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Live Blogging Kenneth Roth:

This afternoon, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, is delivering the Klatsky Seminar on Human Rights at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law on the subject "Global Human Rights Leadership: Who Will Fill the Void Left by the U.S.?" The event will be webcast here. I can't make the event, but Mr. Roth is giving a faculty workshop right now that I am live blogging (with his permission). [I will note when I've stopped adding and revising this post.]

Human Rights Watch operates in approximately 70 countries to monitor human rights trends globally. It is funded solely by private donations. Of particular concern to Mr. Roth right now is the relative decline of U.S. leadership on human rights and the failure, thus far, of other nations (such as those in the E.U. to fill the void). Mr. Roth is also unconvinced that the counter-terrorism requires rethinking basic human rights principles. Another issue confronting HRW is how "democracy promotion" has become synonymous with "regime change" in many parts of the world, to the detriment of the former. He is also concerned about the fitful progress of international human rights mechanisms.

Roth notes that law school treats litigation as the primary means of vindicating rights. This is often true in nations like the United States, but less so in developing nations lacking an independent judiciary. Still, Roth argues, the American court system has been less vigilant than it should be in vindicating the rights of particularly unpopular groups, such as prisoners and migrants. For this reason, HRW has sought to document broader patterns that document rights problems, such as prison rape. (See, e.g., Instapundit's coverage of the issue here).

Asked about whether it is appropriate to assert universal human rights given the diversity of global cultures and claims that it is cultural hegemony to impose Western conceptions of human rights on other cultures, Roth made two points. First, the positive law answer is that most governments have ratified basic human rights treaties, so even if one rejects the idea of transcendent human rights, there is a case for holding governments to their commitments. Differing cultural values become an issue most often in the context of gender rights and religious freedom, Roth observed, and HRW tries to be sensitive to differing cultural values. Still, he acknowledged, a human rights advocate cannot be "neutral," an inevitably takes sides in cultural disputes about whether to respect certain rights.

My colleague Michael Scharf, an expert on the Iraqi war crimes tribunal (see here) asked about HRW's work in this area. Specifically, HRW's report on the Iraqi tribunal came out only days before the final judgment was issues and, it turned out, some of the claims were answered by the tribunal's judgment. Roth explained that HRW wanted to put out one report while the trial was ongoing, but will also be publishing another, more-in-depth report of the written opinion, which is "a complete mess" according to Roth. He expects it will be out within a month or so.

Asked about treatment and prosecution of enemy combatants, Roth claimed that if there was a straight vote today in the U.S. Senate, the restrictions on habeas corpus petitions contained in the Military Commissions Act would be repealed now. He believes Congress is taking more of a wait-and-see posture on the military commissions. He expects the commissions to be problematic, particularly given the effort to make coerced testimony admissible, but it will depend on the quality of the judges.

I could not resist asking Roth about the Stimson flap, and whether he believed Stimson's comments represented an official or unofficial effort to discourage pro bono representation of detainees. Roth answered that his impression was Stimson was speaking out of school. Roth said higher-ups in the administration are "not that dumb" to endorse such comments. Further, Roth noted, Stimson's comments were quickly disavowed by higher ups.

Roth rejects military intervention short of an urgent need to prevent mass slaughter. Therefore, in his view, the Iraqi war could not be justified on human rights grounds. Interestingly enough, he suggested that human rights considerations should play a role in deciding whether to withdraw troops from Iraq. He also thinks that greater resort to prosecutions of militia leaders and others could reduce sectarian violence.

Roth defended HRW against charges of bias in its reporting on the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. According to Roth, HRW's allegations against Israel, such as for indiscriminate bombing of southern Lebanon at the close of the conflict, were accurate, and that Israel's conduct was clearly contrary to human rights principles. Roth acknowledged that most of Israel's attacks were precision attacks, and said that there was indeed evidence that Hezbollah did use civilian cover in some instances, but that Israeli attacks still produced substantial civilian casualties. According to Roth, Israel effectively treated parts of southern Lebanon as a "free-fire zone." Faced with these charges, Roth noted, Israel and its defenders attacked HRW, often with "garbage" and "not honest" arguments against HRW's reports. (My co-blogger David Bernstein may have a different perspective on this issue.)

The final question was about the emerging concept of "ecological genocide." Roth noted that if environmental change is used as a means of killing populations, he did not think the concept was particularly controversial. He went on, however, to say that he is "somewhat conservative" in how he defines genocide, and is wary of using the term to dscribe the use environmental degradation to alter a culture or traditional way of life. Such an expansive definition "cheapens the concept," he said, as genocide should be confined to the actual killing of people.

