A session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva March 17, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse.

Political bias cripples human rights advocacy

By Michael Rubin

About two weeks ago, I criticized cherry picking in Human Rights Watch (HRW) advocacy with regard to Nasser bin Ghaith, an Emirati academic arrested on a number of charges and imprisoned for the last eight months. The organization subsequently corrected its English press release by noting elements in the UAE charges that went beyond issues of free speech.

If the problem ended there, it would be great but the reaction of some human rights activists in the aftermath (Amnesty International and others) perfectly illustrates how so many human rights groups mix advocacy with personal politics.

The inability to separate political agendas from human rights advocacy and, in some cases, the willingness to use human rights advocacy as a means to advance an agenda that goes far beyond the protection of freedom of conscience, has become an increasing problem that erodes the moral authority of so many groups.

On a national level, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the successor to the UN Human Rights Commission, has become a self-parody, serving less to advance human rights than to launder states who are among the worst offenders. It has focused singularly on Israel and, while human rights violations happen there, both Israelis and Palestinians are better protected than many in, for example, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, Venezuela, and Cuba — members of the Council.

But it’s not just the UN, or infamous pro-Communist groups like the American Friends Service Committee. Bias and sloppiness have led groups like HRW and Amnesty International to be too credulous with information provided to them by others with a less noble agenda. I have long criticized HRW and Amnesty International for accepting at face value the work of Al-Karama, a self-described human rights organization founded by a man subsequently designated by the US Treasury Department as a terror financier. Indeed, Nicholas McGeehan, a researcher at HRW, emailed after my first post to object to the idea that HRW incorporates research from organizations like Al Karama. Yet here’s a HRW report that does exactly that. Simply put, it should astound that a group like Al Karama managed to get its reporting taken at face value by HRW and Amnesty International.

After I wrote my blog post in May raising questions about some HRW work in the United Arab Emirates, Amnesty International’s Mansoureh Mills suggested to journalists that “Rubin had been paid by the UAE to write the piece on Ghaith.” This is false and it is libel. Yet, official twitter accounts for Amnesty International both “liked” and retweeted such accusations, or an equally baseless accusation that a public relations firm had briefed me on Ghaith. Mills and her colleagues may disagree with my analysis, but they should draw the line at outright fabulism.

But forget Michael Rubin. Human rights work is a vital cause, and should not be in the service of politics. The fact that it so clearly is only harms those who need this advocacy most. Shame on HRW and Amnesty.


The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) educational organization and does not take institutional positions on any issues. The views expressed here are those of the author.

Found at: https://www.aei.org/publication/political-bias-cripples-human-rights-advocacy/