NGO Monitor followed the country-categorization on the Human Rights Watch website.
Full Results (Excel file)
This report includes quantitative analyses of publications from HRW's Middle East and North Africa section, using a weighted scale methodology consistent with NGO Monitor's previous analyses, and an assessment of the use of language in HRW's publications.
Agenda Analysis: Israel second only to Saudi Arabia as worst human rights abuser in Middle East
In 2008, HRW's Middle East coverage narrowed compared with recent years, with much fewer countries receiving significant attention, and exhibited a disproportionate interest in Saudi Arabia and Israel. Even before the Gaza conflict ignited on December 27, 2008, (which provoked the publication of a press release and "Q&A" document before the end of the year), the focus of HRW's publications portrayed Israel as the second worst abuser of human rights in the Middle East.
This study employs the quantitative method used by NGO Monitor beginning in 2004, to count the number of HRW publications on each Middle Eastern country and weight the types of publications for resource consumption and relative impact. The only methodological change in 2008, was an adjustment in the weighting system, to reflect changes in HRW's website and categorization. (See appendix for more details).
The analysis found that HRW focused most on Saudi Arabia (184 points), followed by Israel (131 points), then Iran (123), Jordan (101), Egypt (99) , the Palestinians (66), Syria (58), Libya (55), Yemen (48), Morocco (45), Tunisia (31), Bahrain (27), Algeria (21), Kuwait (8) and UAE (8). Publications on Israel comprised 12% of the total, compared with 10% in 2007, 20% in 2006 (due to the Second Lebanon War) and 8% in 2005. This percentage fluctuation may not seem significant (other than the 2006 figure which can be considered an outlier), but the narrower range of countries covered in depth, combined with a steady growth in the level of resources devoted to documenting allegations of Israeli human rights violations, resulted in Israel receiving more attention than Iran, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and other chronic human rights abusers in the region.
Chart: Proportion of HRW resources devoted to each Middle Eastern country in 2008
(Note that Iraq and Lebanon are included under the same criteria as previous years. See Appendix for details).
The graph below shows how HRW's relative focus has changed since 2005. Focus on Syria and Jordan has risen steadily, while attention to Iran and Egypt is falling. Israel's line reveals a steady increase, if the 2006 figure is excluded.
The level of attention on the Palestinians remained constant at 6% (the same as in 2007). But to HRW's credit, it published a 113 page report on the Palestinian's "Internal fight" in July 29, 2008, an important change since 2007.
Qualitative Analysis of Language in HRW Publications
A qualitative analysis of HRW's use of international legal and human rights terminology to condemn Middle Eastern states, demonstrates a strong bias against Israel. (Terms were counted when they specifically condemned the country government - hence a separate category was designated for Hezbollah, to avoid confusion with the Lebanese government).
This table provides strong evidence that HRW singles out Israel for special attention, and applies unique standards compared with other countries in the Middle East. Israel is subject to particularly harsh and unjustified condemnation, using terms that delegitimize its policies and military operations. The peak in Palestinian numbers in the chart shows a limited attempt at "balance" in HRW coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including limited acknowledgement of Palestinian human rights violations, reflecting an adjustment following previous NGO Monitor analyses.
In one of three items covering the accidental death of a Reuters cameraman in Gaza, Joe Stork alleged that, "Israeli soldiers did not make sure they were aiming at a military target before firing, and there is evidence suggesting they actually targeted the journalists…" Stork continues, "Anyone who deliberately or recklessly attacks civilians commits a war crime." In contrast, HRW condemns Palestinian rocket attacks as "unlawful" and "violations of international humanitarian law," yet repeatedly avoids suggesting that they deliberately target civilians. In the majority of reports, these attacks are labeled "indiscriminate ...because they are highly inaccurate and cannot be directed at a specific military target," and in only three instances does HRW label them "deliberate" (while only calling them "war crimes" in one instance, when grouped together with suicide bombings).
HRW's three press releases published within days of the cameraman incident and its choice of language demonstrate the disproportionate focus aimed at Israel. Only one month before this incident, HRW remained silent following the Mercaz Harav Seminary attack in Jerusalem on March 6, 2008, where a Palestinian opened fire in a school library, killing eight youths and wounding 11 others. This was a deliberate attack targeting children in violation of law under any standard. Sarah Leah Whitson's only mention of the crime, however, was in passing in a document condemning Israel's proposed response, to demolish the terrorist's home. Whitson states, "The assault on Mercaz Harav seminary... [was] appalling, but Israel shouldn't respond by trampling on basic rights…the house demolition measures would violate international law because they punish people who are not even accused, let alone convicted of a crime." (Israel did not destroy the house.)
Omission of Human Shields
In sharp contrast, HRW has been far slower in responding to internal Palestinian violence in which Israel is not involved. While repeatedly condemning Israel for its "failure to take all steps feasible to minimize civilian loss... in Gaza,"  HRW does not address the culpability of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and others, who choose to launch rockets from heavily populated civilians areas. In 49 references to "civilians" in HRW documents related to Palestinians in 2008, every instance that ascribed blame called on Israel to protect Palestinian civilians, erasing Hamas' role - its responsibility and negligence in protecting non combatants in clear violation of the rule of distinction under IHL. Joe Stork's comment summarizes this attitude:
"Israel has an obligation during military operations to minimize civilian deaths... The continuing high civilian casualty rates in Gaza suggest that this obligation is not being met."
This omission of "human shields" from a human rights analysis of any asymmetric combat adds to the overall distortion, and to HRW's highly misleading characterization of many aspects of the Gaza situation.
HRW's distortions of International Law in relation to Gaza
In 2008, HRW published 18 condemnations of Israel's response to deliberate attacks launched from Gaza and aimed at civilians. These statements exploit international legal terminology, repeat incomplete or false analyses of international law, and minimize or omit Hamas' attacks on Israeli border crossings where humanitarian aid is delivered, as well as the diversion of this aid by Hamas. Far from carefully written, accurate and well-sourced legal analyses, these publications reflect a dominant political agenda.
Claim: Israel's restrictions on the flow of goods and services into Gaza "constitute [s] collective punishment against the civilian population, a serious violation of international humanitarian law."
Analysis: HRW continues to apply the label of "collective punishment" selectively and incorrectly to Israel (see NGO Monitor's analysis here). Restriction on the flow of goods in a war environment does not constitute "collective punishment" under international law. "Collective punishment" refers to the imposition of criminal penalties and not to the legal act of retorsion (e.g. sanctions, blockades). Pursuant to Article 23 of the Geneva Convention (which sets standards for the provision of limited humanitarian aid), Israel has no obligation to provide any goods, even minimal humanitarian supplies, if it is "satisfied" that such goods will be diverted or supply of such goods will aid Hamas in its war effort. Israel is also bound by several international treaties restricting the financing and support of terrorism. Provision of goods that ultimately aid Hamas in its terror campaign would place Israel in breach of these legal obligations. As numerous credible accounts have reported, Hamas has diverted supplies from Gaza's civilian population, but this is omitted from HRW reports.
Although Israel is under no legal obligation and despite the diversion as well as attacks on the Israeli border crossings, including the April 9 attack on the Nahal Oz fuel depot and the May 22 truck bomb attack at the Erez crossing, Israel continued to provide hundreds of tons of humanitarian supplies to Gaza on a weekly basis. This is above and beyond any obligation under international law, and the claim of "collective punishment" can best be explained as part of HRW's post-colonial ideological filter.
Claim: HRW argues that the deliberate targeting of civilians by Hamas " [does] not permit unlawful actions – in this case collective punishment – by the other."
Analysis: This claim attempts to portray Israel's lawful right to exercise self-defense against attacks on its civilians as a violation of international law. As shown above, Israel is not engaging in "collective punishment," nor are Israel's actions in any way "unlawful." Indeed, under international law, the only legitimate uses of force are for purposes of self-defense or pursuant to Security Council authorization under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Article 51 of the UN Charter, states: " [n]othing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security." Israel, therefore, has the unequivocal right to engage in self-defense to prevent attacks against its civilian population.
Claim: Israel maintains "continued effective occupation of the Gaza Strip."
