Criticism of Human Rights Watch
The international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been criticized by various entities, such as national governments, other NGOs, the media, and its founder and former Chairman Robert L. Bernstein. Criticism falls into one of two general categories: first, of either poor research or inaccurate reporting; and secondly, and much more prevalently, of bias. The bias allegations include the organization being influenced by United States government policy, particularly in relation to reporting on Latin America; ignoring anti-Semitism in Europe, or being itself an anti-Semitic organization; bias concerning the Arab–Israeli conflict; and mis-reporting of human rights issues in Eritrea and Ethiopia. Accusations in relation to the Arab–Israeli conflict include claims that HRW is biased against Israel and that this bias is demonstrated by its requesting or accepting donations from Saudi Arabian citizens. HRW has publicly responded to criticisms relating to its reporting on Latin America as well as the Arab–Israeli conflict.
- 1 Allegations of poor research and inaccuracy
- 2 Allegations of bias
- 2.1 Ideological and selection bias
- 2.2 Bias regarding particular nations
- 2.2.1 Latin America
- 2.2.2 The Arab–Israeli conflict
- 2.2.3 Allegations of bias concerning Africa
- 2.2.4 Asia
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Allegations of poor research and inaccuracy
Rupert Murdoch, owner of The Times of London, accused HRW of a lack of sufficient expertise to report on warfare because the organization has never hired any former members of any military, or any person with expertise in warfare, with the sole exception of Marc Garlasco. The Times accused HRW of overriding its own researcher, who wished to rescind a factually inaccurate report accusing Israel of responsibility for the Gaza beach explosion (2006).
HRW has been accused of bias in gathering evidence because it is said to be "credulous of civilian witnesses in places like Gaza and Afghanistan" but "skeptical of anyone in a uniform." Robert Bernstein, founder of HRW, accused the organization of poor research methods, for relying on "witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers." According to The Times, HRW "does not always practice the transparency, tolerance and accountability it urges on others."
In 2012, New Europe wrote that HRW "allegedly erased references in its reports to its previous cooperation with the Gaddafi regime, including the role of the organization's MENA Director, Sarah Leah Whitson, in marketing Saif al-Islam Gaddafi as a reformer."
Allegations of bias
Ideological and selection bias
Robert L. Bernstein, founder and former chairman of HRW, argued in October 2009 that the organization had lost critical perspective on events in the Middle East. Bernstein argued that "[t]he region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region." Tom Porteus, director of the London branch of Human Rights Watch, replied that the organization rejected Bernstein's "obvious double standard. Any credible human rights organization must apply the same human rights standards to all countries." The Times accused HRW of imbalance, since it ignores many human rights abuses in certain regimes while covering other zones of conflict intensively, notably Israel. HRW issued five lengthy reports on Israel in one fourteen month period, whereas in twenty years it has issued only four reports on the conflict in Kashmir, despite the facts that there have been 80,000 conflict-related deaths in Kashmir and that "torture and extrajudicial murder have taken place on a vast scale." It issued no report on the post-election violence and repression in Iran. One source told The Times, "Iran is just not a bad guy that they are interested in highlighting. Their hearts are not in it. Let’s face it, the thing that really excites them is Israel.”  The Times also accuses HRW of failing to report on human rights abuses of Arabs when "perpetrators are fellow Arabs."
Nick Cohen, writing in The Spectator in February 2013, said that both "Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch look with horror on those who speak out about murder, mutilation and oppression if the murderers, mutilators and oppressors do not fit into their script."
Bernstein accused HRW of allowing repressive regimes to play a "moral equivalence game", because they failed to weigh evidence by whether it was collected from an open or closed society, as well as failing to recognize any "difference between wrongs committed in self-defense and those perpetrated intentionally."
The Times accused HRW of filling its staff with former radical political activists, including Joe Stork and Sarah Leah Whitson, writing, "theoretically an organization like HRW would not select as its researchers people who are so evidently on one side."
