Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Criticizing Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch has been a target for governments in Latin America and elsewhere for years--Hugo Chávez even had the director booted out of the country in 2008. An article in NACLA Report on the Americas now calls it essentially a puppet of the United States against leftist governments in Latin America.

To believe this, I need some evidence. The analysis, though, is weak. The argument is that if the United States violates human rights and HRW does not criticize them (or criticizes them adequately) then the human rights reports in Latin America should be ignored. The latter, though, does not follow logically from the former.

What's missing entirely is an examination of HRW's reports--especially for Venezuela--and showing how they are wrong. It's really not enough to call Michael Shifter an indirect tool of the CIA. There's lots of casting aspersions but virtually nothing on what HRW has actually published on Latin America. Here, for example, is HRW's 2013 report for Venezuela. It is definitely critical, but goes unmentioned in the article. If you could show how the report published untruths, then you have a good story. Mentioning how someone on the HRW board works for a bank is not so much.

Other parts are just hyperbolic:

HRW has taken its double standard to cartoonish heights throughout Latin America. At a 2009 NED Democracy Award Roundtable, José Miguel Vivanco described Cuba, not the United States, as “one of our countries in the hemisphere that is perhaps the one that has today the worst human-rights record in the region.” As evidence, he listed Cuba’s “long- and short-term detentions with no due process, physical abuse [and] surveillance”—as though these were not commonplace U.S. practices, even (ironically) at Guantánamo Bay.15 

It's not cartoonish to argue that Cuba has a worse human rights record than the United States, even taking Guantánamo into account. Here is the latest HRW report on Cuba, which includes a lot more than just detentions--which part of it is false? For the U.S., we do need to discuss and condemn treatment of all kinds of people, especially immigrants, but this has nothing to do with Cuba. And the U.S., for all its faults and repressive practices, is not worse than Cuba.

In sum, what I'd like to see is an article showing not where HRW's directors used to work, but precisely how their reports are factually wrong. If that can be shown, then they're in deep trouble. But I don't see that here.

7 comments:

Anonymous,  6:14 PM  

I have for some time been trying to authenticate any single case in which a Cuban judge has found an accused person not guilty after police laid charges.

I found one case, fifteen years ago.

This is the real reason that one can say that Cuba is a police state.

Miguelzo,  12:53 AM  

Incredible that you would deny that board members' backgrounds would not severely influence the organization's work. Also revealing that you decided to invoke the former banker role as an example rather than the CIA goon. Perhaps Mr. Bhatt could have spent more words dissecting their reports, but state propaganda is rather dull and policymakers/media only focus on the sound bytes anyway.

Josephus 9:35 PM  

"[T]he U.S., for all its faults and repressive practices, is not worse than Cuba."

With accounting like that, I'm surprised you haven't been recruited out of academia into a Big Four accounting firm: leaving massive amounts of red ink out of balance sheets is a skill in great demand!

Although I suppose the analogy isn't perfectly apt. Instead of red ink, we should be talking about blood: from the United States' status as the world's largest arms exporter, to its support for repressive governments from Colombia to Bahrain, to its dirty war drone-bombing and night-raid campaigns all over West Asia and North Africa. Cuba, with its "dozens" of political prisoners, can't hold a candle to the U.S., even disregarding Guantanamo. Only through massive accounting fraud can one claim that the U.S. demonstrates greater respect (or less disregard) for human rights than Cuba.

Check your groupthink and ingroup bias at the door, and take another look at the figures.

xavierobrien 12:03 AM  

Mr. Weeks, I notice that you characterize Bhatt's passage on HRW's treatment of Cuba as "hyperbolic."

Did you know that a recent WIN/Gallup poll which surveyed 65 countries found that "US is considered to be the greatest threat to peace in the world, followed by Pakistan and China"?

Are these respondents engaging in the same "hyperbolic" thought that you accuse Bhatt of engaging in?

SIDENOTE: I also think "faults and repressive practices" is an awfully innocuous way to describe war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Source:

http://www.wingia.com/en/services/about_the_end_of_year_survey/global_results/7/33/

Anonymous,  6:53 AM  

Human rights to be determined by polling…that's a good one…Josephus, go down the list of civil and political rights generally accepted by the countries of the world and prescribed by the UN and codified in treaties and law. Freedom of the press, freedom of speech and assembly, freedom from arbitrary arrest and judicial procedures and then get back to me about Cuba. Arms sales or freedom from a bad foreign policy is not a human right. Only the most hyperbolic anti-American could tally the US dropped a bomb on Hiroshima (and Cuba did not) without mentioning that it lead to the defeat of the Japanese empire. Selective accounting indeed.

Josephus 5:45 PM  

Selective accounting indeed. Anonymous, there's a Big Four accounting job out there for you too. In your cover letter, I'd suggest emphasizing how deftly you kept economic, social, and cultural rights off your balance sheet - since after all that would tip the balance in favor of Cuba. (An undesired outcome.) But by keeping them unaccounted, civil and political rights are made to seem exhaustively coterminous with human rights.
If you can manage that, you’ll be able to keep unfunded liabilities out of corporate balance sheets, a valuable skill in the eyes of enterprising executives looking to place bets of the heads-I-win, tails-the-company-loses sort. Time for you to move to the City of London and open up your own accounting firm.
Swell job too obfuscating the issue of the most important human right: the right to life. Let’s go ahead and drop Hiroshima and Nagasaki from our balance sheet, ignoring the unimpeached case that their annihilation was entirely unnecessary to cause Japanese surrender. Hell, let’s also add in Cuba’s foreign military intervention in Angola against South Africa, but let’s say Mandela was a moron and totally wrong that Cuba’s intervention was a very good thing for the cause of justice and human rights. Let’s go further and say that Cuban soldiers killed a million innocent apartheid-South African troops. Even so, Cuba would still be orders of magnitude superior to the U.S. on the penultimate human right: life. From millions killed directly in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, to millions “indirectly” killed and disappeared from El Salvador to Indonesia, the U.S. is the indisputable world leader in denying the right to life in the post-WWII era. And that’s saying nothing of the civil and political rights denied to people living in authoritarian states all over the world whose governments relied - as a necessary if insufficient cause – on U.S. government support.
Hence the importance of removing the right to life, or economic, social, and cultural rights, from your account of “human rights”. Only then a serious case be made that Cuba has a worse human rights record than the U.S. – though with the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and NSA spying making the Stasi look like Keystone Cops, the jury’s still out on that case.

Anonymous,  6:57 AM  

I need not mention every bad act perpetrated by Cuba's patrons, sponsors, allies and lackies. You wouldn't listen anyway. Clearly, in your rage against the course of modern history and the influence of the US, you would have preferred the alternatives. That certainty must be very comforting.

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