Phyllis Bennis, a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, wrote in her blog through Al-Jazeera, on 9 January 2013, a very informative piece under the title: “Human Rights Watch: Time to stand with human rights defenders” with the provocative byline: It is disappointing to see HRW’s unwillingness to stand with those who are working to promote and defend human rights.
The full article one should certainly read at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/01/20131781532514238.html but what matters here is the policy question to what extent a (decent) NGO (i.c. HRW) should take to task another (very biased) NGO (i.c. UN Watch).
In short, the pro-Israeli, UN-bashing UN Watch discovered that the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, US lawyer Richard Falk, was still ‘on the Board’ of HRW. HRW quickly replied that he was only a member of HRW’s local support committee in Santa Barbara, California, where he lives and that it was an oversight that he still held this honorary position and that it was rectified (“longstanding policy, applied many times, that no official from any government or UN agency can serve on any Human Rights Watch committee or its Board. It was an oversight on our part that we did not apply that policy in Richard Falk’s case several years ago when he assumed his UN position”). UN Watch of course cried victory implying that Falk was expelled an enemy of human rights or because he is anti-Semitic.
The author of the blog finds fault with HRW’s meek response that did indeed not amount to a strong defense of Richard Falk’s credentials, impartiality and expertise. Should HRW not have made clear that substantively it stands with Richard Falk, that he was removed for technical reasons only and would be welcomed back as soon as he ceases to be UN Rapporteur? These are policy question that each NGO should answer for itself but in the context of UN Watch’s obsession to undermine the work of the UN in general and Richard Falk in particular a more robust stance would have been useful. I think that the similarity – even confusion – in name should also have led HRW to take a tougher public stand.
Phyllis Bennis concludes with: “Given his Middle East staff’s consistent work, there is no question that Ken Roth and the HRW board understand that human rights criticism of Israeli occupation is well-grounded in fact, and that such criticism remains a crucial element in changing the public, media and policymaking discourse in the United States. If we are ever to have any hope of changing US government policy in Palestine-Israel towards one grounded in human rights and international law, consistent human rights criticism and a willingness to stand with human rights defenders like Richard Falk when they face attack, remain crucial tools – for all human rights activists, including the leadership of Human Rights Watch.“
- Richard Falk removed from Human RIghts Watch committee (jta.org)
- Watch Human Right Watch – A Tribute to Prof Richard Falk (thepeoplesvoice.org)
- Human Rights Watch boots UN Palestinian rights official from one of its panels (timesofisrael.com)