James F. Hoge, Jr.
Chair of the Board
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
50 Fifth Avenue, 34th floor
New York, NY 10118-3299
October 12, 2010
Re: Restoring Human Rights Watch’s Moral Leadership
Dear Mr. Hoge,
On entering the position of chair of the board of Human Rights Watch (HRW), we note the challenges you face in restoring HRW’s moral integrity in promoting universal human rights. These challenges were clearly stated by founder Robert Bernstein in his New York Times article, in which he condemned the organization for abandoning its moral foundations and helping to turn Israel into “a pariah state.”
In the past decade, NGO Monitor has analyzed HRW’s Middle East agenda in detail, revealing the disproportionate focus on Israel, double standards, and false allegations, in the organization’s research. The blatant ideological bias of HRW’s Middle East staff is of major significance in this area, as also demonstrated in media reports.
HRW’s immoral exploitation of human rights values was underscored in May 2009, when Middle East and North Africa (MENA) division head Sarah Leah Whitson led a fundraising visit to Saudi Arabia. Instead of promoting real human rights values, Whitson pressed the odious message that HRW’s role is central in countering “pro-Israel pressure groups.” Whitson also emphasized HRW’s anti-Israel activities regarding the Gaza war, which provided the foundation for the Goldstone report, as the basis for donations from Saudi funders. Later that year, HRW’s “senior military analyst” Marc Garlasco was dismissed after it was revealed that he was a collector of Nazi memorabilia. Garlasco, whose military expertise has been widely questioned, was forced to sign a gag order by HRW as part of his severance package.
The failures of the MENA division are also reflected in the disproportionate resources devoted to criticizing Israel at the expense of chronic human rights abuses in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and other countries, which receive minimal, pro forma attention from HRW. Additionally, the support voiced by HRW officials for boycotts and lawfare cases against Israel further demean and politicize human rights norms.
As Robert Bernstein wrote, HRW needs to act quickly and firmly to restore its moral compass and claim to promote universal human rights values. We urge you to make the necessary changes in order to meet these objectives.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg
President, NGO Monitor