Who still takes Human Rights Watch seriously? Well, I know the Guardian does, because it was that paper, the flagship of the British left, that alerted me the other day to the fact that HRW had issued its annual report. A quick search showed that the report had also made headlines in other major media, such as Newsweek and ABC News.
The report, of course, is nominally about human rights around the world. But it’s been a long time since HRW, founded in 1988, was really about human rights. For a long time now, it’s been hiring staffers with radical political backgrounds who are quick to berate Western democracies, especially the U.S. and Israel, while turning a blind eye to brutal Third World regimes, especially Islamic ones. Exemplary of HRW’s perverse perspective was its years-long campaign of defamation against British gay-rights activist Peter Tatchell, who won its wrath by speaking up about the execution of gays in Iran.
The individual behind the slander of Tatchell was Scott Long, then director of HRW’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trangender rights program. Long didn’t just reprove Tatchell; to quote Tatchell, he “grossly misrepresented and denigrated my campaigns in defense of gay people persecuted by Iran and in opposition to Islamist fundamentalism.” In a breathtakingly unscrupulous 2009 essay, Long issued a series of flagrantly dishonest charges against Tatchell that Tatchell convincingly refuted, one by one, on his own website. Despite widespread criticism of Long for his savaging of a highly regarded gay-rights hero, HRW took five years to finally apologize to Tatchell and give Long the heave-ho.
In 2009, HRW suffered a major embarrassment. Robert L. Bernstein, its founder and longtime chairman, who had stepped down in 1998, wrote a New York Times op-ed reproving HRW for what it had turned into. HRW, he recalled, had been established “to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters.” Yes, he granted, “open, democratic societies have faults,” but they also have ways of fixing them. Closed societies don’t – which is why HRW’s founders “sought to draw a sharp line” between the two and “prevent the Soviet Union and its followers from playing a moral equivalence game with the West.” But in the eleven years since his departure from HRW, lamented Bernstein, HRW had increasingly ignored this crucial open/closed distinction.
A year after Bernstein’s op-ed came another devastating critique. In a wide-ranging piece for the Times of London, Jonathan Foreman quoted a human-rights expert who wasn’t surprised by HRW’s silence on violence in Iran (“Their hearts are not in it….Let’s face it, the thing that really excites them is Israel”); cited writer Noah Pollak’s observation that HRW “cares about Palestinians when maltreated by Israelis, but is less concerned if perpetrators are fellow Arabs”; and noted that “one newly hired researcher came to HRW from the extremist anti-Israel publication Electronic Intifada.”
Then there were HRW’s fundraising dinners “for members of the Saudi elite in Riyadh,” at which HRW official Sarah Leah Whitson “curried favour with her hosts by boasting about HRW’s ‘battles with pro-Israel pressure groups, such as NGO Monitor.‘” When Foreman asked HRW executive director Kenneth Roth about the Saudi dinners, Roth replied: “Because somebody is the victim of a repressive government, should they have no right to contribute to a human-rights organisation?” As Foreman pointed out, Roth’s answer was disingenuous in the extreme: rich Saudi elites are not “victims” of the Saudi government but intimate allies of it, while “most Saudi dissidents are either in prison or live abroad in exile.”
In 2010, the same year Foreman’s piece appeared, George Soros announced a $100 million gift to HRW – which makes it not unreasonable to view the organization as having been, since then, at least in part, a megaphone for Soros’s fiercely globalist, anti-Israel, and anti-American views.
As of 2013, nothing had changed at HRW: writing in the Spectator, Nick Cohen condemned its refusal to support secular Muslim women against their brutal male oppressors in London’s East End. Both Amnesty International and HRW, he wrote, “look with horror on those who speak out about murder, mutilation and oppression if the murderers, mutilators and oppressors do not fit into their script.” Cohen also noted that HRW’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, had “urged Western governments to support the Muslim Brotherhood governments in the Middle East.”
It’s 2018, and Roth is still in charge – and HRW is still plagued by the same problems. The other day, at the Paris press conference presenting this year’s annual report, Roth put on a display that brilliantly summed up the extent to which today’s HRW is driven not by concern for oppressed people and dissenters in closed societies but by hostility to political developments in democratic countries that offend its leftist ideology.
