December 10, 2006, is International Human Rights Day. Amnesty International head, Irene Khan, symbolizes the disproportionate focus that many NGOs place on Israel by marking the Day with a visit to the security "fence/wall" during her current trip to the Middle East. In contrast, NGO Monitor will reflect on the continued exploitation of human rights norms through such biased political activities. This report references the events and themes found in NGO reporting on the Israeli-Arab conflict during 2006 that contributed to this abuse of human rights.
December 10, 2006 is International Human Rights Day, marking the anniversary of the signing of the UN General Assembly’s Declaration of Human Rights. Yet many NGOs, the supposed agents of the Declaration’s universalist principles, continue to ignore their mandates to pursue highly biased and political agendas. They focus disproportionately on Israel, neglecting many conflict zones where extreme violations of human rights are ongoing such as the Congo (4 million dead since 1998) or Darfur (400,000 killed in the past 3 years). Amnesty International head, Irene Khan, exemplifies this trend with her decision to mark the Day with a visit to the "fence /wall" during her current trip to the Middle East.
In contrast, NGO Monitor will observe International Human Rights Day by emphasizing the continued distortion of human rights norms by NGOs in pursuit of biased political agendas. Below are references to some of the events and themes found in NGO reporting on the Israeli-Arab conflict throughout 2006:
NGOs were particularly active during Summer and Fall 2006, issuing numerous statements and influencing media and diplomatic perceptions of the Gaza Beach Incident, the Lebanon War, and the November events in Gaza. As in the past, NGOs issued immediate condemnations of Israel, based on unreliable eye witnesses. They did not distinguish between the deliberate terrorist tactic of aiming at Israeli civilians, and Israel’s defensive responsive against such attacks; and they largely ignored the use of human shields by Palestinian terror groups and Hezbollah. The vast majority of NGOs issued no statements calling for the protection of the rights of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers.
NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International actively promoted the new UN Human Rights Council until its formation in June. Throughout the “reform process,” NGOs chastised the US and Israel for warning that the new UNHRC would be no better than its discredited predecessor. They adopted a more critical approach, only after it became clear that the Commission’s singular focus on Israel had simply been passed on to the new Council.
Sabeel, War on Want and other pro-Palestinian NGOs continued to promote the Durban strategy of international isolation of Israel by spearheading boycott, sanction, and divestment campaigns. Despite the June defeat by the Presbyterian Church General Assembly of a 2004 anti-Israel resolution promoted by Sabeel, this NGO continued to use its links to Christian Aid to campaign for divestment in the Anglican Church.
Government funding of problematic NGOs, for example by the EU and the British DFID, also continued throughout 2006. Although some members of the EU and UK Parliament are beginning to focus closer attention on the efficacy of NGO funding and “how rigorous” NGOs are “in trying to ensure that the people [they] are working with . . . have a positive, civic objective."
However the media, governments and UN agencies continue to rely on NGO claims in their reporting and policy statements. Repetition of unverified NGO claims in the 2005 State Department Report (published Feb 2006) is just one example of this practice.
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In 2007, NGO Monitor will continue to promote accountability for NGOs and transparency in their funding; and to encourage these moral guardians to genuinely embrace the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and apply them equally to all peoples and conflict zones.
1. Human Rights Watch’s report, "OPT: Civilians Must Not Be Used to Shield Homes Against Military Attacks" is a notable exception, although HRW also initially denied Hezbollah’s use of human shields in Lebanon until the volume of evidence became undisputable.