NGO Monitor Fisks Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch


The Fisking does not, however, include my favorite example of Human Rights Watch's [at best] willful blindness to what was going on in Lebanon.

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More on Kenneth Roth:

The Tikkun piece by Kenneth Roth referenced in my previous post provides some interesting insight into the mind of a leading modern NGO/human rights advocate, to wit:

My father had the good fortune to escape Nazi Germany in July of 1938. Among the lessons that I drew from his stories was that military force alone is not enough to combat the world's evils. Clearly military force was needed to stop Hitler, but military force was also a very blunt instrument, it took a long time to play out, and it didn't work until six million Jews had already been killed.

That's a rather odd lesson to draw, I think. Historians seem to agree that if Great Britain and France had challanged Germany militarily any time before the annexation of the Sudetanland, Germany would have been at a decided disadvantage, and would have had to retreat.

What is needed in addition to a readiness to use military force is a focus on the development of ethical views. We need a strong public morality that does not allow such atrocities to occur in the first place. I am not a pacifist by any means. I believe in using military force in places like Darfur, where it is necessary to stop the killing.

Note the example Roth gives. It's okay to use military force to stop genocide or other massive human rights violations, but not, e.g., in self-defense.

Fifty-eight years ago today (Dec. 10, 2006), in the aftermath of the Second World War, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not as a binding treaty but as a declaration. From this broad statement of principles emerged a series of legally binding treaties. Some are quite familiar to Americans, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which, in many respects, looks like the U.S. Bill of Rights. Some are less familiar, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which addresses issues such as the right to education, the right to housing, and the right to work—necessities that Americans often don't think of as human rights, but that most of the world does. There are also specialized treaties on such matters as genocide, torture, racial discrimination, and the rights of women and children....

Now, there are some frustrating limits to international human rights law. First, it does not establish an absolute right to education or to food, but rather it says that governments have a duty to progressively realize those rights on the basis of available resources. So it speaks in terms of trends and intentions rather than absolute results. Second, human rights law speaks only to governments, not to private individuals who may express discriminatory attitudes.

So, Kenneth Roth thinks that the "positive rights" of international law don't go far enough. This is surely enough to make anyone with libertarian sympathies shudder. But even left-wing civil libertarians may shudder at his disappointment that international law doesn't ban "private individuals" from expressing "discriminatory attitudes."

Another concept that is often a source of confusion is that of proportionality. You often hear people say that so-and-so responded in a disproportionate way or that a specific attack was not proportionate. The confusion lies in the fact that proportionality has two different meanings; one of them is of concern to organizations like Human Rights Watch, the other is not. What we look at is whether, in a particular attack, the reasonably anticipated military advantage of destroying a target is justified in light of the likely civilian costs. For example, if you expect to kill an entire family in order to eliminate one foot soldier, that would probably be considered a disproportionate attack. This jus in bello sense of proportionality, as codified by the Geneva Conventions, requires constantly weighing expected civilian cost against military advantage.

If you're wondering how in God's name an NGO, with no knowledge of various secrets governments are privy to, at best a shaky handle on the relevant strategic objectives, an assumedly limited knowledge of military tactics, and so forth, can possibility from its position determine in hindsight whether a "the reasonably anticipated miliary advantage" of destroying any parituicular target "is justified in light of the likely civilian costs," well, so am I. [And Roth has previously expressed the completely unworkable position that if one is engaged in war, one must treat the other side's civilians as equally valuable to one's own; in other words, if you can save 99 of your own civilians by bombing a target that would result in the deaths of 100 enemy civilians, doing so would violate international law.

We also are challenging America's method of fighting terrorism. There is nothing that is a greater affront to human rights principles than the deliberate killing of civilians. But the Bush administration has chosen to fight terrorism without regard to human rights.

Close your eyes. Think for a moment of what Iraq and Afghanistan would look like right now if the Bush Administration paid no attention to human rights. One can think that the Administration actually has some regard for human rights, or that it thinks that the negative publicity from, say, massacring civilians who support Sadrists, the Taliban, and Sunni terrorists in Iraq would outweight the benefits, but the idea that the U.S. is indiscriminately violating human rights, given the firepower available to the U.S. military, is facially absurd. Such overstatement hardly lends credibility to Roth and HRW.

Overall, I think it's fair to conclude that Roth and HRW, like Amnesty International, are part of the international far left. That's not to say that they don't sometimes do yeoman's work on human rights issues, but that their reports, public statements, et al., must be read critically in light of their underlying ideology, which despite Roth's protestations, is essentially pacifist.

UPDATE: Another stray thought: I'm sure that circa 1933, or even 1938, "public morality" in Germany was such that the German public would have overwhelmingly opposed the proposition that their government should murder six million Jewish civilians and another six million or so others for the greater glory of the Reich and the German people. That didn't stop it from happening. "Public morality" is hardly enough, especially in dictatorships where the leaders can feel free to ignore the public, suppress evidence of what they are doing, and manipulate public opinion through control of the media.