Human Rights Watch Issues 2006 Annual Report
Human Rights Watch issued its 2006 annual report yesterday. The press release focused on the United States "conscious policy choice by senior U.S. government officials" to engage in abusive inerrogation. That policy has "hampered Washington’s ability to cajole or pressure other states into respecting international law." “Responsibility for the use of torture and mistreatment can no longer credibly be passed off to misadventures by low-ranking soldiers on the nightshift,” said Roth. “The Bush administration must appoint a special prosecutor to examine these abuses, and Congress should set up an independent, bipartisan panel to investigate.” The press release also sharply criticized Canada, Britain and the rest of the EU for "subordinat[ing] human rights in its relationship with others deemed useful in fighting terrorism."
Kenneth Roth's introduction is even more vitriolic in its criticism, stating that, "The U.S. government’s use and defense of torture and inhumane treatment played the largest role in undermining Washington’s ability to promote human rights. In the course of 2005, it became indisputable that U.S. mistreatment of detainees reflected not a failure of training, discipline, or oversight, but a deliberate policy choice."
There is surprisingly little in the press release about how the actual act of terrorism is a gross violation of human rights. One sentence in the press release noted in passing that "fighting terrorism is central to the human rights cause." Roth's introduction provides a few more details, but then immediately returns to criticism of the West: "Fighting terrorism is central to the human rights cause. Any deliberate attack on civilians is an affront to fundamental values of the human rights movement. And acts of terrorism took an appalling toll in 2005. In Iraq attacks on civilians occurred nearly every day, killing thousands, while other terror attacks claimed the lives of civilians in Afghanistan, Britain, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. But the willingness to flout human rights to fight terrorism is not only illegal and wrong; it is counterproductive. These human rights violations generate indignation and outrage that spur terrorist recruitment, undermine the public cooperation with law-enforcement officials that is essential to exposing secret terrorist cells, and cede the moral high ground for those combating the terrorist scourge."
What is so disappointing to me is that Human Rights Watch admits that "thousands" are being killed by terrorism in over a dozen countries, and yet the overwhelming focus of the press release and Roth's introduction is on interrogation techniques of the United States. Buried in the report is news that two million are displaced in Sudan, and that in that country "killings, rape, torture, looting of civilian livestock and other property took place on a regular basis." Page after page of the annual report discusses the "pervasive" human rights violations of Saudi Arabia, "routine" torture in Iran and Egypt, "serious human rights problems" in Venezuela relating to police violence, torture, and abusive prison conditions, and serious problems with "torture and ill-treatment" in Mexico. The report notes that Russia "slipped deeper into authoritarianism," while China, "remains a one-party state that does not hold national elections, has no independent judiciary, leads the world in executions, aggressively censors the Internet, bans independent trade unions, and represses minorities such as Tibetans, Uighurs, and Mongolians."
Given the state of human rights around the globe, why is it that Human Rights Watch is so laser focused on the United States? If the annual report is intended to catalogue and highlight the globe's human rights problems, shouldn't the introduction and press release be faithful to that catalogue? I know (and share) the traditional argument that the United States and Europe must be held to a higher standard. But does that justify a global human rights organization, whose motto is "defending human rights worldwide," singling out this country for its harshest criticism? Of all the human rights abuses in the world--the extrajudicial killings, the routine tortures, the grave police violence, the former assassins in political power in Iran bent on the nuclear annihilation of Israel, the genocide in Darfur--what deserves the world's greatest attention are events such as the Bush Administration's opposition to the McCain Amendment? Would Transparency International or Freedom House engage in such overtly political reporting in their annual reports? Of course, I'm not excusing the human rights abuses of any country. But I just find it curious. And disappointing.