FIDH is a Paris-based federation of 141 NGOs from 92 countries with consultative or observer status with several international bodies. In its mission statement, FIDH seeks to “contribute to the respect of all the rights defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” While claiming to be “strict and impartial” in its work, FIDH shows a strong anti-Israel bias by focusing disproportionate resources on condemning Israel, selectively interpreting international humanitarian law, dismissing the context of terrorism, largely ignoring Israeli victims of terror, and denying Israel’s right to self-defense. FIDH receives funding from international and national bodies and foundations, but it does not disclose the sources of its funding.
The International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) was established in 1922. This Paris-based NGO is a federation of 141 NGOs from 92 countries. It has consultative or observer status with several international bodies, including the Economic and Social Council in the UN, UNESCO, the Council of Europe, African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, and the International Labour Organization. FIDH also has “regular contact” with the EU, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Organization of American States, UNDP, WTO, IMF, World Bank, and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
FIDH's mandate “is to contribute to the respect of all the rights defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” It aims to make “effective improvements in the protection of victims, the prevention of Human Rights violations and the sanction of their perpetrators.” Its priorities are established by its World Congress and International Board (22 members) with the support of its International Secretariat (30 staff members).
FIDH’s total income in 2005 was €3,503,106 (nearly US$4.5m), of which €2,803,294 (over US$3.5m) came from “grants and donations,” comprising approximately 80% of its income. FIDH’s finances lack transparency, as funding sources are not itemized on its website or in financial statements, and no response was received to letters requesting this information. Instead, FIDH lists general figures and provides a financial summary: “FIDH relies heavily on donations from the public and from private businesses, contributions from its member organizations and on the commitment of its voluntary workers. It also receives grants from international and national bodies, and from foundations...”
International Justice Program
FIDH’s International Justice Program (IJP) is one of its central campaigns and “benefits from the support of the European Commission (European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights).” Through the IJP, FIDH was a prime actor in the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and is a major proponent of “universal jurisdiction” -- the ability to try violators of human rights or perpetrators of war crimes in any court in the world.
Israelis are frequent targets of legal actions that claim to be based on the criteria for international criminal prosecutions, and these campaigns are often spearheaded by the NGO community. FIDH utilizes terminology such as “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” when describing Israeli military or government actions so as to seemingly place those actions within the remit of universal jurisdiction. Reports of international criminal prosecutions against Israelis are posted on FIDH’s website and discussed in its joint newsletter, “EU Update on International Crimes,” published in conjunction with the NGO, Redress. Most recently, FIDH encouraged Franco-Lebanese nationals to prosecute Israelis in France for “war crimes of exceptional gravity, knowingly organized by a democratic government.”
FIDH Reporting on the Middle East
While FIDH reports to international bodies (including the UN and the EU) on human rights abuses from all over the world, alleged human rights violations by Israel receive a disproportionate level of its resources. This is reflected in a detailed examination of FIDH’s website. One of three country-specific links on its homepage is to “Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories,” and there are five links to interventions and reports about Israel and the Lebanon War (as of September 19, 2006). A comparison of the content of FIDH’s country-specific sites reveals its concentration on Israel. As of 19 September 2006, FIDH listed no interventions, one report, and two urgent appeals about Saudi Arabia since March 2003. There were 20 interventions, three reports, and twelve urgent appeals about Sudan since April 2003, and 22 interventions, five reports, and ten urgent appeals about Iran since April 2003. The Palestinian Authority had one intervention, one report, and no urgent appeals. In the same time period, FIDH published 51 interventions, seven reports, and five urgent appeals about Israel.
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FIDH Israeli and Palestinian NGO Partners
FIDH has seven member organizations in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including Adalah, B’tselem, Al Haq, and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR). FIDH frequently cites claims made by the PCHR, an NGO that is a key promoter of the “Durban strategy”. PCHR promotes rhetoric labeling Israel as an “apartheid” state and criticizes Israel for “torture, annexation of Jerusalem, ethnic cleansing, assassinations, house demolitions, and the Annexation Wall as war crimes.” By prominently posting links to PCHR reports on its website, FIDH endorses and highlights PCHR’s publications and agenda, and incorporates these biases into FIDH’s stance on Israel.
FIDH Reporting on Israel and the Palestinian Authority
While FIDH claims to use “strict and impartial procedures” in its human rights research, reporting on Israel and the Palestinian Authority applies international humanitarian law selectively. These publications consistently minimize Palestinian terrorism, and ignore or dismiss the context in which Israeli military and governmental actions occur. Reports repeatedly accuse Israel of war crimes while rarely issuing specific condemnations of suicide bombings or other terrorist attacks against Israelis. On the few occasions in which FIDH has condemned Palestinian violence, Israeli defensive actions are nevertheless undermined as "disproportionate." FIDH does not offer a definition of a "proportional" response nor suggest alternative means of defense for Israel.
