Human Rights Watch - Recent Controversies

Recent Controversies

Robert L. Bernstein, a founder and former chairman of HRW, argued in October 2009 that "Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective" on events in the Middle East. Bernstein argued that "he region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region." Tom Porteus, director of the London branch of Human Rights Watch, replied that the organization rejected Bernstein's "obvious double standard. Any credible human rights organisation must apply the same human rights standards to all countries."

Strong criticism against Human Rights Watch was caused by the Organization's declarations in favour of CIA illegal actions of Extraordinary rendition towards suspected terrorists.

Human Rights Watch made headlines in September 2009 when its Middle East military analyst, Marc Garlasco who led investigations into Israeli wars in Lebanon and Gaza, was found posing on the internet dressed in a sweat shirt with a German Iron Cross. After pressure from the media HRW suspended Marc with pay pending an investigation. Several media reports highlighted his interest in World War II artifacts and accused him of collecting Nazi memorabilia. Garlasco has said that the allegations of Nazi sympathies were "defamatory nonsense, spread maliciously by people with an interest in trying to undermine Human Rights Watch's reporting." HRW has said the charges leveled against Garlasco are "demonstrably false" and fit "into a campaign to deflect attention from Human Rights Watch's rigorous and detailed reporting on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Israeli government".

In February 2011, HRW appointed Shawan Jabarin to their Mideast Advisory Board. Jabarin is a very controversial figure, labeled "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by the Israeli Supreme Court, for his dual roles in both the terrorist organization PFLP, and the human rights organization, Al Haq. HRW’s decision to include Jabarin on its Mideast Board sparked criticism from Robert L. Bernstein, a founder of HRW, Stuart Robinowitz, a prominent New York attorney who has undertaken human-rights missions for the American Bar Association and Helsinki Watch (the predecessor to HRW) in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and El Salvador, and Prof. Gerald Steinberg, the president of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor.

In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, February 24, 2011, after the 2011 Libyan civil war intensified, Sarah Leah Whitson, head of the Middle East and North Africa division of HRW, acknowledged the absence of human rights reforms in Libya and said “With no progress on any institutional or legal reforms. For sure, most Libyans we spoke with never had much faith that would learn new tricks, or that the announced reforms were anything more than an endless loop of promises made and broken.” Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in the Atlantic Monthly, took Whitson to task for her having had "something of a soft spot" for Gaddafi and his son.

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