Analysis: Gaza cannot be considered "occupied" under any reasonable interpretation of international law. HRW claims that Gaza is occupied because Israel "still maintains effective control over the territory via its control of Gaza's land borders, airspace, [and] territorial waters". This argument is false both as a matter of fact and a matter of law, and largely parrots a "legal" opinion circulated by the PLO prior to Israel's disengagement in August 2005. Under both the Hague and Geneva Conventions, as well as judicial interpretation of these provisions, the standard of "effective control" refers solely to the exercise by a hostile army of governmental authority – not control of borders. Thus, in no way can Israel be said to exercise governmental authority in Gaza. Indeed, as Egypt controls the southern border of Gaza, and based upon its occupation of Gaza from 1948-67, under HRW's reasoning, Egypt would also be considered to be occupying Gaza. Instead, these claims also reflect the impact of ideology in HRW publications.
Claim: Gaza continues to be occupied because Israel "maintains effective control over… tax collection, and population registry."
Analysis: The statement that Israel controls tax collection and the population registry in Gaza is also clearly false and HRW provides no source to support this allegation. Beginning in 1994, the Palestinian Authority became responsible for the establishment and collection of all taxes within Gaza, and this is now controlled by Hamas following its June 2007 coup. Israel has no power to set or collect such taxes. Pursuant to international agreement, Israel collects custom duties for cross-border transactions on behalf of the PA, but only a highly distorted interpretation would conclude that Israel is "controlling" tax collection in Gaza. Moreover, Israel has no control over what population registry the PA and Hamas choose to use (the fact that the PA and Hamas continued to use of the population registry system established by Israel following 1967 is not Israel's decision.) [NGO Monitor contacted HRW a number of times requesting information on the source of these claims, but received no response].
HRW's Middle East Division Driven By Post-Colonial Ideology
When HRW was awarded the United Nations Prize for Human Rights in November 2008, Kenneth Roth commented "By raising the cost of abuse, we make governments think twice about violating the rights of their people." But the inconsistencies in HRW's agenda and the excessive focus on Israel, suggest an alternative hypothesis: that HRW's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in a post-colonialist paradigm, which defines Palestinians as victims, and views Israel as a perennial aggressor. The double standards and political bias expressed by senior HRW officials in the Middle East Division reinforces this interpretation (see examples above). And the significantly different tone exhibited when reports on Israel involve HRW members from outside the Middle East Division, indicates that personal political agendas influence reporting. This is clear in the case of Sarah Leah Whitson, Joe Stork, Marc Garlasco and Lucy Mair, whose virulent anti-Israel approach is apparent in their publications.
The addition of Nadia Barhoum, a pro-Palestinian campus activist, to HRW's Middle East and North Africa Division, also reflects and reinforces these agendas. Barhoum was an active member in Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of California, Berkeley. SJP promotes the Durban agenda of demonization of Israel, using terms such as "apartheid," as well as accusations of "mass atrocities." In promoting divestment, Barhoum wrote: "Our university should not profit from bloodshed. Our university should not invest in apartheid."
In contrast, when HRW researchers from other departments are involved in reports, Israel is not singled out for vilification. This can be seen in the November 2008 "Sinai Perils" report, which was authored by "Bill Van Esveld, Arthur Helton fellow" [a sponsorship scheme for young lawyers to pursue a career in protecting refugee rights]" and edited by Bill Frelick, director of the Refugee Program and Policy Program, in addition to Stork. This report condemns Israel for an inconsistent policy that includes returning migrants to Egypt and "arbitrary" and "prolonged" detentions, yet it does not employ demonizing rhetoric or double standards in its analysis. Moreover, the report devotes significant attention to grave abuses by Egyptian soldiers and government officials such as the shooting of migrants attempting to cross into Israel, arrests, disappearances, denial of asylum, and the denial of medical care to migrant-prisoners. This is a marked difference to HRW's coverage of Gaza originating in the Middle East department where Egypt's role is rarely, if ever, mentioned.
"Sinai Perils" stands in stark contrast as well to the March 2008 "Off the Map" report, written by Lucy Mair (who has a history of anti-Israel activism but has now left HRW) and edited by Joe Stork. NGO Monitor's detailed analysis of the 130 page "Off the Map" report, examines the deceptive use of human rights terminology, simplification of the complex challenge of integrating the Bedouin community, and omission or distortion of factors that do not support HRW's political message, including any mention of Egypt or Jordan.
Marc Garlasco's joint authorship of the February, 2008 Report, "Flooding South Lebanon" is also suspect, given his dubious qualifications and record of anti-Israel reporting at HRW. (It was Garlasco who led HRW's high profile "investigation" into the Gaza Beach incident in 2006, and repeated the claims that "the evidence overwhelmingly supports the allegations that the civilians were killed by artillery shells fired by the IDF" accepting the Palestinian position. He ignored detailed evidence to the contrary, including shrapnel removed from the victims taken to Israel for treatment. Garlasco was also among the authors of HRW's "Razing Rafah" report of 2004, which contained many unverifiable and disputed claims, erased the context of terror, and was used to justify HRW involvement in anti-Israel boycott campaigns.) Garlasco's 2008 report alleges that "the IDF's use of cluster munitions was both indiscriminate and disproportionate, in violation of IHL, and in some locations possibly a war crime."
HRW's Middle East coverage continues to reflect deep biases in its agenda and reporting. The disproportionate focus on Israel in 2008 resulted in the shift of resources and attention from far more serious human rights violations in other countries. Despite some valuable attention on intra-Palestinian fighting, HRW's still blames Israel alone for civilians deaths in Gaza, erasing the context and ignoring the extensive use of human shields by Hamas. HRW officials also distort international legal terminology and repeat false or incomplete analyses of international law in order to promote their political view of the conflict in Gaza. These phenomena can be attributed to the radical political ideologies of senior members of the Middle East Division, a systemic problem which must be addressed if HRW is to salvage any legitimacy in its coverage of the Middle East.
 In 2007 HRW wrote at least one country report on 13 countries. In 2008, only 8 countries were covered in this depth. (Saudia Arabia was the subject of 5 country reports).
 The quantitative part of this report covers the period from January 1, 2008 to December 22, 2008. It does not include HRW's coverage of the Gaza conflict.
 To review NGO Monitor's quantitative analyses of HRW's Middle East coverage since 2004, see
 Note: The "Palestinians" includes references to Hamas, Fatah, the Palestinian Authority, "Palestinian militants," "armed groups," "security forces" and individually named terrorist groups: "al Quds," "Islamic Jihad" etc.
 See footnote 1
 See "Gaza: Israel's Energy Cuts Violate Law of War," February 6, 2008
 The 3 items are "Israel: Investigate Death of Gaza Civilians," April 18, 2008; "Israel: Independent Probe Needed In Gaza Killings," May 1, 2008 and " Letter to IDF JAG on investigation into Death of Four Civilians," April 30, 2008.
 "Letter to Hamas to Stop Rocket Attacks," HRW, November 20, 2008. Other similar characterizations of rocket attacks are made throughout HRW's statements on Gaza in 2008.
 The 3 citations are in "Written Statement on Gaza to the UN Human Rights Council", January 21, 2008; "Gaza Strip, Civilians bear brunt of attacks," February 28 ,2008; "Letter to Hamas to Stop Rocket Attacks," November 20, 2008. The singular instance of rocket attacks being termed "war crimes" in 2008 is in "Gaza: Israel's Energy Cuts Violate Law of War," February 6, 2008: " Human Rights Watch said that indiscriminate Palestinian rocket and suicide bomb attacks against Israeli civilians constitute war crimes, but Israel's attempts to suppress those attacks must not also violate international humanitarian law."
 "Israel: Don't destroy Homes," HRW August 9, 2008
 " Letter to Hamas to Stop Rocket Attacks," November 20, 2008
 "Gaza Strip, Civilians bear brunt of attacks," February 28, 2008
 Note this study covers January 1 – December 22, 2008
Each High Contracting Party shall allow the free passage of all consignments of medical and hospital stores and objects necessary for religious worship intended only for civilians of another High Contracting Party, even if the latter is its adversary. It shall likewise permit the free passage of all consignments of essential foodstuffs, clothing and tonics intended for children under fifteen, expectant mothers and maternity cases.
