JERUSALEM – In response to Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch writing about reforms needed in Libya (“In Libya, Building the Rule of Law,” The New York Times, Dec. 29), NGO Monitor today released the following statement:
Human Rights Watch’s Sarah Leah Whitson has no moral authority or credibility on Libya or the rest of the Middle East. In fact, in 2009, Whitson visited Libya, claiming to have discovered a “Tripoli Spring” and ignoring the human rights atrocities of Gaddafi’s regime. She praised Muammar Gaddafi’s son Seif Islam as a leading reformer, saying that he created an “expanded space for discussion and debate,” and that he was “the real impetus for transformation” via his Gaddafi Foundation and two semi-private papers.
Her embrace continued after a second visit later that year, when she referred to Gaddafi’s heir-apparent as one of the “forces of reform,” comparing his foundation to HRW (“Postcard from . . . Tripoli,” Foreign Policy in Focus, February, 11, 2010). Although HRW officials were placed under constant surveillance, and its press conference was cut short by government agents and ended in “pandemonium,” Whitson still spun her trip in a positive light.
She dangerously advanced a fiction of impending reform, when, in reality, Libya remained a closed totalitarian regime that kept its population under tight control. This had tragic results – Fathi Eljahmi, Libya’s most prominent dissident, was imprisoned in 2004, tortured, held in solitary confinement, and who died as a result in 2009. His brother condemned HRW for hesitating “to advocate publicly for Fathi’s case” for fear they would “antagoniz[e] Gaddafi.”
Whitson has embraced other closed and brutal regimes. For years, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, headed by Whitson, gave very little attention to the daily human rights violations of the Assad dictatorship in Syria, and in Whitson’s fundraising trip to Saudi Arabia, she used HRW’s campaign on bringing “Israeli abuses to the US Congress” to solicit funds from “prominent members of Saudi society.”
After failing to promote human rights during the long Arab Winter, Whitson and HRW are entirely unqualified to provide advice to those seeking to reverse the damage in what was once referred to as the Arab Spring.