“Nazi Scandal Engulfs Human Rights Watch”

That’s the title of an excellent piece today in the Times of London. Despite the lurid title, the piece is actually a tough-but-fair overview of the various controversies surrounding HRW’s coverage of the Middle East.

A taste:

Some conflict zones get much more coverage than others. For instance, HRW has published five heavily publicised reports on Israel and the Palestinian territories since the January 2009 war.

In 20 years they have published only four reports on the conflict in Indian-controlled Kashmir, for example, even though the conflict has taken at least 80,000 lives in these two decades, and torture and extrajudicial murder have taken place on a vast scale. Perhaps even more tellingly, HRW has not published any report on the postelection violence and repression in Iran more than six months after the event.

When I asked the Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson if HRW was ever going to release one, she said: “We have a draft, but I’m not sure I want to put one out.” Asked the same question, executive director Kenneth Roth told me that the problem with doing a report on Iran was the difficulty of getting into the country.

I interviewed a human-rights expert at a competing organisation in Washington who did not wish to be named because “we operate in a very small world and it’s not done to criticise other human-rights organisations.” He told me he was “not surprised” that HRW has still not produced a report on the violence in Iran: “They are thinking about how it’s going to be used politically in Washington. And it’s not a priority for them because Iran is just not a bad guy that they are interested in highlighting. Their hearts are not in it. Let’s face it, the thing that really excites them is Israel.”

UPDATE: A commenter points out that the reporter’s information is not up-to-date. HRW did publish a report on post-election repression in Iran in February 2010, eight months after the election. As for Kashmir, HRW has only published one report in the last decade, but published more than three in the 1990s.

FURTHER UPDATE: Granted, the reporter was rather sloppy in tallying the Kashmir reports, and in not following up re Iran. But there’s really no doubt that HRW focuses disproportionately on Israel. Remember Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson’s speech on human rights in the Middle East last year, in which she spent almost as much time discussing Israel as the entire rest of the Middle East? In any event, I thought the newsworthy part of the quoted material was the opinion of the researcher from the competing organization, although it would have been even better with a non-anonymous source.

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