It is argued that Article 23 does not apply to the case of Gaza. If that is so, then Israel is under no legal duty to provide even the minimal humanitarian supplies listed in Article 23.
 See, e.g., The Hostages Trial, Trial of Wilhem List, United Nations War Crimes Commission, Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals, Volume VIII, 1949, at 55-6, available here (holding that "an occupation indicates the exercise of governmental authority to the exclusion of the established government... To the extent that the occupant's control is maintained and that of the civil government eliminated, the area will be said to be occupied".)
 In one media report, when Joe Stork was challenged with NGO Monitor's analysis of the evidence of an anti-Israel ideology in his reports, Stork replied angrily and without any substance. (See http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1209626989868&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FPrinter )
 In this analysis I am excluding mention of the Program directors that seem to be involved in editing all HRW reports. I assume that their role is one of final quality control and that they do not have the time or the necessary knowledge to query the core research and portrayal in the report.
"The point is not to equate, excuse or balance abuses but to demonstrate that reporting is based on human rights principles rather than partisan considerations." HRW's Position Paper on the Durban Preparatory Committee (April 21, 2008):
This report includes quantitative analyses of publications from HRW’s Middle East and North Africa section, using a weighted scale methodology consistent with NGO Monitor’s previous analyses, and an assessment of the use of language in the HRW publications.
Agenda Analysis: Focus on Israel returns to 2005 levels
NGO Monitor’s analysis of Human Rights Watch's (HRW) output devoted to each country in the Middle East and North Africa region shows that the focus on and condemnations of Israel in 2007 returned to 2005 levels (see 2005 report). This follows a sharp increase in 2006 (see 2006 report). However, Israel is still the focus of nine percent of HRW's output on the region– significantly greater than Libya, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah and other chronic human rights violators. The evaluation is based on a point system which accounts for both the volume of publications and their significance (a report clearly being much more significant and requiring more resources than a press release –see the methodological section of the appendix).
Figure 1 provides a comparison of the relative output (weighted as described in the methodology section in appendix) of countries in the Middle East over the past three years. Figure 1 demonstrates the degree that an increased focus on Israel correlates with a decreased focus on other countries in the region, such as Iran and Egypt.1 In absolute terms, HRW’s total output on the Middle East and North Africa has increased steadily over the period 2005-2007, the results presented here are in percentage terms to enable comparison.
Figure 2 displays the results of the detailed comparative analysis of the activities of HRW's Middle East and North Africa section in 2007. In 2007, 10 percent (121 points) of HRW publication effort in the Middle East and North Africa section focused on Israel, which is significantly lower than in 2006, and slightly higher in percentage terms than the 8 percent in 2005.2
Use of Multimedia items
In 2007 there were more multimedia items on Israel (6 audio, video and graphics items) than any other country (4 for Hamas, 4 for Iran and 3 for Egypt – other countries received 2 or fewer). Most countries, including Israel, featured in one audio item each as part of the 2007 World Report. Israel's multimedia items also included audio commentary by Marc Garlasco on cluster munitions, pictures and audio on medical evacuations3, pictures and audio on students trapped in Gaza, and a video on cluster munitions. Multi-media material requires a higher level of investment by Human Rights Watch and can in many cases result in a larger impact than is the case in other types of HRW activities. When this increased impact is disproportionately focused on Israel, the issue of double standards becomes relevant.
Use of Reports
HRW puts a great deal of effort and resources into its major reports, often including a press conference and other public relations activities to accompany the publication. In many cases, the focus of a report is chosen weeks or months in advance of publication, and reflects a strategic decision regarding HRW’s priorities.
The disproportionate emphasis on Israel continued in 2007. The number of reports featuring Israel in 2007 (2)4 was equal to the number on Hezbollah, Egypt, and Iraq. Only Lebanon featured in more reports (3).5 Significantly, HRW officials chose not to issue any reports on Iran, Libya and Morocco in 2007. (In contrast, HRW’s press releases focusing on human rights violations in Iran constituted 17 percent of total press releases in the region, with Egypt targeted in a further 17 percent. Israel received 9% of the press releases, a proportionate amount given it received 10% of the over all focus).
Priorities within the Arab Israeli conflict
HRW’s priorities are also reflected in an analysis of the relative coverage of Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Hezbollah. The analysis shows minimal attention to internal Palestinian fighting and an over emphasis on Israeli actions in both the conflict with Hezbollah and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Figure 3 demonstrates almost the same distribution between publications focusing on Israel and the total focused on all groups in conflict with Israel (i.e. Palestinian groups and Hezbollah). This was despite the fact that nearly half of all Palestinian fatalities were caused by intra-Palestinian violence during 2007. 6
When Hamas seized control of Gaza by violent coup in June 2007, there were many clear violations of human rights.7 Human Rights Watch itself documented a few briefly. One example was the execution by Hamas of a cook for Mahmoud Abbas’s Presidential Guard (press release “Gaza: Armed Palestinian Groups Commit Grave Crimes” - June 13). The cook was executed by “throwing him to his death, with his hands and legs tied, from a 15-story apartment building in Gaza City”. Over the year, only 2 published items from HRW focused primarily on internal Palestinian violence, a third published item covered both internal Palestinian violence and attacks on Israelis. This is in comparison with seven documents focused on Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
Further comparisons between Israel and those in conflict with her are available in the appendix, including a breakdown of the collective term Palestinians.8
As noted, major reports require far greater resources, and are designed to have a greater impact, including the use of press conferences and public relations campaigns. In 2007, HRW published two reports which ostensibly analysed alleged human rights violations by Israel and by its opponent (Palestinian terrorists or Hezbollah). However, in "Why They Died: Civilian Casualties in Lebanon during the 2006 War," 122 pages describe alleged Israeli abuses while 23 pages describe alleged abuses by Hezbollah. In "Indiscriminate Fire: Palestinian Rocket Attacks on Israel and Israeli Artillery Shelling in the Gaza Strip,” 72 pages describe alleged Israeli abuses, while 19 pages describe alleged Palestinian abuses. (The page counts exclude pages on general background information, methodologies and non substantive appendices)
Language Analysis – Double Standards Continue
As explained in previous NGO Monitor reports, the language and terminology used by NGOs in their publications on human rights issues is an additional indicator of the group’s relative emphasis and agenda. Terms such as “war crimes”, “collective punishment”, “torture”, “violations of international law”, etc. are condemnatory, and their inconsistent or unjustified use is at odds with the core universality of human rights norms.
This analysis (results in Figure 4) was conducted using the same methodology as in NGO Monitor's 2006 report.9 In 2006, Israel, Libya, Iraq and UAE all averaged around thirty occurrences for various terms or phrases. The analysis of HRW’s rhetoric and vocabulary in 2007, compared to previous years, shows that the use of condemnatory language has been reduced across the board in the Middle East and North Africa region. The words provided in the key in Figure 4 (and very close approximations) were counted when they referred directly to the country indicated, (explanations, including the many cases where occurrences were discounted, are provided in the appendix).
Misleading "balance" in HRW reporting
The relative increase and apparent “balance” in condemnation of Israel and its opponents is an improvement in reporting on the conflict, but still falls short of a even handed approach. This is because HRW's reporting continues to distort the context and suggests a false moral equivalence between aggressor and defender. This is illustrated in an article by HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division director, Sarah Leah Whitson, published in Al-Akhbar on September 1, 2007. Whitson states:
“That Israel violated the laws of war does not justify the Islamic Resistance’s failure to abide by such laws. … that Israel carried out indiscriminate strikes on populated areas in southern Lebanon in no way justifies the Islamic Resistance’s retaliatory strikes on civilian areas in Israel.”
Although statistically such references count once against each party and are thus “balanced”, the context is clearly portraying Israel as the aggressor.
Similarly, a HRW press release (July 12, 2007) headlined “Israel/Lebanon: A Year Later, No Justice for War Violations,” states:
“During the conflict, Human Rights Watch documented serious violations of humanitarian law by both the IDF and Hezbollah… the Israeli army… thus systematically failed to distinguish between civilians and combatants, in violation of humanitarian law… [commanders] may be guilty of war crimes.”
