In October 2011, as the Libyan uprising neared its end with the death of Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi, Human Rights Watch (HRW)—a highly influential global organization claiming to promote universal moral principles—published a statement condemning Western governments for their “apparent eagerness to embrace Qaddafi because of his support on counterterrorism, as well as lucrative business opportunities” that, according to HRW, “tempered their criticism of his human rights record in recent years.”
What this statement conspicuously failed to note is that HRW had been an active participant in this eager embrace of the Qaddafi regime. Led by Executive Director Kenneth Roth and Sarah Leah Whitson, director of its Middle East and North Africa division, HRW has an overall dismal record with regard to “naming and shaming” Arab dictatorships. Over the years, it has devoted few resources to opposing the daily human rights violations that are characteristic of these regimes and has even built alliances with some. In 2009, for example, Whitson visited Saudi Arabia, where, instead of speaking out against attacks on women, minorities, and others, she sought funds to expand HRW’s role in the campaign to market the U.N.’s Goldstone report which falsely accused Israel of committing war crimes.
HRW is a financially flush but morally bankrupt organization. With an annual budget of approximately $50 million, it is a highly visible institution with direct access to the international media, diplomats, political leaders, and United Nations bodies. Yet its documented and quantifiable behavior with regard to the Middle East demonstrates a determined effort to avert its eyes from the worst human rights abuses while focusing on post-colonial ideologues’ favorite whipping boy, Israel—the only democracy in the region.