FIDH has issued a number of publications on internal Israeli or Palestinian human rights issues: six publications on prosecutions of Israeli conscientious objectors who refuse to serve in the West Bank and Gaza, one intervention on the Negev Bedouin, one report on migrant workers in Israel, one 2004 report on increasing lawlessness in Gaza and the West Bank and two open letters – one addressed to Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas on the implementation of the death penalty by the Palestinian Authority, and one to Yassir Arafat calling for due process rights of two PFLP prisoners.
The following synopses are representative examples of FIDH’s reporting on Israel that demonstrate this NGO’s highly politicized approach:
An “Emergency Resolution on the Occupied Palestinian Territories” published on 7 March 2004 accuses Israel of
"war crimes, such as willful killings, bombings of civilian areas, torture and inhuman treatment and unlawful confinement, willfully causing great suffering, unlawful deportations and transfer, arbitrary detention, siege of cities, repeated incursion, curfews, massive destruction and expropriation of property."
The context of continual Palestinian suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks, which killed hundreds and injured thousands of Israeli civilians is completely erased. The report also ignores the security reasons that prompted Israel’s construction of the separation barrier, simply repeating Palestinian political claims that this is an “annexation wall” designed only to seize territory.
In 2004, FIDH in conjunction with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) submitted a statement to the International Court of Justice, entitled “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The submission claims that “the ‘twisting, invasive and dispossessing’ barrier/wall serves no military necessity,” [emphasis added] which is defined by the report as “the right of States to ensure its security,” and that "the sweeping movement restrictions it imposes are disproportionate and target only Palestinian civilians." These arguments dismiss the genuine threat by terrorists who conceal themselves as civilians, and ignores data that shows a significant reduction in the number of terrorist attacks since the barrier's construction. FIDH thereby demonstrates a concern for Palestinian rights to movement, health etc, without considering the impact on the more basic right to life of Israelis.
On 9 July 2006, FIDH President Kaba wrote a letter to the UN Security Council condemning IDF actions in Gaza as “at the least war crimes, if not crimes against humanity.” The letter does condemn Palestinian rocket fire into Israel, but omits the context of the Hamas cross border raid that resulted in the killing of two Israeli soldiers, and the abduction of soldier, Gilad Shalit. In the same letter, Kaba demands that Israel hand over tax revenues, withheld from the Hamas-led Palestinian government. He does not call for Hamas to recognize Israel or renounce the use of violence and terrorism. These claims and omissions are repeated in a 27 July 2006 letter to European Union leaders. In all of these respects, FIDH's partisan positions strongly reflect the Palestinian official position and narrative.
FIDH’s Reporting on the Lebanon War, Summer 2006
On 1 August 2006, FIDH published a statement condemning Israel for its actions during the Lebanon War. The article acknowledges the "despicable game played by Syria and Iran" and the "indiscriminate attacks" on Israeli cities that "as the argument goes, …amount to war crimes," yet dismisses any justification for Israel’s military response:
"Nothing can justify the losses inflicted on the [Lebanese and Palestinian] civil populations, which are not collateral effects of legitimate actions of war but are instead a deliberate and willful punishment on the collective population, including murder. These are war crimes of exceptional gravity, knowingly organized by a democratic government."
FIDH makes no mention of Hezbollah’s use of human shields, and its response to the crisis is to "provid[e] the necessary support and assistance to Franco-Lebanese nationals to exercise their rights in France against those responsible for their suffering." There is no mention of aid to Israeli victims of human rights violations. Subsequent reports issued by FIDH on the Lebanon War reflect this unbalanced and politically biased approach to the conflict.
While FIDH claims to objectively report on human rights violations and universally defend its victims, its disproportionate focus on Israel compared with other Middle Eastern countries, and its selective application of principles when reporting on Israel exposes a very biased political agenda. FIDH reports gratuitously employ language such as “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” and repeatedly accuse Israel of deliberately targeting civilians. This NGO is dismissive of the context of terror when analyzing Israeli military or government actions, and despite its claims to defend all victims of human rights violations, FIDH rarely speaks out for Israeli victims of terror and war. There is overwhelming and clear evidence that FIDH's political agenda dominates its stated purpose of opposing abuses of universal human rights.
By Lauren Miller
1. In 2000, FIDH allocated 66% of its budget for programs and missions, 8% for communication and development, 4% for international representation, 5% for publications, 13% for operating costs, and 4% for investment. More recent information on FIDH's spending pattern was unavailable on the NGO's website or other sources.
2. Although no explanation is available on the FIDH website, it appears that "interventions" tend to be shorter than "reports" and are issued as responses to current events, while reports are the result of a longer project of research. Urgent Appeals are calls for letters on behalf of prisoners or individuals targeted by a government.