Human Rights Watch (HRW) is routinely described as one of the world’s most powerful non-governmental organisations (NGOs), but it is tainted by a biased political agenda and troubling questions about the ethics of its fundraising. The salience of these problems has only increased in the wake of a high-visibility campaign following the October 7th Hamas massacre, during which 1,200 Israelis were brutally murdered and 240 more were taken hostage.
In response to the October 7th atrocities, HRW officials rushed to condemn Israel’s military campaign with repeated accusations of war crimes, apartheid, collective punishment, and similar terms. For a senior employee, who had worked at HRW for 13 years, this response crossed a moral red line, and she circulated a bitter email, confirming the pervasive bias and lack of credibility that have previously been detailed by the organisation’s critics (including this author). In parallel, the publication of a leaked document appeared to show that HRW received $3.75 million from Qatar in 2018, a conflict of interest that casts further doubt on the organisation’s commitment to its stated mission.
These developments raise a number of important questions: How did this organisation, established to promote the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, become a world leader in political propaganda, apparently willing to accept donations from some of the world’s most oppressive and brutal regimes? How did an initial emphasis on detailed and verifiable research reports on global human-rights issues degenerate into narrow political advocacy tracts?