After three paragraphs on Israel, the authors of the report turn to Hezbollah, providing some facts without the emotional comment. This section ends by stating,
“while Hezbollah appeared to target some of its rockets at military objectives…such attacks were at best indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, at worst direct attacks against civilians…[Commanders] may also have committed war crimes and should be investigated.” (Emphasis added by NGO Monitor).
In the case of Israel the phrasing conveys culpability; in the case of Hezbollah, it only suggests a need to investigate.
Similarly, this text uses the phrase “violation of humanitarian law” to refer to Israel’s alleged failure to distinguish between civilians and combatants. In the case of Hezbollah, the same is suggested to be a “best case” analysis, with the worse case being the targeting of civilians. While Hezbollah’s actions are clearly a “serious violation” of international law, HRW officials refer to this as a hypothetical “worst case”. The use of such language shows a political bias against Israel in style and commentary.
This politically based distinction is repeated in HRW’s 249 page report that returns to the question of Israeli actions in the 2006 war with Hezbollah, headlined “Why They Died: Civilian Casualties in Lebanon during the 2006 War”, (September 2007). The authors describe events and simultaneously claim numerous violations of international law by Israel, eg “Israel often attacked targets that, under the laws of war, could not be considered military objectives subject to attack.”
HRW lacks both the expertise and the intelligence information to make this judgement, and it places the burden of proof on Israel, demanding additional information not known to HRW. In contrast, the section on Hezbollah's use of human shields uses the language of uncertainty: “…we found a handful of instances but nothing to suggest a widespread practice” (page 6).
Such bias and double standards is also evident in a press release “Israel: Threatened Sanctions on Gaza Violate Laws of War” (September 20, 2007) written by Sarah Leah Whitson. According to Whitson, “Palestinian armed groups are clearly violating the laws of war by firing rockets deliberately or indiscriminately at Israeli civilians… Israel has the responsibility to protect its citizens, but not by collectively punishing the people of Gaza, which seriously violates the laws of war.” The term “collective punishment” (which is not applicable to this situation under international law – see detailed discussion below) is used to condemn Israeli responses to aggression, but not with respect to the deadly rocket barrages from Gaza. And as in many other instances, Whitson avoids holding Hamas responsible by name.
Whitson’s press release goes on to argue that “Israel remains an occupying power in the Gaza Strip… because it continues to exercise effective day-to-day control over most aspects of life in Gaza.” The dimensions listed are airspace, sea space and borders. In contrast, the accepted definition under international law of “day-to-day control over most aspects of life” as a condition of occupation, refers to the running of local government and facilities.11 Whitson also ignores Egypt’s role in Gaza.
Promoting the false claim of “continuing occupation”
Building on the false claim of “continuing occupation”, HRW holds Israel to a unique standard. Listing the obligations of “an occupying power” (i.e. supply of food and medical supplies to the civilian population), HRW then extends these obligations to “power and fuel” without legal basis. The reduction of fuel supplies between countries is not unique to Israel (e.g. Russia / Ukraine in 2006),12 and is not prohibited under current international conventions.13 HRW did not condemn Russia for this action nor refer to its control over fuel as creating a situation of “occupation”.
Areas of improvement
Finally, from multi-region documents examined in this analysis, there is evidence that these problems notwithstanding, HRW has heeded some of NGO Monitor’s previous analysis on language use. In one document “More Business Than Usual: The Work Which Awaits the Human Rights Council” (12 March) HRW officials outline their suggested agenda and priorities for the UN Human Rights Council. The document refers to “serious human rights abuses throughout Afghanistan”, “serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, beatings, arbitrary arrests, and rapes” in Chad, “serious human rights abuses, particularly those abuses committed by security forces” in Guinea, “militias were responsible for serious abuses of civilians, including killings, torture, and rape and sexual assault” in Sudan, and says the “police and army continue to commit serious and persistent human rights abuses” in Zimbabwe. Israel, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia are also included in this report, yet with far more caution in the use of language.
HRW and the Kidnapped Israeli Soldiers
Two Israeli soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, were kidnapped in July 2006 during a cross border raid by Hezbollah, in which 8 other Israelis were killed. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped from an Israeli position near Gaza in June 2006. All three remain in captivity and Hezbollah and Hamas have refused to allow visitation by the Red Cross.
In 2007, HRW mentioned one or more of the soldiers in a total of only 6 publications (There were 29 documents on Israel, 18 on the Palestinians and 12 on Hezbollah, many of which could have made reference to the soldiers). Of these, only two refer to them by name; the other references are in passing. In one report, HRW “criticized Hezbollah” for “illegally refusing” to confirm the condition of the soldiers and for not allowing the Red Cross access to them (“Why they died”, September 2007).
Charges of "Collective punishment"
In 2007, Human Rights Watch began using the phrase “collective punishment” to refer to Israeli self-defensive measures against rocket fire emanating from Gaza. This sweeping interpretation of the term is not consistent with international law,14 nor with the historic or current usage of the term by Human Rights Watch in other conflicts.
Using a Google search on HRW's site as a heuristic, 55 percent of HRW’s content referring to blockades and collective punishment is related to Israel.15 (Note that this is 55% of all HRW material and not limited to the Middle East and North Africa section). However, Israel is the only case where HRW uses "collective punishment" to refer to a blockade and the potential impact on civilian life. In other cases, this term is used to describe beatings, murder and destruction of property as indiscriminant retaliation against a group of people for the acts of members of that group.
Other cases of blockades that are not termed "collective punishment," include Azerbaijan's blockade of Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia described in Human Rights Watch 1994 World Report:
“Electricity, gas, oil and grain-necessary for the basic human needs of civilians in Armenia-were in extremely short supply… … The lack of gas and electricity deprived Armenians of heat in the freezing winter… a rise in deaths among the newborn and the elderly was accompanied by a higher suicide rate and growing incidence of mental illness. The blockade had ruined Armenia's industry…”
The report does not refer to this “blockade” as “collective punishment,”, and indeed recommends that “all but humanitarian aid should be withheld from Armenia because of Armenia's financing of the war”. It is not clear why HRW promotes a policy of economic isolation for Armenia, but when Israel must respond to daily rocket attacks on civilian population centers, HRW condemns a similar policy as "collective punishment."
Similarly, in a 1999 press release on Chechnya, “Russian Ultimatum to Grozny Condemned” (8 Dec, 1999) HRW described the humanitarian situation as
“rapidly deteriorating, with no functioning hospitals, electricity, running water, gas, or heating since the beginning of November, and dwindling food supplies”.
This is clearly a more urgent humanitarian situation than Gaza in 2007 (where humanitarian aid enters daily16), but HRW did not classify it as “collective punishment.”
In 2007, the term “collective punishment” was used by HRW in 13 items not referring to Israel (see Table 1). These cases generally provide evidence of punitive intent against third parties either at the family or community level.
The items in Table 1 show HRW’s use of “collective punishment” in highlighting reprisal actions against third parties. For example, in 2007, testimony to a US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, Sam Zarifi (HRW's "Washington Advocate")17 stated,
“in the Ogaden, we have documented massive crimes by the Ethiopian army, including… villages burned to the ground as part of a campaign of collective punishment”.
Another example is found in an August 2007 Guardian article, “Ethiopia's dirty war” authored by HRW's London Director, Tom Porteous18. He asserts that
“dozens of civilians have been killed in what appears to be a deliberate effort to mete out collective punishment against a civilian population suspected of sympathising with the rebels.”
These results show that HRW’s application of "collective punishment" is inconsistent and arbitrary. No other "blockade" is described in these terms, and other cases of "collective punishment" involve beatings, murder and destruction of property as indiscriminant retaliation against a group of people for the acts of members of that group.
Use of eye witnesses and unverifiable evidence
In many reports on Israel, Human Rights Watch relies extensively on unverifiable evidence, including accounts from “eyewitnesses” and selected journalists.
