The following is the response of Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch to Anne Bayefsky’s opinion piece as well as NGO Monitor’s exchange with HRW.
Human Rights Watch – Setting the Record Straight
To the Editor,
Once again, Anne Bayefsky distorts Human Rights Watch’s principled positions and actions at the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism. In Durban, and its year-long run-up, we campaigned to ensure that the WCAR would be about more than the Middle East. We insisted, as did most participants, that the WCAR be about refugees and immigrants, health, racism in the application of the death penalty, the interaction of racism and sexism, repairing the legacy of slavery and colonialism, and the rights of indigenous peoples. A great achievement of the WCAR process was the unprecedented mobilization of victims of racism from communities around the world, such as the so-called untouchables of South Asia, the Roma of Europe, and blacks in Latin America.
With over 3,000 victims groups present in the pre-WCAR forum of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had limited ability to moderate the language of chapters for the NGO declaration. Each chapter was drafted by the affected community,including not only Palestinians but also such groups as Tibetans, Kurds,and Dalits. Many of these chapters were factually supported, powerful ocuments, but others were not. Our refusal to participate in the voting on the statement and its chapters, and our failed attempt to cast the document as a collection of the "voices of the victims" rather than as a text endorsed by all, was intended precisely to avoid giving a stamp of approval to all the parts of the document.
Bayefsky, however, claims that we “said nothing” as the final NGO statement was put together on September 2, 2001, and lent legitimacy to its inflammatory statements about Israel. In fact, as the Post (and virtually every other newspaper in the world) reported on September 3, “The New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned the resolution.”
The Post quoted me as saying, “Israel has committed serious crimes against the Palestinian people, but it is simply not accurate to use the word genocide and wrong to equate Zionism with racism.” Prior to the declaration’s adoption, I personally spent hours trying to persuade Arab and Palestinian colleagues to amend this and other language. Three days later, in our daily newspaper column which Bayefsky ominously cites as the beginning of a “cover-up,” Joel Motley of Human Rights Watch and I again said exactly the same thing, acknowledging that Israel is responsible for discrimination and other abuses against Palestinians but contesting the use of the term “genocide” and the revival of the phrase “Zionism is racism.”
Yes, as Ken Roth said, "Israeli racist practices are an appropriate topic." So are Sudanese racist practices, and Syrian racist practices and American racist practices. A look at our web-site (www.hrw.org) will reveal that we have taken them all on.
Reed Brody Human Rights Watch
Thank you for sending the Human Rights Watch response to Anne Bayefsky’s commentary piece in the Jerusalem Post. We await her reaction to HRW’s defence of its actions at the Durban Conference.
At the same time, Reed Brody’s defence does not answer Bayefsky’s charges regarding HRW’s behaviour, most seriously regarding its active role in preventing the participation of members of the Jewish caucus. Sadly, throughout history, racism and human rights abuses have proliferated when those with the power to affect an outcome have stood back silently and watched. Brody fails to answer the charge that not only did he take an active role in obstructing the Jewish caucus, but also that he then stood by silently as the Durban NGO declaration was passed.
Brody readily admits in his response that HRW representatives sought to distance themselves from the declaration only after it was completed and fails to address the evidence that HRW then misrepresented the outcome to the world press.
HRW’s ideological framework is also reflected in Brody’s response, particularly by grouping alleged Israeli and American ‘racist practices’with states such as Syria and Sudan, two regimes that carry out discrimination and human rights abuses as a matter of official policy and should in no way be treated as comparable to democratic nations. Such comparisons embody shameful cheapening of the entire concept of human rights.
The bottom line is that Human Rights Watch was indeed an active participant in the Durban Conference, as witnessed by Anne Bayefsky and many other representatives from a variety of NGOs. Therefore, it should take its share of responsibility for the tragic and disgraceful outcome that unleashed such an outpouring of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish invective seen at Durban.
Simon Plosker Mangaging Editor, NGO Monitor