Ignoring US abuse and violations: Human Rights Watch's hypocrisy
Today sees the publication of a new report by a coalition of human
rights NGOs, as publicised by Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken
Roth on Twitter.
The release opens by saying that 'The international community should
ensure that States responsible for gross human rights violations and
that fail to protect human rights defenders or cooperate with the UN are
not elected to the UN's top human rights body'.
It goes on to say that 'Failure by Council members to take effective
measures to address violations of human rights for which they are
responsible, particularly of a gross or systematic nature, or to fully
cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms undermines the ability of
the Council to promote and protect human rights ', and then specifically
references states like 'Russia, China and Saudi Arabia' as examples.
But couldn't these things - gross human rights violations, failure to
protect human rights defenders, and failure to address systematic human
rights abuses - all apply to the United States of America?
1. Gross Human Rights Violations
Is not the continuing and long term detention of 46 people without
charge or trial in Guantanamo Bay, including their force feeding, a
'gross human rights violation'? Amnesty International certainly think
so, saying last month that the camp has become 'emblematic of the gross
human rights abuses perpetrated by the U.S. Government'.
The Obama administration, incidentally, has tried to codify
indefinite detention without charge or trial into U.S. law.
2. Failure to protect human rights defenders
It is beyond any reasonable doubt that Chelsea Manning, the U.S. Army
Private who provided the now infamous trove of U.S. diplomatic cables
and combat videos to Wikileaks, did so because she was deeply concerned
about what those cables and videos demonstrated about the nature of the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Among other things, they exposed the (at best) indiscriminate killing
of civilians, and the complicity with torture carried out by the Iraqi
security forces. It is fair to say, then, that Manning was motivated by
a desire to defend human rights by exposing her own governments human
rights abuses. Have the U.S. subsequently defended her?
Emphatically, no. What they did instead is subject her to months of
cruel and unusual punishment and then jail her for 35 years.
3. Failure to take effective measures to address violations of human
rights It is, once again, beyond any reasonable doubt that the Bush
administration systematically tortured as a matter of policy. The memos
exposing these policies are in the public domain, and Bush has proudly
admitted to it. The response of the Obama administration has been to
grant the perpatrators retrospective immunity from prosecution in itself
So a review of the publically available evidence, from mainstream
sources - evidence which HRW itself is aware of and has publicised on
occasions - demonstrates that in recent years the U.S. has indeed been
guilty of these things the report condemns: gross human rights
violations, failure to protect human rights defenders, and failure
address to systematic human rights abuses.
You would think, then, that the U.S. would be a prime candidate to be
kept off the U.N. Human Rights Council, given that they meet the
criteria. Human Rights Watch, though, apparently beg to differ.
In October 2011, for example - long after Manning had been arrested,
the long term detention without trial had been exposed, and the impunity
for torturers cemented - Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human
Rights Watch, was arguing to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission that
'Human Rights Watch welcomed the decision by the United States to seek a
seat on the UN Human Rights Council'.
She goes on to say that 'we were optimistic that US engagement would
have a positive impact at the Human Rights Council', and then argues
that 'the US has shown that its involvement at the HRC can be a
game-changer, and we have empirical evidence that US work at the Council
is making a difference for human rights victims and defenders across the
That is, not only were they refraining from calling for the U.S. to
be prevented from joining the Human Rights Council, they were actively
praising and defending the U.S. decision to do so.
This pro-U.S. Membership position does seem like a clear
contradiction of Human Rights Watch's current stance that they would
like states responsible for human rights violations, failure to protect
human rights defenders, and failure to hold people to account for human
rights abuses kept off the Human Rights Council.
It might be worth keeping an eye out to see if that position changes,
and they do indeed start to campaign for the U.S. to be kept off the
council, given their gruesome and continuing track record.
That's probably just another example of the way in which Human Rights
Watch (and other mainstream human rights NGOs) tends to go much easier
on the crimes of Official Bad Guys like 'Russia, China' than they do on
the crimes of Official Good Guys like the US.