The quote above is from a January 4, 2015 article by Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW). Imagine what the families of at least half million Iraqis killed as a result of the USA’s illegal invasion would say of that statement. Such crimes, when acknowledged at all, are downgraded to “faults” or “mistakes” by liberal elites like Ken Roth.
The recent death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah shows the impact that “special access” to Washington has on HRW. A statement released after Abdullah’s death by HRW was entitled, “Saudi Arabia: King’s Reform Agenda Unfulfilled: New Leadership Should Prioritize Improving Country’s Human Rights Record.”
In brutality and backwardness, there is very little to choose between ISIS and the Saudi government as Annas Abbas concisely explained, but HRW tries its best to put a positive spin on the legacy of an amazingly repulsive U.S. ally. This is just what you’d expect from a group that believes in the U.S.’s moral supremacy, and that highly values “special access to Washington.”
HRW’s statement not only obscures Abdullah’s remarkable barbarism at home; it says absolutely nothing about Abdullah’s very destructive role in the region. Murtaza Hussain, in an obituary written for the Intercept, reviewed the grim record that HRW ignored. Abdullah’s government tried to convince the USA to bomb Iran in 2008. In 2011, Saudi troops helped crush Bahrain’s reform movement. In Syria, the Saudi’s have been key funders of Islamic extremists against the Assad government. Abdullah eagerly bolstered General Abdelfattah al Sisi’s murderous dictatorship in Egypt with financial aid. A drone base for Obama’s global assassination program was also hosted by Abdullah. None of this was seen as worth mentioning by HRW when it summed up Abdullah’s legacy.
Now consider the statement HRW published hours after Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s democratically elected president, died in 2013. The statement was entitled, "Chávez's Authoritarian Legacy: Dramatic Concentration of Power and Open Disregard for Basic Human Rights."
Clearly if Venezuela were in the good graces of the USA, it could convert itself into an absolute monarchy that beheads people for sorcery and arms like-minded fanatics abroad. HRW would then soften its criticism drastically to keep its “special access to Washington”. In its remarks about Venezuela, HRW has not only resorted to flagrant double standards and shoddy research but also to outright lying as I explained in this piece. Part of Chavez‘s “authoritarian legacy” as far as HRW was concerned was that he “embraced abusive governments,” specifically North Korea, Libya, Iran, Syria and — most outrageously in HRW’s opinion — Cuba. HRW said that “Under Chávez, Venezuela’s closest ally was Cuba, the only country in Latin America that systematically represses virtually all forms of political dissent. Chávez identified Fidel Castro — who headed Cuba’s repressive government until his health deteriorated in 2006 — as his model and mentor.”
HRW’s characterization of Cuba doesn’t stand up to scrutiny as I explained here, but notice the unequivocally harsh language HRW uses to denounce the Cuban government which the USA has tried to destroy for several decades. Those words about Cuba provide quite a contrast with HRW’s weak, obfuscating and evasive statement about Abdullah’s legacy.
In May of 2014 this letter was sent to Ken Roth by over one hundred scholars including Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire; former UN Assistant Secretary General Hans von Sponeck; and current UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Richard Falk. The letter suggested that HRW “Bar those who have crafted or executed U.S. foreign policy from serving as HRW staff, advisors or board members. At a bare minimum, mandate lengthy ‘cooling-off’ periods before and after any associate moves between HRW and that arm of the government.”
HRW replied claiming that it regularly criticizes the U.S. government which is true but totally irrelevant to the concerns expressed in the petition. It is also true, for example, that HRW has criticized the track record of King Abdullah and that of Hugo Chavez. That fact doesn’t answer the question of whether or not the criticism was remotely proportionate or accurate in each case.
Keane Bhatt, who organized and drafted the petition sent to Roth, along with four other people who signed, published a detailed response to HRW. Among other things, they carefully explained to HRW why having a former CIA official like Michael Diaz on their advisory board for years is not something a credible human rights group would allow — especially considering that Diaz subsequently returned to the U.S. government as an “interlocutor between the intelligence community and non-government experts.” That kind of revolving door corrupts the human rights industry as it does many others.
The response also politely explained the obscenity of Javier Solana occupying a place on HRW's board since 2011. Solana was head of NATO forces in Serbia when they deliberately bombed a TV station killing 16 civilians — a war crime.
That points as basic as these should have be spelled out to a prominent human rights group illustrates how unlikely it is to reform in the absence of deep reforms within western countries. Movements that could bring about those reforms should learn from the positive things that have happened in many countries that are smeared by establishment-embedded groups like HRW — countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia. Honest criticism of these countries is obviously required as well, but people should be aware that HRW is not the organization to provide it.
Incidentally, the U.S. military is sponsoring an essay writing contest to honor King Abdullah. No, this isn’t joke. Just another illustration of what the “most powerful proponent of human rights” is all about.