The theme of Roth’s presentation was populism – which, from the way he talked about it, you’d have thought was ideologically equivalent to Communism or Nazism. This time last year, said Roth, things looked bleak: Trump had won power “by scapegoating and demonizing minorities, by attacking human-rights principles, and by undermining democratic institutions.” Other “populists,” such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France, seemed to be on the verge of winning power.
During the last year, Roth asserted, Trump has done “enormous damage” and “great harm.” He’s overtly embraced “racism,” “misogyny,” and “xenophobia.” He’s “declared war on the United Nations.” (The report itself contended that Trump had “won the presidency with a campaign of hatred against Mexican immigrants, Muslim refugees, and other racial and ethnic minorities, and an evident disdain for women.”) Fortunately, the last year has also seen the rise of a powerful “resistance,” with Trump experiencing pushback from “judges, journalists, civic groups” and “the woman’s movement,” which have prevented a “Muslim travel ban” and kept Trump from “eviscerating Obamacare.”
Elsewhere, Roth maintained, developments aren’t so positive: politicians like Mark Rutte in the Netherlands and Sebastian Kurz in Austria have “decided to compete against the populists by mimicking them” – that is, by becoming “far-right lite” – but in doing so, they’ve only ended up “legitimizing the ideology of the authoritarian populists.” Emmanuel Macron, by contrast, has “vigorously defended democratic principles” and managed nonetheless to beat Marine Le Pen. For Roth, Macron’s election was “a turning point.” With a perhaps unsurprising excess of self-importance, Roth revealed that HRW was holding the press conference in Paris as a way of giving a thumbs-up to Macron.
Roth also had kind words for the EU. Speaking glowingly of the “values on which the European Union has been founded,” he eulogized the superstate for pressuring Poland’s prime minister to yield to its directives. In other words, Roth praised a group of non-elected leaders for pushing an elected leader to do their bidding – and defy his people’s wishes. Finally moving on from the U.S. and Europe, Roth addressed the tragedy of Venezuela – only instead of blaming it on Communism, he attributed it to Maduro’s “form of authoritarian populism,” thereby equating Maduro with Trump. Roth also eventually got around to mentioning nightmarish events in other actual hellholes around the planet, but it all felt pro forma compared to his opening salvo on Western “populism.”
If there were any doubt, in short, Roth dispelled it: HRW remains a tool of Soros and the rest of the globalist elite. It pretends to defend human rights and democracy while demonizing citizens of free countries for daring to stand up to policies that they didn’t choose and that do them grave harm. In the eyes of HRW, the Democratic Party platform is equivalent to “human rights” while everything Trump stands for is a human-rights violation. For HRW, human rights means open borders and blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants; any citizen who doesn’t want his or her country to pursue these policies is by definition a populist, a supporter of authoritarianism, and an enemy of human rights.
HRW’s annual report actually refers to Angela Merkel’s “courageous 2015 decision to admit large numbers of asylum seekers to Germany” (a decision it characterizes as a “defen[se of] democratic values”) and identifies “the rights of refugees and immigrants” as “the most contentious issue on the continent today.” What about the security of native Europeans? What about terrorism, migrant rape, the depletion of welfare systems by illegal aliens, and rampant Jew-bashing by Muslim youths? What about the fact that the policies pursued by Macron and approved of by HRW have caused the sidewalks of Paris to be crowded with refugee tent villages, the streets to be blocked, at certain times of the day, by seas of prayer rugs, and the Jews of France to flee, in growing numbers, to Israel, America, and elsewhere?
No, to care about such things is to be an enemy of human rights. No longer even remotely resembling the organization Robert L. Bernstein founded thirty years ago, HRW has become a thoroughly Orwellian outfit, using the word “authoritarian” to describe elections in which voters take back their power from arrogant political establishments and using the word “democracy” to describe rule by out-of-touch elites who disdain the electorate, who prioritize illegal immigrants over citizens, and whose response to Islamic terrorism is to worry not about the victims but about “anti-Muslim backlash.” For the powers that be at HRW, in short, the term “human rights” has nothing to do with human rights – it’s nothing more or less than a club they can use to beat their ideological enemies.