Archive | Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch’s Homepage Features…

So President Assad has apparently attacked civilians with chemical weapons, killing hundreds and injuring more. The Egyptian government has slaughtered hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, who in turn have been engaging in pogroms against Egyptian Christians. Just for the heck of it, I decided to see which of these stories Human Rights Watch featured most prominently on the front page of its website.

You guessed it!

Neither*. (For those reading this once the home page is changed, here is the story that Human Rights Watch apparently thinks is the single most important human rights issue in the Middle East today.)

*Note, by the way, that it takes HRW until paragraph 5 to note that Israel claims that the homes in question were built in violation zoning rules, and, if you read carefully, you note that HRW, despite the talk of “war crimes,” doesn’t actually dispute that claim, but rather suggests that Israel unfairly restricts Palestinian building. But claims of discrimination-without-adequate-basis against the Palestinian population in granting permits for new buildings in disputed territory, while certainly not outside the purview of a human rights organization, hardly amounts to the “individual or mass forcible transfers” that HRW tries to allege.

UPDATE: A reader points out that the Israel story is likely featured because it’s the most recent press release (though, as another reader points out, not all press releases are deemed important enough to be featured in the “picture box”). Fair enough. But there are two ways of keeping attention on an issue. One is to publish a lot about that issue, the other is to delay extraneous reports on other issues. On number 1, HRW has four releases about the Syrian government this month; by contrast, for example, I count at least fifteen in January 2009 about Israel, during [...]

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HRW’s Kenneth Roth Fails Reading Comprehension

Via NY Times “The Lede” Blog: In November 2012, Amnesty International tweeted, “Feel enraged by the violence in #Gaza & #Israel? Demand that @netanyahu & @AlqassamBrigade stop attacks on civilians.”

Egyptian activist Mona Seif responded in a tweet, “@amnesty you don’t ask an occupied nation to stop their ‘Resistance’ to end violence!!! SHAME ON YOU!”

Human Rights Director Kenneth Roth, responding to a controversy over the fact that Seif is a finalist for a human rights award for which he is one of the judges, told the N.Y. Times’s “The Lede” blog that “I haven’t seen anything indicating that by ‘resistance’ Mona means attacking civilians.”

Sigh. Now, Seif claims, rather implausibly, that her tweet apparently referring to attacks on Israeli civilians as “Resistance,” coupled with her longstanding public support for Palestinian resistance, did not actually reflect support for attacks on Israeli civilians. But even if you are credulous enough to believe her, you would still have to admit that the tweet itself is “something” that “indicates” “that by resistances Mona means attacking civilians,” and can’t simply be ignored as if the charge against Seif is a figment of the Zionist imagination. If Roth had said, “Mona used intemperate language, but she has now made it clear that she opposes attacks on civilians [she hasn't; instead, in a very lawyerly statement, she said that "I have never called for nor celebrated attacks on civilians," which is hardly the same as opposing such attacks] then I wouldn’t give Roth a hard time. Of if Roth had acknowledged that Seif supports attacks on Israeli civilians, but claimed that her true importance is her work on human rights in Egypt, then at least we’d have an honest, debatable position. Instead, we have Roth’s unwillingness to acknowledge the obvious, which is unfortunately of a [...]

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The Debate About to Heat Up Over HRW’s Call to Ban “Killer Robots,” AKA Autonomous Weapon Systems

(And: thanks to Instapundit for linking to the new policy essay by Matthew Waxman and me from the Hoover Institution, referenced at the end of this post, Law and Ethics for Autonomous Weapon Systems – thanks Glenn!)

Last November, two documents appeared within a few days of each other, each addressing the emerging legal and policy issues of autonomous weapon systems – and taking strongly incompatible, indeed opposite, approaches.  One was from Human Rights Watch, whose report, Losing Our Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots, made a sweeping, preemptive, provocative call for an international treaty ban on the use, production, and development of what it defined as “fully autonomous weapons” and dubbed “Killer Robots.”  Human Rights Watch has followed that up with a public campaign for signatures on a petition supporting a ban, as well as a number of publicity initiatives that (I think I can say pretty neutrally) seem as much drawn from sci-fi and pop culture as anything.  It plans to launch this global campaign at an event at the House of Commons in London later in April.

The other was the Department of Defense Directive, “Autonomy in Weapon Systems” (3000.09, November 21, 2012).  The Directive establishes DOD policy and “assigns responsibilities for the development and use of autonomous and semi-autonomous functions in weapon systems … [and] establishes guidelines designed to minimize the probability and consequences of failures in autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems.”

By contrast to the sweeping, preemptive treaty ban approach embraced by HRW, the DOD Directive calls for a review and regulatory process – in part an administrative expansion of the existing legal weapons review process within DOD, but reaching back to the very beginning of the research and development process.  In part it aims to ensure that whatever level of autonomy a weapon [...]

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Human Rights Watch Can’t Wait to Accuse Israel

Human Rights Watch has just released a report on Israel’s recent “Pillar of Defense” operation to suppress rocket fire from Gaza. The report concludes that 18 airstrikes violated international law by not being properly targeted. I do not know if 18 is a little or a lot for an operation of this scale, as there an no good comparative data (though the report is released as Afghanistan says yet another NATO airstrike hit a house with innocent women and children inside.)