Overall it was an interesting session. I don't agree with Roth on everything, but I appreciated his thoughtfulness and candor. [End]

Some Guy (mail):
It's instructive to note that Human Rights Watch was more outraged at Saddam's less-than-stellar trial and execution than the thousands of people Saddam fed feet-first into an industrial shredder or forced to watch their wives and children raped and murdered before being murdered themselves.

Guess everyone's got their priorities, though.
2.13.2007 1:04pm
frankcross (mail):
I think it's instructive that you don't know what you are talking about. HRW was at the forefront of criticism of Saddam, see, e.g.,

http://www.hrw.org/reports/1993/iraqanfal/
2.13.2007 1:29pm
ed o:
of course-HRW won't get donations from the far left by complaining about third world dictators. as to his positions, guess how many people have been saved by the endless debate on the Sudan and how many more will die before that future date when the world says "never again".
2.13.2007 1:30pm
DRR (mail):
The guy seems infinitely reasonable.
2.13.2007 1:43pm
Prigos:
Or, it could be that the media, politicians and bloggers are selective in choosing which reports and releases from any activist group they reference to leverage the most entertainment value, political capital or outrage they can. Nah, that couldn't be it. They wouldn't use material out of context or single out things that feed into their agenda for their own purposes.
2.13.2007 2:17pm
frankcross (mail):
HRW has been very active on Sudan.

I can understand how people would not be well apprised on HRW's work on Iraq, Sudan, and other third world countries. I cannot understand why they seem to think they do know this, when they are so ignorant.
2.13.2007 2:21pm
PaddyL (mail):
I would like HRW to be transparent about all sources of its funding. Full disclosure is essential to its credibility and freedom from bias.

As I recall George Soros and his enterprises have been major contributors. HRW is one of many agencies embarked upon the mission of transforming our governing principles into those of European style socialism.
2.13.2007 2:37pm
StevenK:
Mr. Roth's lecture is called "Global Human Rights Leadership: Who Will Fill the Void Left by the U.S.?"

Since I disagree with his premise, I don't really know where to go from there. I'd rather see Roth debate what he seems to be assuming.

Roth acknowledged that most of Israel's attacks were precision attacks [...], According to Roth, Israel effectively treated parts of southern Lebanon as a "free-fire zone.

So they didn't actually do it, they just effectively did it. I've read quite a bit of what Roth has said about Israel and I think he's the one with the credibility problem, not his critics. I've yet to see any effective rebuttal from Roth so much as a defensive stance, annoyed that others would question his veracity. I wish he'd be more specific as to why arguments against him are "garbage" and "not honest." And I don't know if this comes from Roth or Adler, but the idea that he is being attacked by "Israel and its defenders" rather than just people who have as much interest in truth, fairness and human rights as Roth does, is offensive.

(By the way, I honestly don't understand what this means: Roth noted that if environmental change is used as a means of killing populations, he did not think the concept was particularly controversial. Where is this being done? Are we talking about burning crops, or what?)
2.13.2007 2:37pm
Jake (Guest):

(By the way, I honestly don't understand what this means: Roth noted that if environmental change is used as a means of killing populations, he did not think the concept was particularly controversial. Where is this being done? Are we talking about burning crops, or what?)

I believe this refers to things like what Saddam Hussein did to the Marsh Arabs, although I'm not sure if the environmental destruction there directly killed people, or if it simply removed hiding places, allowing Hussein's troops to kill people.
2.13.2007 2:46pm
Seamus (mail):

It's instructive to note that Human Rights Watch was more outraged at Saddam's less-than-stellar trial and execution than the thousands of people Saddam fed feet-first into an industrial shredder or forced to watch their wives and children raped and murdered before being murdered themselves.



Do we have any confirmation that the industrial shredder stories (which, to the best of my knowledged, never claimed that "thousands" of people were shredded this way) were any more reliable than the ones we heard during the build-up to Gulf War I about Kuwaiti babies taken out of incubators and left to die? The source of that story, you will recall, was "eyewitness" testimony given on Capitol Hill by a 15-year-old girl who later turned out to be a member of the Kuwaiti royal family (and daughter of Kuwait's ambassador to the U.S.), and whose testimony turned out to be a fabrication. It wouldn't surprise me if the shredder story turned out to have originated with Ahmed Chalabi and his bunch, or with elements now working with the Mahdi Army to kill Sunnis and Americans.
2.13.2007 2:46pm
ed o:
do you have anything to refute that SH killed hundreds of thousands of his fellow Iraqis (or, is a bullet in the brain acceptable while an industrial shredder might be a human rights violation). how about the simple fact that SH invaded and killed thousands of Kuwaitis? like the lawyers defending terrorists "pro bono", are we barred from questioning the credibility of people who, while admitting that Hezbollah might actually hide amongst civilians in launching their attacks, still manages to equate it and Israel.
2.13.2007 3:05pm
ed o:
do you have anything to refute that SH killed hundreds of thousands of his fellow Iraqis (or, is a bullet in the brain acceptable while an industrial shredder might be a human rights violation). how about the simple fact that SH invaded and killed thousands of Kuwaitis? like the lawyers defending terrorists "pro bono", are we barred from questioning the credibility of people who, while admitting that Hezbollah might actually hide amongst civilians in launching their attacks, still manages to equate it and Israel.
2.13.2007 3:05pm
Cold Warrior:

