Human Rights Watch and its rights-watching peers have heard it all. They’re quasi-terrorists with an anti-U.S. ax to grind or perhaps stealth fighters for global capitalists. They’ve been accused of being anti-Semitic, anti-Asian, and anti-African at one time or another. Since the human rights movement began in the early 1970s, the criticism has grown as fast as the stacks of reports, op-eds, and analysis that the organizations’ analysts produce.
Six years ago, we decided it was time to systematically examine the accusations flying from all directions. After subjecting human rights organizations’ work to a barrage of statistical tests, we found that everyone was right. Yes, the watchdogs have biases. But they might make those groups more effective at pushing the human rights cause. Whichever side of the fence you fall on, there’s no denying it: There’s a politics to human rights.
It was bound to happen. Despite the drive for neutrality that watchdogs strive for, they were playing in a political minefield. Just take reporting on Israel, which has been the source of consistent controversy from both sides. The debate turned especially nasty two weeks ago when one of Human Rights Watch’s own — Bob Bernstein, chair of the group’s board from 1978 to 1998 — lambasted his protégé in a New York Times op-ed for dwelling excessively on Israeli abuses. “Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict,” he claimed. [continued…]