In the 145 page (English) report “Indiscriminate Fire”19 Human Rights Watch returns to the disputed Gaza beach incident from 2006.20 This account presents interviews with family members of the victims who claim Israeli shelling was responsible for the causalities. Their stories, however, were contradicted by evidence available to HRW prior to the publication of this report. This evidence includes IDF records of all artillery fired prior to the explosion, the fact that no missiles were actually fired within 10 minutes of the explosion, and forensic evidence of shrapnel removed from victims which was not consistent with an Israeli shell21. When presented with the evidence by the IDF at the time, Human Rights Watch noted (Jerusalem Post, June 19, 2006) that the IDF investigation made “a good assessment” in ruling out an IDF shell as the cause of the blast.22 The use of emotionally involved witnesses, in this case a year after their testimony is invalidated by evidence, is a systematic fault in HRWs research methodology. Their approach favours narrative over verifiable evidence-based research.23
Another section of the “Indiscriminate Fire” report discusses an exchange of fire in the vicinity of the Nada Apartments Complex, situated on the western edge of Bet Hanoun in Gaza. A footnote states that, “the testimony of one resident that a rocket may have been fired from the roof of one of the buildings on the evening of July 24 was not supported by Human Rights Watch’s on-site investigation”. This investigation was a physical inspection which found “no burn marks or other indications that a rocket had been fired from there”. Such a lack of evidence cannot prove anything -- it only fails to support the eyewitness claim. The report goes on to say that “Many Nada residents freely acknowledged Palestinians firing rockets from the nearby open areas, sometimes close to the apartments, but all except for this person insisted that no rockets had ever been fired from the grounds of the complex or the roofs of the buildings.” In this case, HRW tries to bolster the credibility of eye-witnesses, who have every reason to lie (they surely know that rocket-fire from their homes would render them legitimate targets for IDF reprisal). In order to support their conclusions, HRW does its own investigation which finds nothing, and rejects the evidence of one eyewitness whose counter-evidence is the only non-interested testimony HRW has.
In a third example, HRW’s report “Why they died”24 acknowledges the errors resulting from reliance on eyewitnesses. It states, “In our earlier report, Fatal Strikes, Human Rights Watch did not have information about Hezbollah firing from the area.” The authors further note that the eyewitness stated “To my knowledge, Hezbollah was not operating in the area, but I can’t be 100 percent sure because we were sleeping.’” This quote omits the first sentence of the original quote from Fatal Strikes which stated, “I am positive the family had nothing to do with Hezbollah” (pg 25).
Nevertheless, “Why they died” also uses eyewitness accounts to assert that “the handful of cases of probable shielding that we did find does not begin to account for the civilian death toll in Lebanon.” The cases HRW found may well be a fraction of the total cases. In an area still largely controlled by Hezbollah, there is a strong incentive against whistle blowing on the use of Human shields, and many uses of civilian space will leave no physical evidence. A lack of evidence cannot be used to make categorical and empirical claims.
Although HRW's relative focus on Israel in 2007 is less than in 2006, the disproportionate emphasis, and the examples of bias and double standards continue. Despite a major increase in internal Palestinian violence during 2007, including the Hamas takeover of Gaza, HRW's focus on Israel has not changed significantly. Similarly, in the selective use of language, especially the arbitrary accusation of "collective punishment," HRW's strong political agenda with respect to Israel is clear.
See the appendix to this report
1 Lebanon and Iraq have been excluded from this longitudinal analysis due to the impact and separate reporting on external actors in these countries. These factors make data analysis on these countries between years inconsistent. This does not impact on the accuracy of reporting within a given year.
2 121 of 1260 points were devoted to Israel in 2007, compared to 59 of 702 points in 2005. In 2006 223 of 1088 points (over 20%) were focused on Israel, this is partly explained by the Second Lebanon War. The total publications (in terms of both weighted score and in terms of actual number of documents) has steadily increased across the region over the last three year. The percentage of these documents dedicated to Israel has been erratic over the three year period.
3 The pictures and audio alleging that Israel prevented residents of Gaza from leaving to seek external medical treatment are also linked at the top to a press release. This has been included as a multimedia item in this report.
4 "Indiscriminate Fire" and "Why they Died."
5 One on the Lebanon War (Why they died), one on Iraqi refugees (Rot here or die there) and one on domestic workers (Exported and Exposed)
6 According to the data published by B’tselem, 351 Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians (http://www.btselem.org/english/Statistics/Casualties_Data.asp?Category=23) compared with 379 casualties from clashes with Israeli security forces (http://www.btselem.org/english/Statistics/Casualties_Data.asp?Category=1). Such data is not reliable, and if anything, underestimates the extent of internal Palestinian violence.)
8 To avoid double counting, publications with attention given to at least one of: the Palestinian Authority / Fatah, Hamas or “Palestinian armed groups” were included in the Palestinian count.
9 In the language analyses of previous years, NGO Monitor included “torture”. In 2007, HRW did not use the term torture in any reports on Israel, while Palestinian torture related to factional violence received a single mention. This data is presented in a separate graph in the appendix.
10 See methodology section for more details
11 "Is Israel Bound by International Law to Supply Utilities, Goods, and Services to Gaza?" Abraham Bell, JCPA Vol. 7, No. 33 28 February 2008
12 Peter Finn, Russia Cuts Off Gas to Ukraine In Controversy Over Pricing, Washington Post, Monday, January 2, 2006, Page A07
13 "Is Israel Bound by International Law to Supply Utilities, Goods, and Services to Gaza?" Abraham Bell, JCPA Vol. 7, No. 33 28 February 2008
14 See "International Law and Gaza: The Assault on Israel's Right to Self-Defense," Jerusalem Viewpoints (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) Vol. 7, No. 29, Abraham Bell, January 28, 2008; and Dr. Avi Bell, "Is Israel Bound by International Law to Supply Utilities, Goods, and Services to Gaza?" Jerusalem Viewpoints (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) Vol. 7, No. 33, 28 February 2008,
15 When searching site:hrw.org blockade and "collective punishment" +Israel 77 results are returned. When searching site:hrw.org blockade and "collective punishment" -Israel 63 results are returned. The 77 documents represent 55% of the total. (Some publications include separate sections in which both terms are used, and are counted twice.) These are heuristic measures only as HRW reports may be listed two or more times due to posting as pdf files as well as web pages.
16 See IDF Spokesperson reports of trucks entering Gaza with supplies; Aluf Benn, Dichter: Israel to allow aid supplies, food into Gaza, Haaretz, 16 June, 2007
20 See "Gaza beach incident: Timeline of HRW involvement and activities June 9-21 2006," NGO Monitor, June 21, 2006
23 HRW has a history of publishing “facts” despite being aware of contradictory evidence. For example after the July 30, 2006 Qana incident in the Lebanon War, Lucy Mair of HRW disregarded the Red Cross estimate of 28 casualties in favor of the higher estimate of 54 provided by an alleged “survivor” [see Kim Murphy, “Warfare in the Middle East: Officials Say 28 Die in Qana not 54,” The Los Angeles Times, August 4, 2006.].
24 "Why They Died: Civilian Casualties in Lebanon during the 2006 War," HRW, September 5, 2007
Summary: NGO Monitor´s systematic and detailed analysis shows a significant increase in Human Rights Watch´s focus on Israel in 2006, following a decline in 2005, and returning to the disproportionate agenda and lack of credibility characteristic of the 2000-2004 period. HRW publications dealing with Israel used unreliable and unverifiable "eyewitness" accounts, rather than photographic, documentary, or other evidence. These core deficiencies were particularly evident in its reporting on the July-August conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Similarly, HRW continues to use the language of demonization with respect to Israel, compared to publications on other Middle East countries. The evidence in this report demonstrates that despite HRW’s recognition "that international standards of human rights apply to all people equally," this powerful NGO continues to promote an anti-Israel political agenda.
This report presents quantitative and qualitative (vocabulary-based) analyses of HRW publications regarding Israel, followed by detailed examples from individual publications issued in 2006. The report applies the methodology used in NGO Monitor´s previous annual reports, based on a weighted scale for the ten different forms of publications produced by HRW. An analysis of HRW’s publications related to the conflict in Colombia and published by a research group at the University of London found similar political biases and lack of credibility. 