The report, by its description of its methods, appears to be a hit piece. Here is what the report said about the group’s investigative method (emphasis added):

Human Rights Watch sent detailed information about the cases to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on January 14, 2013, requesting further information. At a meeting on January 24 and in subsequent phone conversations, the military spokesperson’s office told Human Rights Watch that the military chief of staff had ordered a general (aluf) to conduct an “operational debriefing” (tahkir mivtza’i) concerning “dozens” of Israeli attacks during the conflict, including the cases Human Rights Watch investigated, which would be completed by late February.

Because previous Israeli “operational debriefings” involving attacks were not conducted by trained military police investigators or dedicated to investigating alleged laws-of-war violations, Human Rights Watch has decided to publish its findings rather than wait for their results.

In other words, HRW received high-level and consistent cooperation. A meeting between HRW and the IDF took place on Jan 24 (just 10 days after HRW asked for further information), and were told that the IDF would have a more detailed response by late February after its own investigations were over. One month is not a long time to wait, certainly not covering an incident that occurred months ago.

It is completely [...]

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Human Rights Watch and “Prisoner X”

Media in Australia and Israel are abuzz with news about a detainee in an Israeli prison, a dual Australian and Israeli citizen named Ben Zygier working for the Mossad who committed suicide in late 2010 after being held in solitary confinement for unknown security offenses.  I don’t have anything to add to the basics of the story, but I was struck when I saw the following in the original report from Australia’s ABC service:

Bill van Esveld, a Jerusalem-based advocate for Human Rights Watch, has described the secret imprisonment of Prisoner X as “inexcusable”. “It’s called a disappearance, and a disappearance is not only a violation of that person’s due process rights – that’s a crime,” he told Foreign Correspondent. “Under international law, the people responsible for that kind of treatment actually need to be criminally prosecuted themselves…”

Mr van Esveld says it is inexcusable for the Australian Government not to be notified.”The obligation of one country to notify another when the other citizen has been arrested, detained, especially if they die – that is so basic. It is called customary law,” he said. “Which means that even if Israel didn’t ratify a treaty saying it has to notify the other country, it still has to do so because that is such a basic norm of interstate relations.”

It seemed to me that van Esveld was jumping to a lot of conclusions based on whatever information the reporter fed to him.  As it turns out, subsequent media reports have confirmed that (a) the Australian government was informed of Zygier’s arrest back in February 2010, months before his suicide, and was informed of his death the day after it happened; and (b) Zygier was represented by counsel through his entire ordeal, and indeed saw one of his attorneys just [...]

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Law and Robots Conference Call for Papers, and a Link to a Video From HRW’s Tom Malinowski Which, Though I am Not Persuaded, Will Always Treasure

The “Law and Robotics Conference” will take place on April 8-9, 2013, at Stanford Law School (it follows on the highly successful law and robotics conference that took place at University of Miami last year).  Conference organizers are seeking proposals to present conference papers – I should have posted this a while ago – and paper proposals are due by this Friday, January 18.  Matthew Waxman and I plan to submit a proposal on comparing self-driving cars and autonomous weapon systems (I’ve been exploring some of these ideas, brainstorming for the paper, here at Volokh), and I am 100% certain the conference will be terrific with outstanding papers and great discussions.  Here is the link if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, over at Lawfare, Human Rights Watch’s Tom Malinowski, Benjamin Wittes, Matthew Waxman, and I have been debating the recent HRW report calling for a ban on “Killer Robots.”  Tom’s latest response – though mostly a serious discussion, well worth reading though it does not succeed in persuading me – has a video at the end that I will always, always fondly treasure.  It’s great.   (It’s in Hindi, and though I didn’t know Tom knew Hindi, I’m going to trust his subtitles.) [...]

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Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch and the Arab Spring

It’s fascinating to listen again to this talk by HRW Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson (starting at 16:53) from the Summer of 2009. The topic was “Human Rights in the Middle East.” Syria and Libya get barely a mention. Yemen isn’t mentioned at all. Israel gets by far the most negative attention, followed by Egypt and Jordan–apparently singled out because they are U.S. allies and have peaceful relations with Israel. The Palestinian Authority comes in for some criticism for “not representing all the Palestinians,” i.e., not being anti-Israel enough. While Israel is accused of engaging in “apartheid” and routinely violating international humanitarian law, such that the U.S. should rethink its support of its government, Hamas is referred to as the “elected government” in Gaza, which the U.S. shouldn’t try to undermine.

The weirdest moment in the talk, though, is when Whitson points out that no Arab country allows freedom of speech, the cornerstone of a free society. What one example, of all possible examples, does she use to illustrate the lack of freedom of speech? That Arab governments tried to prevent their populations from protesting Israel’s actions in Gaza in the war against Hamas in late 2008/early 2009. Just, WOW!

NGO Monitor comments on now HRW’s obsession with Israel left it unprepared to deal with the emerging events in the Arab world here. [...]

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