestinian civilians, and continued to emphasize that there was prima facie evidence Israel committed war crimes.”

Response to criticisms

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, published a response to criticism from Israel's supporters on April 1, 2004 in the Jerusalem Post, titled "The Truth Hurts" . Roth defends Human Rights Watch's allegations that Israel breaks humanitarian law, referring to "assassinating suspects when they could be arrested, punishing families for the acts of one of their members, employing abusive interrogation techniques, imposing punitive restrictions on the Palestinian population that go well beyond security requirements, building a security barrier not on the Green Line but with deep incursions into the West Bank to protect settlements that themselves violate the Geneva Conventions".

Aryeh Neier, a founder of Human Rights Watch and former Adjunct Professor of Law at New York University, writing in the New York Review of Books, defends Roth and Human Rights Watch from charges of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel bias:

One of the arguments of those who are critical of Human Rights Watch's reporting on the Middle East is that the organization devotes too much attention to alleged abuses by Israelis. A corollary is that it pays insufficient attention to violations of human rights by Israel's antagonists in the region. Yet a glance at the back pages of the "World Report" published annually by Human Rights Watch where it lists all its publications suggests that these criticisms are not well founded. Typically, Human Rights Watch publishes more than a hundred reports each year. In all, it issued more than 350 reports in 2003, 2004, and 2005 on the seventy or so countries that it monitors. Of these, just five dealt with Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories while another sixty reports dealt with various Arab countries and Iran. The largest number of reports concerned abuses in Iraq, Sudan, and Egypt, but reports were also published on Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Jordan.

Philip Weiss, an investigative journalist writing in The Nation, quotes a number of Human Rights Watch officials and board members responding to attacks on it by the New York Sun and others .

Weiss quotes Human Rights Watch emergency director Peter Bouckaert: "We always get attacked for our findings by the government involved. What makes this case different is, it's not the government, it's the external lobby. We have a difficult but positive dialogue with the Israeli government and the IDF. They don't dismiss us as morally repugnant or irrelevant. They take our findings seriously. The attacks are not about the facts, they're about insulating Israel from any type of criticism."

Weiss also quotes Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division. "There's a deep schizophrenia in some of the Jewish community, and people who are at the forefront of every single rights issue, from racial justice in the United States to the ethnic cleansing in Darfur--on Israel, it crumbles, and there is all this hand-wringing. And everyone [who is critical] is successfully marginalized."

Allegations of pro-Israel bias

Jonathan Cook, a British correspondent living permanently in Nazareth, Israel, accuses HRW of distorting its findings to placate the Israel lobby. As an example, he quotes a post-2006 Lebanon War interview between the New York Times and a senior HRW researcher, Peter Bouckaert, over the report "Fatal strikes", in which HRW provides evidence that Israel fired indiscriminately on Lebanese civilians during the fighting. Bouckaert fails to concentrate on HRW's findings of war crimes in Lebanon, digressing: "I mean, it's perfectly clear that Hezbollah is directly targeting civilians, and that their aim is to kill Israeli civilians. We don't accuse the Israeli army of deliberately trying to kill civilians. Our accusation, clearly stated in the report, is that the Israeli army is not taking the necessary precautions to distinguish between civilian and military targets". Cook accuses Bouckaert of claiming to know the intention of the two sides, labelling those of Israel as benign and Hezbollah as malign, in direct opposition to what Cook believes to be the evidence that he then quotes. HRW responded that it had been attacked from both sides, following which Cook accused it of still denying Lebanon the right to defend itself.

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