Quantitative Analysis: Focus on Israel Far Exceeds Other Middle East Countries
NGO Monitor´s examination of HRW covering the years 2000-04 showed that a very clear and disproportionate level of HRW´s resources were devoted to condemnations of Israel. There was a significant downward trend in 2005. (See report for details.) However, this trend was reversed in 2006, as the organization reverted back to its earlier pattern. While 8 percent of HRW publications and activities on the Middle East during 2005 focused on Israel, (59 of 702 points, as measured by the weighted method) in 2006, this jumped to 20 percent (223 of 1088 points). Indeed, Israel’s score far outweighed that of any other Middle Eastern country including Egypt (81 points), Libya (75 points), Saudi Arabia (47 points), and Syria (38 points). In other words, allegations against Israel received more than 6 times the attention from HRW than did Syria’s dictatorial regime that is being investigated by the UN for involvement in the assassination of Lebanese leaders, including former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Language as a Reflection of HRW’s Political Agenda
In addition to the steady stream of press releases, opeds, statements, letters, and media interviews, HRW reports continued to reflect disproportionality, lack of universality, and inconsistency in reporting on Israel. For example, HRW´s one major report on the Lebanon War was a 49-page document with the highly politicized and subjective headline, “Fatal Strikes: Israel’s Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon”. As reflected by this title, the report overwhelmingly highlights the condemnations of Israel, with only minor references to Hezbollah´s violations of human rights, and no statements regarding aggression. As in many similar HRW reports in the past, (such as the organization´s October 18, 2004 politicized report, "Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip" this report also erases the context, including Hezbollah’s aggression and its extensive use of human shields.
Peter Bouckaert, HRW´s “emergencies director”, played a major role in HRW reporting on the war, and its institutional biases. On July 31, in The Guardian (UK), Bouckaert called Israel’s claim that Hezbollah used human shields a “convenient excuse.” Similarly, Ken Roth, HRW´s Executive Director, wrote in the New York Sun on July 31, 2006 that Israel´s actions in Lebanon during 2006 were "the morality of some more primitive moment." (Roth´s offensive reference to the Biblical phrase "an eye for an eye" also demonstrated an immense ignorance.) These specific examples are further evidence of the violation of universality in the language used by HRW with respect to claims regarding human rights in the case of Israel, as demonstrated in previous NGO Monitor analyses.
In 2006, HRW publications also disproportionately and inconsistently applied international legal and human rights terminology. The terms “violation of international humanitarian law” and “violation of international human rights law” were utilized 30 times in its reporting on Israel, while only 19 such phrases were found in the case of Iraq. HRW officials also used “grave/serious Human Rights violations/abuses” 21 times regarding Israel, and 28 allegations that Israeli had acted "illegally" or "violated the law." These terms were used far less frequently by HRW with respect to Iran, Syria, Libya, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, despite routine and systematic human rights abuses practiced by these regimes. The following chart displays the number of times HRW cited each country with different terms in international law and IHL:
Nevertheless, when all the evidence of distorted language in HRW reports for 2006 is taken into account, the double standards and demonization of Israel are clear. In addition to the examples cited above, we note that:
The following graph covering HRW publications for 2006 illustrates this systematic imbalance:
Erasing Aggression against Israel and Kidnapping from the Context
In addition to the statistical biases detailed above, HRW’s activities regarding Israel in 2006 focused on narrow issues that omitted the context of responses to attack. In this way, HRW has continued to be a central contributor to the Durban Strategy of delegitimizing Israel through the rhetoric of human rights.
For example, HRW´s reporting systematically erased Hezbollah’s aggression and terrorism. Instead, HRW reports characterized Hezbollah as an “organized political Islamist group based in Lebanon, with a military arm and a civilian arm, and is represented in the Lebanese parliament and government.” This description also ignored Hezbollah´s fortified underground positions along Israel’s northern border; the killing of Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of their bodies in October 2000; repeated rocket attacks on Northern Israel, long after the May 2000 Israeli withdrawal from all of Lebanese territory and before the war, and similar events. In addition the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, igniting the war, and the refusal to allow visits by the International Committee for the Red Cross or any other contact, (clearly in violation of international law and human rights norms) were given very limited attention in HRW reports. Inexplicably, they were not labeled as aggression or violations of international law despite their clear status as such.
Following the war, The Intelligence and Terrorism Center at the Israeli Center for Special Studies (CSS) issued a detailed report on these events. It provides extensive documentation and photographic evidence of “Hezbollah’s consistent pattern of intentionally placing its fighters and weapons among civilians,” showing that Hezbollah was “well aware of the civilian casualties that would ensue” from this activity. The detailed evidence in this report stands in sharp contrast to the allegations by Human Rights Watch that it found “no cases” in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as human shields.Indeed, as noted, HRW officials even claimed that the assertions about Hezbollah’s use of human shields were merely a “convenient excuse” on Israel’s part to justify counter-attacks.
The “Evidence” Cited in HRW Reports on Israel Is Not Credible
During 2006, a systematic examination of the evidence presented in HRW publications that condemn Israeli actions determined that such evidence lacks credibility. For example, an HRW report regarding a July 16 Israeli air-strike in Lebanon following the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers is based on claims from unnamed journalists, unnamed UNIFIL members, and Lebanese “eyewitnesses”. HRW does not state how these witnesses were selected, how many witnesses were interviewed, and whether any testimony was verified or discounted. Many HRW publications cite media reports without providing the publication details, date, or the authors, preventing independent verification. HRW does not specify whether any of its officials visited the site of an alleged attack, it does not identify the members of its team, how long the team was at the site, their language skills, or what investigative techniques it used.
This lack of detail is found in almost every report published by HRW during the war, and is characteristic of many previous HRW reports condemning Israel for alleged war crimes. And many of HRW’s claims in these reports are contradicted by far more credible evidence. NGO Monitor´s December 28, 2006 report examining claims during the Lebanon war highlighted the contrast between the details in the C.S.S. report (cited above) and the publications of HRW and Amnesty International. For example, HRW repeated that "eyewitness" claimed that "there was no fighting taking place in [Bint Jbeil] there was no one but civilians. The civil defense was there to help us [recover the bodies]." The CSS report, on the other hand, showed 20 bases and 5 weapons storehouses, along with 87 rockets fired from within village houses, 109 from within a 200 meter radius of the village, and 136 within a 500 meter radius, in Bint Jbeil. The report also documented 60 regular Hezbollah operatives in the village, including about 15 in charge of the storehouses.
Similarly unreliable evidence was used in HRW’s highly publicized campaign regarding what has come to be known as “the Gaza beach incident”. On June 9, eight Palestinians were reportedly killed on a Gaza beach in disputed circumstances. Amnesty International and several Palestinian NGOs, including Miftah, Al Mezan and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights issued condemnations of Israel in the days following. On June 12, the IDF concluded, based on detailed evidence including shrapnel removed from the victims taken to Israel for treatment, that the IDF was not responsible. On June 13, however, HRW presented the findings of Marc Garlasco, a former “battle damage expert,” in a widely publicized press conference in Gaza. Garlasco was also one of the authors of HRW’s "Razing Rafah" report of 2004, which contained many unverifiable and disputed claims, and was highly politicized. Ignoring contradictions in the evidence, and the apparently fabricated video that was released by the Palestinians, HRW declared that “the evidence overwhelmingly supports the allegations that the civilians were killed by artillery shells fired by the IDF”.
HRW’s lack of credibility was highlighted again on June 19 and 20. After a second press release on the incident was issued on June 15, Garlasco met with Maj.-General Meir Klifi for three hours on June 19 to discuss their investigations. Following the meeting, Garlasco told the Jerusalem Post that HRW could not contradict the findings of the Israeli inquiry and he claimed that the most likely source of the explosion was "unexploded Israeli ordinance." On June 20, however, HRW issued a third press release, claiming that the IDF investigation was “incomplete”, contradicting his statements to the Jerusalem Post, and called for an “independent inquiry.” (See NGO Monitor’s detailed timeline and report on NGOs reporting of the incident.)