Of particular concern to Mr. Roth right now is the relative decline of U.S. leadership on human rights and the failure, thus far, of other nations (such as those in the E.U. to fill the void)


I'm not sure I agree with the premise -- "the relative decline of U.S. leadership on human rights." It seems to me that the U.S. has been out front on the situation in Darfur, and certainly hasn't eased up on criticism of other repressive regimes.


Mr. Roth is also unconvinced that the counter-terrorism requires rethinking basic human rights principles.


Agreed. But really, does anyone not agree? The question here is the interplay between terrorists (defined here in basic fashion: those who make no clear distinction between civilian and military targets) and the rules we've constructed to protect people from human rights abuses ... including those perpetrated by terrorists.


Another issue confronting HRW is how "democracy promotion" has become synonymous with "regime change" in many parts of the world, to the detriment of the former.


And:


Roth rejects military intervention short of an urgent need to prevent mass slaughter. Therefore, in his view, the Iraqi war could not be justified on human rights grounds.


Again, a false dichotomy. Some regimes may be prodded into improvement from within. And it is sensible that HRW prefers that approach. But what if a regime is abusive and is completely resistant to change? Shouldn't the regime itself be changed? We'd prefer peaceful regime change (South Africa; the Soviet Union), but is life under an oppressive regime always preferable to violent regime change? [I imagine this is about Iraq, and I have to say that in that case we've seen that life under the oppressive regime was preferable to forced regime change, but I'm not ready to say that is always the case.]


He is also concerned about the fitful progress of international human rights mechanisms.


Agreed. Particularly with respect to the UN system, which has ceased to function in any meaningful way.


Asked about whether it is appropriate to assert universal human rights given the diversity of global cultures and claims that it is cultural hegemony to impose Western conceptions of human rights on other cultures, Roth made two points. First, the positive law answer is that most governments have ratified basic human rights treaties, so even if one rejects the idea of transcendent human rights, there is a case for holding governments to their commitments. Differing cultural values become an issue most often in the context of gender rights and religious freedom, Roth observed, and HRW tries to be sensitive to differing cultural values. Still, he acknowledged, a human rights advocate cannot be "neutral," an inevitably takes sides in cultural disputes about whether to respect certain rights.


And this is where HRW needs to be more vigilant. Brutal "cultural norms" borne of religious beliefs are still violative of human rights. HRW has done some exemplary work in this area (including female genital mutilation in Africa), but it needs to focus on the systematic subjugation of women and the suppression of free speech in much of the Islamic world.

All in all, I approve of and commend HRW's work. It is true that they are a bit too ready to criticize the developed democracies for what are relatively minor issues compared to the gross and systematic human rights violations found elsewhere. But that is only because the developed democracies actually care about what HRW says, and therefore HRW is able to have some influence on policy. Really, what good does the 98th Condemnation of Human Rights practices in North Korea accomplish?
2.13.2007 3:06pm
TJIT (mail):
frankcross,

I appreciate the fact that HRW is working in Sudan and other third world countries.

I have to note that, with the possible exception of East Timor, the "international community" and human rights organizations have had little sucess in stopping human rights abuses up to and including genocide.

Looking at Tibet, Sudan, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan (pre US invasion) and Iraq (pre US invasion) it becomes painfully obvious that the traditional international relations approach to human rights abuses has accomplished little. Srebrenicia gives a particularly good example of how ineffective the international community has been at preventing human rights abuses.

Over the past ten-fifteen years it appears that the most succesful organization at ending genocide and human rights abuses has been the US military.
2.13.2007 3:15pm
frankcross (mail):
TJIT, I think that is right, HRW exists not to change things directly but to publicize these abuses and get governments to force changes. And that may well mean the US military.

ed O may not realize that the reason we know that Saddam committed many of those murderous horrors is precisely the role of HRW itself in exposing them.
2.13.2007 3:30pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
It should go without saying, but apparently does not, that the fact that Israeli actions in Lebanon led to "substantial civilian casualties" does not support the proposition that Israel engaged in human rights and international law violations unless, as I suggested in a previous post, HRW is taking the position that war itself, regardless of its justification, is a violation of human rights and international law.
2.13.2007 4:30pm
Seamus (mail):

or, is a bullet in the brain acceptable while an industrial shredder might be a human rights violation



If Some Guy really thought that industrial shredders were the equivalent of bullets, then he could have just said "killed." But instead, he mentioned shredders, and he did so because he knew that they conveyed a particular horror that simply calling Saddam a garden-variety tyrant would not have. If he want to get that extra measure of horror, he needs to be sure the facts support that extra measure.

