Palestinian Activists at Human Rights Watch

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Executive Summary

In theory, the officials, researchers, and analysts working in the area of human rights are committed to unbiased, politically neutral reporting. Their credibility as watchdogs is based on a non-discriminatory approach, as specified under criteria in United Nations documents and published by the International Bar Association and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute.

In practice, these words often stand in sharp contrast to the activities and biased agendas of these institutions. Professor Michael Ignatieff notes that many NGOs “espouse the universalist language of human rights but actually use it to defend highly particularist causes: the rights of particular national groups or minorities or classes of persons.” As an example, Ignatieff notes that “[P]ersons who care about human rights violations committed against Palestinians may not care so much about human rights violations committed by Palestinians against Israelis, and vice versa.” (See also Gerald M. Steinberg, Anne Herzberg, Jordan Berman, Best Practices for Human Rights and Humanitarian NGO Fact-Finding, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2012.)

This bias is characteristic of many major non-governmental organizations (NGOs) claiming human rights agendas. A prime example is Human Rights Watch, which exhibits a fundamental and consistent bias against Israel. Its bias is reflected in the disproportionate output and content of its reports, press releases, and other products. In addition, as this report demonstrates in detail, the organization has employed a number of Palestinian activists without so much as a pretense of human rights experience anchored in universality.

Following the presentation of the evidence regarding the systematic employment of biased and unqualified officials and researchers, we will consider the policy implications of this situation. The evidence of HRW’s bias has been largely ignored by many international actors whose agendas include human rights issues. In some cases, this bias is shared, such as by the UN Human Rights Council and the ICC. In addition, the Israeli government has been ambivalent in its policies regarding the organization and its employees, at times providing HRW with additional opportunities to promote its agenda.

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