HRW Flip-flops on Palestinian Use of Human Shields
On November 22, 2006, Human Rights Watch issued a press release condemning Hamas for calling on civilians to protect “fighters” engaged in attacking Israel and surrounded by the IDF. HRW noted that this call endangered civilian lives, constituting "at worst human shielding, at best failing to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians from the effects of attack". Following publication, radicalized NGOs and fringe political commentators -- including Palestinian NGOs PCHR, Al-Mezan, and Al-Dameer, and the anti-Zionist Norman Finkelstein (in Counterpunch) – criticized HRW, calling these Palestinian actions acts of “non-violent resistance” and pressured the organization to retract the statement. Rather than upholding the universality of human rights in this case, HRW changed its position in a December 16 press release and withdrew its condemnation.
In defending this reversal, HRW officials cited "factual" claims and the interpretation of international law. “We have since concluded that we were wrong, on the basis of the available evidence, to characterize the IDF’s planned destruction of the house as an act of war." The key “evidence” was again based on unnamed and unverifiable “eyewitnesses” and “journalists” undermining the credibility of HRW´s new factual claims.
In examining HRW’s use of international legal categories, the initial statement argued "it is a war crime to seek to use the presence of civilians to render certain points or areas immune from military operations or to direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attack." In the retraction, however, HRW chose to cite an entirely different legal dimension, arguing that if the Israeli government’s planned action was “aimed at punishing a militant for his alleged activities, the law regulating the conduct of hostilities during armed conflict would not apply and could not be violated.” Such a distinction is without a difference since under either interpretation, civilians were intentionally placed in harm’s way by Palestinian terrorist organizations.
From this record, it appears that the political and ideological criticism of HRW´s initial statement pressured the organization into changing its stance. Unlike its swift reaction in this case, HRW has yet to issue a retraction or correction of its many condemnations of Israel both in the case of the false claims regarding anti-terror operations Jenin in 2002 and during the Lebanon War in 2006, even when faced with overwhelming evidence that its statements were false.  And HRW has not retracted or apologized for its errors regarding the UN Human Rights Council.
HRW Condemns Israel and the US for being Right about the UNHRC
In 2005, many UN members, with the active involvement of Secretary General Kofi Anan, acknowledged that United Nations Commission on Human Rights had been thoroughly discredited, and agreed to negotiate the creation of a United Nations Human Rights Council. However, the draft framework for the UNHRC that was presented in 2006 was seen by the American and Israeli governments as providing the basis for failure and the continued exploitation of human rights principles, including anti-Israel political campaigning.
HRW officials supported the adoption of the new framework, and condemned the efforts to change the terms in order prevent abuse. In March 2006, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, "to urge that the United States support the draft resolution for a new U.N. Human Rights Council" as it is, claiming that delay would "weaken the resolution" or "delay its adoption indefinitely." The election of council members in May 2006 further highlighted the fact that the new UNHRC would not be better than the previous version. However, on May 9, 2006, in an interview on the BBC, Ken Roth declared that he had "every confidence" that the new council would condemn the violence in Darfur.
These predictions and HRW´s attacks against those who warned of these dangers have proven to be totally wrongheaded. The new UNHRC has been even more active in false accusations and demonization against Israel than the previous discredited framework. This incident again highlights the dominance of HRW’s political agendas over the pursuit of universal human rights.
The evidence from 2006 indicates that despite limited movement towards greater universality in coverage of the Middle East, HRW officials continue to promote an anti-Israeli agenda, when the opportunity arises. The language used in HRW reports to condemn Israel continues to be excessive and highly disproportionate, in comparison with reports on other countries in the Middle East. This bias is inconsistent with the universality of human rights, thereby undermining these norms and their moral foundation.
1. See the report published by Andres Ballesteros, Jorge Restrepo, Michael Spagat and Juan Vargas of the University of London and the Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC), a Bogota-based research center. In their report, “The Work of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch: Evidence from Colombia”, the authors state that Human Rights Watch´s reports have a "non-systematic approach that includes opaque sourcing and frequent changes in the objects they measure" Moreover, they document that HRW “seldom define[s] the categories [it] report[s] on” and publishes on "only a few variables while others come and go from year to year . . . [which] complicates any effort to grasp changes over time in the HR environment." The report also documents HRW´s tendency to "underestimate guerrilla killings."
3. It is important to note that while HRW cited Israel 15 times for "war crimes" and Hezbollah 19 times, the impact of these condemnations of Israel was greater than the impact of its condemnations of Hezbollah. For example, 4 of the 19 citations of Hezbollah were in "Fatal Strikes: Israel´s Indiscriminate Attacks against Civilians in Lebanon", the only major report published during the war. As the title shows, the report focuses almost entirely on allegations against Israel. Such condemnations against Hezbollah are therefore buried, minimizing their impact. In many other cases as well, condemnations of Israel were often more widely publicized than condemnations of Hezbollah or the PA. See this report´s sections on the 2006 Lebanon War and the Gaza Beach Incident for more detail.
4. HRW exhibited a similar failure to acknowledge mistakes in its reporting on the bombing in Qana. On July 30, immediately following the attack, HRW issued a press release declaring that “at least 54 civilians have been killed.” On August 2, 2006, HRW revealed that its "preliminary" research yielded a casualty count of 28 – there are still conflicting reports on the details – yet nonetheless, the organization has failed to remove the original statement from its website. See Marvin Kalb of The John F. Kennedy School of Government-Harvard University´s study, "The Israel-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media as a weapon of Asymmetrical Conflict" for more information on HRW´s premature casualty estimates regarding the bombing at Qana.
Summary: While NGO Monitor's analysis shows a significant reduction in Human Rights Watch's disproportionate focus on Israel in 2005, compared with 2004, clear evidence of systematic political bias remains. Many HRW publications continue to reflect what can be described as gratuitous political attacks against Israel, often based on unverified media reports, and reflecting a hostile political agenda. Similarly, as found in NGO Monitor's 2004 report, HRW's use of language to condemn Israel is highly politicized, especially when compared to reports on other countries in the Middle East, such as Iran, Egypt, Syria, and Libya, and continues to deny Israel the right to self-defense under international law. Some sporadic condemnations of Palestinian terror not withstanding, this analysis shows that the measures taken to end the anti-Israel bias among HRW officials and to restore the principle of universality in human rights have been insufficient.
Using the methodology outlined in NGO Monitor's 2004 report on HRW , this report first presents a quantitative analysis of HRW publications regarding Israel (including the use of language), followed by detailed examples from individual publications in 2005. In addition, this report provides an update on HRW's approach to the Middle East during the first quarter of 2006.
Quantitative Analysis of HRW publications on Israel: 2005
Following NGO Monitor's analysis showing the disproportionate level of HRW's resources devoted to condemning Israel in the period between 2000 and 2004, there has been a significant downward trend. This is measured using the quantitative comparative method explained in the earlier reports (see full report for details). The following graphs demonstrate this change:
HRW Middle East Focus:
From July to December 2005, greater emphasis was placed on reporting human rights abuses in Tunisia (29 points), Morocco (33 points), Iran (49 points), Iraq (53 points), Egypt (48 points), Jordan (19 points), Saudi Arabia (21 points) and Syria (13 points), than on claims regarding Israel (7 points).
The shift in the allocation of resources away from an extreme over-emphasis on Israel coincides with a number of internal developments at HRW. These include the reorganization of the Middle East Advisory Board (following NGO Monitor's earlier reports on HRW bias), which led directly to the expanded scope of its regional activities. In 2005, HRW issued no biased and unverifiable reports comparable to "Razing Rafah", which was accompanied by a large-scale anti-Israel public relations campaign. The involvement of officials in promoting divestment and other campaigns was also curtailed.
In addition, in the past year, HRW has expanded its professional staff significantly. Aisling Reidy, former executive director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties is the new Senior Legal advisor, whose role is to "provide advice on international human rights and humanitarian law, and on organizational policy, to the regional and thematic divisions of [HRW]". John Sifton, former HRW researcher on Afghanistan, Iraq and military and counterterrorism issues has taken the new post of Project Director for Terrorism / Counterterrorism. The HRW website does not identify who has filled the position of the Beirut-based researcher on Syria and Lebanon. This may reflect legitimate security concerns, but this lack of transparency makes it impossible to assess his/her qualifications or monitor the credibility of the reports. HRW is now advertising for a new Deputy Director, to market the NGO's 30th anniversary and "to place Human Rights Watch more effectively in the public domain."
