Leading academics, journalists, legal and security experts, including Elie Wiesel, Prof Alan Dershowitz, former CIA Director R. James Woolsey and Prof Judea Pearl, today called for an independent review and reform of Human Rights Watch (HRW).  This follows NGO Monitor’s recent in-depth study of HRW’s Middle East activities over the past several years.

The letter highlights the finding that: “On Middle East issues, HRW has degenerated into a political lobby”, aimed primarily at Israel. The recent Goldstone report on the Gaza war, which includes 30 unverified references to HRW claims, underscored this bias.  In addition, Richard Goldstone himself was until recently an HRW board member.      

This public letter cites HRW’s attempts “to consistently and disproportionately single-out Israel for condemnation”.  NGO Monitor’s analysis of HRW’s 2008 publications shows more attention was focused on Israel than on Iran, Syria, Egypt, Jordan and other regimes in the region.   

The signatories, members of NGO Monitor’s International Advisory Board, also criticize HRW’s recent fundraising event in Saudi Arabia as further evidence of the organization’s radical agenda. In Riyadh, the head of HRW’s Middle East division referred to the need to combat “pro-Israel pressure groups”. 

Recent revelations over HRW’s senior Middle East staff reinforce NGO Monitor’s analysis showing the central role of ideologues, rather than human rights experts.  Heading the division is Sarah Leah Whitson (who actively supported the “Caterpillar” Israel boycott campaign, and led the HRW fundraising trip to Saudi Arabia). Deputy director Joe Stork spent 20 years as a founder and editor of the radical anti-Zionist Middle East Report (MERIP), including participation in a “Zionism and Racism” conference in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, before joining HRW. 

Last week, HRW suspended ‘senior military analyst’ Marc Garlasco and launched an investigation following the exposure of his obsessive interest in Nazi memorabilia.   

As a result, the letter calls for HRW’s board members to instigate a wider inquiry, a “full independent review” which “should include the replacement of senior officials, particularly in the Middle East division”. Signatories also recommend “the adoption of firm guidelines to prevent such abuses in the future”.  

NGO Monitor’s President, Prof Gerald Steinberg said: “Having carefully documented HRW’s one-sided Middle East work for several years, it is clear that the organization places a political agenda above universal human rights values.  This letter reflects the urgent need for an independent and comprehensive review, in order to put a firm end to HRW’s moral bankruptcy”.   

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The full text of the public letter is as follows:

Founded over 30 years ago to protect political dissidents from repressive regimes, the leaders of Human Rights Watch have long since lost sight of the original ethos and values.  On Middle East issues, HRW has degenerated into a political lobby, utilizing the façade of human rights and international law to promote a radical agenda.

As documented by NGO Monitor’s comprehensive research report, HRW is a leading player in the international campaign to demonize Israel.  Time and again, HRW’s publications are shown to lack credibility or the impartiality necessary for moral judgments. In the Middle East region, which is dominated by regimes that violate human rights on a daily basis, HRW officials have chosen to consistently and disproportionately single-out Israel for condemnation.

Far fewer resources are devoted to Libya, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and Syria.  And HRW’s disregard of human rights in favor of hostility towards Israel is underscored by their virtual silence over the fate of Gilad Shalit, and a refusal to condemn Hamas’ widely documented use of human shields during the recent Gaza conflict.

Recently, HRW’s agenda was further exposed when senior officials from the organization held a dinner to raise funds in Saudi Arabia -- one of the world’s most notorious human rights abusers.  In making her presentation, Sarah Leah Whitson, head of the Middle East division, emphasized HRW’s contribution in using the rhetoric of international law to isolate Israel, and the need to combat critics associated with “pro-Israel pressure groups”.

In order for the organization to have any future relevance, we call upon HRW’s board members to institute a full independent review and reform in the organization for which they are responsible. This should include the replacement of senior officials, particularly in the Middle East division, who have been instrumental in HRW’s decline, and the adoption of firm guidelines to prevent such abuses in the future”.        

 

Signed by the following NGO Monitor International Advisory Board members:

 

Elie Wiesel

Prof Alan Dershowitz - Harvard University, lawyer and author

R. James Woolsey - Former Director of Central Intelligence (1993-95)

Elliott Abrams - Former US Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy.  

Douglas Murray - Director, the Centre for Social Cohesion

Prof Judea Pearl - UCLA and President, Daniel Pearl Foundation   

Tom Gross - Journalist and international affairs commentator

 

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