March 24 2005

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch
New York, NY

Dear Mr. Roth,

NGO Monitor welcomes the elements in HRW’s statement on "Concerns for the 61st Session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights" (March 2005) that point to a change in your long-standing political agenda. In particular, we support the call on the UNCHR to halt the neglect of "abuses by Palestinian armed groups" (i.e., terrorists), to actively condemn "deliberate and indiscriminant [sic] attacks on civilians" and to demand that the Palestinian Authority "undertake all efforts consistent with international human rights standards to curb these attacks". This important message reflects the recognition of the universality of human rights norms. Following many years in which HRW and the NGO network actively abetted the UNCHR’s political abuse of the rhetoric human rights, including the 2001 Durban conference, the consistent implementation of this approach can make a significant contribution to repairing the damage.

However, your statement is in itself highly inconsistent, and also promotes the very abuses that you now condemn at the UNCHR. A skeptical observer of HRW’s behavior might see this statement as a singular exception, designed to respond minimally to criticism of a consistent and excessive series of attacks on Israeli policy. In the past, HRW’s belated and low-visibility attempts to deny responsibility for involvement in the UN Durban conference and its one-time condemnation of suicide bombing in November 2002 (while whitewashing Arafat’s role) marked brief pauses in the continuing anti-Israel political campaign. And your recent employment of Lucy Mair, whose background in demonizing Israel is even more blatant than in the case of Joe Stork and Sarah Leah Whitson, reinforces the skeptical responses.

Furthermore, in this statement of concern, you repeat the contentious language used to describe Israeli policy, such as the "dire humanitarian impact of the wall and other forms of closure that amount to collective punishment". HRW’s selective claims regarding Israeli violations of international law are very similar to those found in the "advisory opinion" of the ICJ — which made a mockery of such norms. This is also true of the repetition of claims in HRW’s 135 page "Razing Rafah" report, which is based largely on "Palestinian eyewitnesses" and other sources that have no credibility.

In summary, we note your recognition of the damage caused by the ideological exploitation of human rights norms. However, preaching to others while HRW continues such practices is insufficient, and highlights the need for an independent review of political activities, particularly with respect to Israel.

Gerald M. Steinberg
Editor, NGO Monitor