NGO Monitor Calls on HRW Board to Restore Moral Compass

Today, Jerusalem-based research institute NGO Monitor released a report documenting Human Rights Watch’s egregious moral failures in 2012, specifically in the Middle East.  Coinciding with the release of HRW’s annual report in London tomorrow, NGO Monitor’s report demonstrates that little has changed compared to previous years, and that disproportionate attention to Israel and neglect of state-sponsored violence against civilians in Arab countries has damaged HRW’s reputation and left it unprepared to respond adequately to the violent uprisings, which continued into 2012.

“Our close analysis reveals that HRW often lacks credibility and demonstrates blatant bias, while remaining devoid of professional standards and continuing to lack expertise on international law and armed conflict,” stated Prof. Gerald Steinberg, President of NGO Monitor.  “How can HRW be a credible source when they continue to disregard genocidal rhetoric from Iran, and the worst systematic abuses in closed Middle East societies? Since 2008 HRW has failed to issue any major reports on Algeria, a country which continues to repress its women, silence journalists, and has recently been the scene of mass terror attacks. Once again, we see the deep-seated bias against democracies in general, and against Israel, in particular, as Israel still received more coverage than Egypt, Iran, Tunisia, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen in 2012. In addition, Executive Director Kenneth Roth’s obsessive hostility towards Israel continued. In other words, criticizing Israel remains a higher priority for HRW than repression and violence throughout the region, and signs of another autocratic regime in Egypt.”

NGO Monitor’s report documents the degree to which HRW’s priorities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region were based on factors such as ideological preference and media attention.  Rights violations and armed conflicts that are out of the media focus continue to be low on the agenda, which also reflects the personal politics of MENA director Sarah Leah Whitson and deputy director Joe Stork. Whitson remains MENA director, despite having endorsed the Qaddafi regime as human rights reformers – tainting all HRW statements on Libya – and having led HRW’s fund-raising trip to Saudi Arabia.

In November, HRW’s lack of a credible methodology and bias were further evidenced in statements on renewed conflict in Gaza. (Prior to the Israeli action, while hundreds of rocket attacks were being launched targeting Israeli civilians – each one a war crime- HRW remained conspicuously silent.) Disproportionate condemnations of Israeli actions erased vital contextual information, and HRW published distorted factual and legal analysis. One month later, in attempting to present a façade of balance and credibility, HRW also condemned “Palestinian armed groups in Gaza” for violating “the laws of war during the November 2012 fighting by launching hundreds of rockets toward population centers in Israel.” This document contained no research, added no information to the conventional wisdom, and was not the subject of an ongoing HRW public relations effort.

On this basis, Steinberg concluded: “I call on the chair of HRW’s Board, James F. Hoge, Jr, and the other directors, to exercise their oversight responsibility, and make the long-overdue personnel changes at the top, as well as in the Middle East and North Africa division. The only way to restore HRW’s moral compass and impact is to replace the ideologues with professionals possessing the required methodological expertise for fact-finding and analysis of international law, particularly in complex areas of armed conflict and responding to mass terror.”

Click here to view NGO Monitor’s detailed report on HRW