This expansion follows a $15m funding commitment from Herb and Marion Sandler, co-CEOs of Forbes.com. Other major HRW funders include the Ford Foundation, Novib- the Dutch Organization for International development cooperation (part of Oxfam International), and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Language as a reflection of HRW's political agenda
NGO Monitor's analysis of HRW's activities in 2004 included an examination of the language that was used in various reports and campaigns. The findings showed that by repeating claims of Israeli violations of international law, war crimes, collective punishment, etc. without providing any consistent criteria for the use of such terminology, HRW was contributing to the demonization of Israel, consistent with the Durban strategy.
In 2005, despite the considerably lower level of resources devoted to such attacks, the language used in HRW reports with respect to Israel continued to exhibit clear disproportionality and a lack of universality, despite its claim "that international standards of human rights apply to all people equally."
In the activities related to Israel, NGO Monitor found 38 instances in which HRW made allegations of "Violation International Humanitarian law / human rights law", in comparison to the much lower levels in the case of the PA (2), Egypt (4), Syria (3) and Morocco (1). Israel was charged with "grave" and /or "serious" human rights "violations" and/or "abuses" 32 times*; compared to Egypt (22) while all other countries examined received fewer than 10. Israel was the only country charged with "collective punishment" and "war crimes". Eighteen citations of "Arbitrary/ unlawful Killing / killing of civilians / extra judicial killings / summary executions" were found describing Israel, compared to Egypt (1), Algeria (3) and Syria (1). As noted above, in terms of the scale of reports of human rights violations, Egypt was cited twice as much as Israel in 2005. This shows that HRW's terminology of condemnation, in which the proportions are reversed, is particularly salient and inconsistent.
HRW's use of language in such a disproportionate and non-universal way demonizes and delegitimizes Israel, and fundamentally undermines the universal human rights standards that HRW claims to uphold.
* This number includes the following citations: human rights violations, human rights abuses, grave human rights violations, grave human rights abuses, serious human rights violations, serious human rights abuses.
Note: There are no incidences of the use of the word "terrorist" by HRW to describe actors in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Armed Palestinian" or "militant groups" are used frequently, even in relation to suicide bombings. "Terrorist" only appears when a second source is quoted, e.g. "Ha'aretz reported that during a government debate on cutting electricity to Gaza, 'the prevailing view was that Palestinian public opinion could pressure the terrorist organizations.'"
Note on methodology: Citations were counted only when the words used referred to the country in question in a specific and descriptive manner. The academic discussion of the boundaries of certain human rights violations that often appears in the introduction to Human Rights Watch publications were therefore not included in the count. The HRW Annual Human Rights Overview published in January 2006 (covering 2005) is included in the language analysis. See Appendix for complete table of results.
Examples from 2005 showing HRW's continuing political agenda and bias
HRW's activities related to Israel continue to reflect a strong political bias, despite the reduction in the volume of condemnations. Combined with the omission of any mention of human rights abuses in the Palestinian Authority (by either the PA or terrorist groups) in the second half of 2005, HRW's politically motivated attacks still contribute to the wider vilification campaign against Israel. By continuing to play a central part in the ongoing Durban strategy, these activities undermine the credibility of HRW's claim to pursue universal human rights norms.
On December 27, HRW's Sarah Leah Whitson (whose anti-Israel activism predates her employment at HRW) attacked Israeli policy in a letter to President Bush condemning "Expanding Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories". As in past HRW allegations against Israel, this letter was based on unverified media reports and invoked the distorted politicized rhetoric of international law, including references to the discredited advisory opinion of the ICJ. It also included some factually wrong statements, such as the claim that "no one but Israel disputes the fact that its settlement policy violates IHL (international humanitarian law)" - for over 25 years, the US government has adopted the position that Israeli settlements are not illegal. Similarly, in referring to the security barrier, Whitson describes it as the "metal and concrete barrier (hereinafter the 'wall')," - in reality, over 95% of the barrier is fence and less than 5% "wall." Whitson concludes her letter by restating the overriding political objective of HRW's leadership: sanctions against Israel, including cutting US aid.
On December 23, Sarah Leah Whitson again used the rhetoric of international law in attacking a column by an Israeli journalist on options for responding to continued Palestinian missile attacks from Gaza. Whitson's clearly political press release was headlined "Israel: Gaza Power Cut Would Violate Laws of War: Militant Attacks Cannot Justify Unlawful Collective Punishment". Although the statement condemned "the use of Qassam rockets, which are indiscriminate weapons often fired into Israeli civilian areas in violation of international humanitarian law", this was a secondary issue for HRW, and not the focus of the statement.
These tendentious political attacks led to criticism of HRW's agenda. The Vice President of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, strongly criticized HRW's biased approach. He noted that Israel has shown a willingness to make adjustments to the fence, which is "movable and reversible," but "the victims of terror can't be reversed." Mr. Hoenlein also faulted Human Rights Watch for its failure to use its resources to highlight the human rights abuses of Palestinian terrorists, as demonstrated by NGO Monitor reports.
Examples from January to March 2006
From January to March 2006, HRW has continued the increased emphasis on human rights violations beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict zone. It has published analyses regarding events in Libya, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Tunisia, Syria, Algeria, Egypt and Morocco.
However, HRW officials also continued to pursue a political agenda, using language that reflects the anti-Israel bias. In its Annual Human Rights Overview, Israel/OPT section, published in January 2006, HRW repeats the standard slogan of the politicized NGO network when it states that after disengagement "Gaza remains occupied." Alleging that "[s]ince the withdrawal, Israel has carried out aerial bombardments, including targeted killings...[in] Gaza," the summary omits any mention of the continued rocket and terror attacks from Palestinians inside Gaza. Israel is routinely blamed for "contributing to a serious humanitarian crisis" due to its policy of closures, while the context of terrorism remains completely erased. Suicide bombers and other terrorists are referred to by HRW as "Palestinian fighters." The overall effect of the summary is to demonize Israel, undermine its right to self-defense in international law and portray the Palestinians as unfortunate victims, unable to take responsibility for their actions.
After the election of Hamas, HRW issued a press release on January 30 2006 stating that "attacks that intentionally kill and maim civilians are among the very worst kinds of crimes - war crimes and crimes against humanity." In early February HRW also issued a press release and sent a letter to Islamic Jihad condemning "atrocities that flagrantly violate the most fundamental principles of international humanitarian law". While the belated inclusion of terrorism as a violation of human rights is a promising development (although neither group is referred to as "terrorist"), HRW continues to artificially "balance" criticism of Palestinians with condemnations of Israel. These brief statements were closely followed by a highly critical publication based on claims regarding IDF investigations into alleged human rights abuses.
In a letter of February 9 to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Sarah Leah Whitson stated that EU aid to a Hamas-led P.A. should be conditioned on the human rights record of the Palestinian government. However it also supported the continuation of EU aid for the time being, since Hamas "largely has maintained a moratorium on such attacks for more than a year." The letter ignores the declarations by Hamas leaders that the ceasefire is temporary and that violent activity will be renewed. The letter also condemns attacks "against Israeli civilians" but implies that attacks on Israeli military targets should not preclude EU funding. HRW's position as set out in the letter also fails to mention the requirement that Hamas adhere to previous international agreements signed between the PA and Israel.
By failing to address these issues, HRW effectively backs the continued flow of money to a Hamas-controlled government, despite its refusal to recognize Israel or renounce or take clear measures to end terrorism. HRW's apparent acceptance of Palestinian violence is further reflected in its screening of the controversial film "Paradise Now" in the HRW film festival 15-25 March. The film depicts two suicide bombers yet the HRW review simply describes their plan as a "strike on Tel Aviv."
Thus, the evidence from 2005 and early 2006 indicates that HRW has reduced considerably its overemphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However the language used in HRW reports to condemn Israel continues to be excessive and highly disproportionate, in comparison with reports on other countries in the Middle East; and the substance of the reports reveals a strong political agenda that takes precedence over universal human rights norms.
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