I adhere the quaint idea that Saddam's tyranny gives us the right to make up stuff about him in order to ensure that people think of him as a bad guy.


do you have anything to refute that SH killed hundreds of thousands of his fellow Iraqis (or, is a bullet in the brain acceptable while an industrial shredder might be a human rights violation). how about the simple fact that SH invaded and killed thousands of Kuwaitis?


You mean *these* hundreds of thousands?

But it's a vicious slur to suggest (as Some Guy did) that Kenneth Roth was somehow unconcerned about the murders that Saddam was responsible for. Human Rights Watch, and Roth in particular, was actively denouncing Saddam's crimes back when the Baathist regime was still in power.

(But there were no "thousands of Kuwaitis" killed during the invasion. A Kuwaiti site says only 118 Kuwaiti soldiers and 113 Kuwaiti civilians were killed in the invasion and occupation.)
2.13.2007 4:31pm
frankcross (mail):
David, as I recall one of the war crimes claims involved the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas and their role in the "substantial civilian casualties."
2.13.2007 5:15pm
Seamus (mail):

I adhere the quaint idea that Saddam's tyranny gives us the right to make up stuff about him in order to ensure that people think of him as a bad guy.



Uh, that should be "the quaint idea that Saddam's tyranny *doesn't* give us the right" etc.

Sorry for the confusion.
2.13.2007 6:17pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Frank, that may be right, I don't recall, and the cluster bomb use has been controversial within Israel itself, but many of HRW's accusations were based on ridiculous "research" (not seeming to notice, e.g., that if all the "victims" of an air attack were young men of military age, it's unlikely they were civilians, regardless of what local sources tell), and conflated the mere existence of civilian casualties with human rights abuses, which reflects a pacifist position, without any basis in international human rights law. And, if Jon's recounting is accurate, Roth implicitly acknowledges that civilian casualties=HRW criticism, regardless of whether the casualties were the result of valid military action that complies with I.L..
2.13.2007 7:54pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
"Do we have any confirmation that the industrial shredder stories"

According to the London Spectator (which IIRC was pro-war) it was unable to find anything but secondhand stories of the machines. (The original Spectator story is now behind a subscriber wall, but it is reproduced in full here: www.antiwar.com/spectator/spec36.html)

Also, the fact that the coalition never made a show of the machines after capturing Baghdad would strongly suggest they did not in fact exist. (Is there any doubt they would have been triumphantly exhibited on Fox News, etc.?)
2.13.2007 7:58pm
TDPerkins (mail):
frankcross wrote:
<blockquote>I think it's instructive that you don't know what you are talking about. HRW was at the forefront of criticism of Saddam, see, e.g.,</blockquote>

However, if they are not supportive of an effective remedy to Saddam's actions, then they are not a part of a solution to them. At best they are a naive digression.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
2.13.2007 9:19pm
CR (mail):
"An effective remedy" TDPerkins? Somehow I'm not sure how invading a country, and then embarking on a half-assed occupation that would unleash the conditions for a potentially genocidal civil war the moment you left counts as "an effective remedy". (That, by the way, isn't to say the US caused the civil war, but rather, and this is what people like Roth understand better than you, is that merely bombing and sending in troops, without an understanding of what to do on Day+1 of the invasion to ensure the same hr abuses don't happen again, is not at all an "effective remedy")

By the way -- HRW was one of the groups calling for military intervention during the Rwanda genocide, the same time when the U.S. military and government, that mechanism of "effective remedy", wanted nothing to do with it.

More to the point, HRW has also reported on many other human rights disasters that usually fly under the radar, like:

Myanmar
Zimbabwe
Ethiopia (Gambella ethnic cleansing and other government abuses)
Northern Uganda
Eastern DRC
Egypt and Mubarak's quashing of non-Mubarak movements
Chechnya
China (I can think of at least one report off hand on hr abuses in the state psychiatric system)
Niger Delta
Uzbekistan and Karimov
etc., etc., etc.

What annoys me is not people being in favor of regime change in Iraq, it's the glib way they dismiss people who are concerned about the unintended consequences of that position.
2.14.2007 12:33pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
HRW issues reports. Ho hum.

Roth is an appeaser. Appeasers always have pretty arguments in favor of doing nothing more warlike than issuing reports.

Too bad.
2.14.2007 7:59pm
Colin (mail):
Eager, thank you for a rousing demonstration of the glibness CR noted.
2.15.2007 10:02am