HRW has been accused of being unwilling or unable to perceive threats posed by radical Islam because their leftist ideology leads them to see criticism of Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda and similar groups as "a dangerous distraction from the real struggle." An example of this was the verbal attack on Peter Tatchell in 2006, who was accused of racism, Islamophobia and colonialism by HRW staff for criticizing Iranian execution of homosexuals.
Bias regarding particular nations
Claims have been made regarding alleged HRW bias with regard to Haiti, Venezuela and Honduras. Robert Naiman, policy director of Just Foreign Policy, has claimed that HRW is "often heavily influenced" by United States foreign policy.
The 2004 Haiti rebellion was a coup d'etat that removed elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti either voluntarily (according to US authorities and Aristide's own bodyguards) or involuntarily (according to Aristide) from the Americas on a US plane accompanied by his own personal bodyguards on 29 February 2004. Z Communications author Joe Emersberger claimed that HRW had accurately reported on human rights violations in Haiti following an earlier coup attempt against Aristide in 1991, but that it was inaccurate in reporting the relative numbers of deaths before and after the 2004 coup. Emersberger estimated the numbers of deaths at about 20–30 per year before the 2004 coup attempt, versus 1000 in the first month following the coup. He stated, "HRW's reports were not only inexcusably sparse, but they legitimized the overthrow of Aristide", and HRW "knew that criminals were being incorporated into the police; yet they were silent about this contributing factor to the abuses that occurred under Aristide."
Human Rights Watch's work in Venezuela became the subject of controversy in September 2008, when Venezuela expelled two HRW staff accused of "anti-state activities". Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said, "these groups, dressed up as human rights defenders, are financed by the United States. They are aligned with a policy of attacking countries that are building new economic models." After HRW published a report documenting the abuses of the Chavez government in Venezuela, entitled A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela, 118 scholars from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, the United States, the U.K., Venezuela, and other countries signed a letter criticizing HRW for a perceived bias against the government of Venezuela. The open letter criticized the report by stating that it "does not meet even the most minimal standards of scholarship, impartiality, accuracy, or credibility." Hugh O'Shaughnessy accused HRW of using false and misleading information, and said the report was "put together with the sort of know-nothing Washington bias..." Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, responded, claiming the letter misrepresents "both the substance and the source material of the report". Tom Porteous, Human Rights Watch's London director, replied, saying that O'Shaughnessy "...not only fails to provide any evidence for these allegations", but that "...more seriously, he misrepresents HRW's positions in his apparent determination to undermine our well earned international reputation for accuracy and impartiality."
On August 21, 2009, 93 academics and authors from the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Colombia and other countries published an open letter that criticized HRW's "absence of statements and reports" on human rights violations in Honduras after 8 July 2009, following the coup d'état of 28 June 2009. The authors of the statement said that after 8 July, HRW had not "raised the alarm over the extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions, physical assaults, and attacks on the press - many of which have been thoroughly documented - that have occurred in Honduras, in most cases by the coup regime against the supporters of the democratic and constitutional government of Manuel Zelaya." The authors requested that HRW make a strong statement against the human rights violations and conduct its own investigation into them. The letter signers stated that the Obama administration was supporting the de facto Roberto Micheletti government, by providing "aid money through the Millennium Challenge Account and other sources" and by training Honduran military students at the School of the Americas, and that the Obama administration was ignoring Honduras' human rights situation. Four days later, HRW published a summary of a preliminary version of a human rights report in Honduras by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) that had been released on 21 August. HRW referred to its earlier reports published up to 8 July, stating, "Given the scope of alleged abuses, and the region's history of bloody coups leading to massive violations, human rights advocates believed the situation warranted the direct intervention of the region's most authoritative human rights investigative body, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights."
The Arab–Israeli conflict
Aryeh Neier, a founder of Human Rights Watch, says that it "is wrong to suggest that open societies should be spared criticism for human rights abuses". Neier also states that Robert L. Bernstein's contention that the difference between "wrongs committed in self-defense and those committed intentionally" is not made by the laws of war, and also that it is a dangerous distinction. On such grounds, groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, which murdered tens of thousands of civilians after the American invasion of 2003, could claim excuses for their crimes.
Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky argued, "here is an organization created by the goodwill of the free world to fight violations of human rights, which has become a tool in the hands of dictatorial regimes to fight against democracies ... It is time to call a spade a spade. The real activity of this organization today is a far cry from what it was set up 30 years ago to do: throw light in dark places where there is really no other way to find out what is happening regarding human rights." Kenneth Roth has responded that "Israel accounts for about 15 percent of our published output on the region" and that "our war coverage in the region has documented violations by all sides". Roth argued that "by failing to hold those responsible to account, Israel increases anger and resentment among the Palestinian population and in the wider Arab world, and undercuts moderates who wish to pursue peace." Scott MacLeod of Time Magazine commented that Israel's policies cannot be shielded from a group like Human Rights Watch.
HRW has been accused of bias against the state of Israel, of issuing one-sided and hostile reports attacking Israel, and of having an anti-Israel agenda, by general circulation newspapers, the Israeli government and supporters of Israel. Political Science Professor and former consultant to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Gerald M. Steinberg of Bar Ilan University, head of NGO Monitor, a pro-Israel NGO, accused HRW of having "a strong anti-Israel bias from the beginning". He claimed their reports were based primarily on "Palestinian eyewitness testimony" — testimony that is "not accurate, objective or credible but serves the political goal of indicting Israel". According to David Bernstein, HRW is "maniacally anti-Israel". Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, has said that "We discovered during the Gaza operation and the Second Lebanon War that these organizations come in with a very strong agenda, and because they claim to have some kind of halo around them, they receive a status that they don't deserve," referring to HRW's and Amnesty International’s allegations of human rights violations by Israeli forces during those conflicts.
There have been a number of accusations that HRW has either ignored anti-Semitism or is, itself, anti-Semitic. Ana Palacio, former Foreign Minister of Spain, in a speech given to the Anti-Defamation League in 2005, said, “NGOs like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International pay little attention to anti-Semitism.” It has also been suggested (by the ADL) that criticism of Israel may be motivated by anti-semitism. Abraham Foxman, writing in the New York Sun, has said "not in an 'eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' fashion, which Mr. Roth cited and is a classic anti-Semitic stereotype about Jews".
Sarah Leah Whitson, director of HRW's Middle East and North Africa division, responding to the criticism, said, "In the case of Israel, where our focus is primarily on the violations of international law and humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territories, the fact that government is a democracy is completely irrelevant, because the rule in place in the occupied territories is military rule, it is not a democracy". In July 2009, Larry Derfner, writing in the Jerusalem Post in response to the criticism of HRW, accused Israel's Prime Minister's Office and NGO Monitor of "smearing" human rights organizations. In August 2009, Iain Levine, Program Director for HRW, stated, "If the Israeli government wants to silence critics, it should fully investigate allegations of wrongdoing and take action to end the abuses."
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote in an editorial in The Jerusalem Post in August 2009 that the reports on recent Israeli human rights violations had "given rise to an intense campaign by the Israeli government and some of its uncritical supporters to smear the messengers and change the subject." He went on to write that the "problem is not the messenger carrying news of that misconduct, whether Judge Goldstone or the human rights groups that have been the target of a disinformation campaign launched by the Israeli government and some supporters. The problem is the conduct of the Israeli military."
According to The Times, "most" of the Middle East department staff of Human Rights Watch "have activist backgrounds — it was typical that one newly hired researcher came to HRW from the extremist anti-Israel publication Electronic Intifada — unlikely to reassure anyone who thinks that human-rights organizations should be non-partisan."
In November 2012, David Feith, writing in The Wall Street Journal, said that there has been some "bitter debate" within HRW as to whether Iran's call for annihilation of Israel is a violation of human rights. HRW Vice Chair Sid Sheinberg wrote that doing nothing while Ahmadinejad wants to "kill Jews and annihilate Israel...is a position unworthy of our great organization." But Executive Director Ken Roth said that "Tehran isn't inciting genocide and claims to the contrary are part of an effort to beat the war drums against Iran."
Ron Kampeas, in an analysis published by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, criticizes HRW reports, saying, "Reconstructions of the horrific death of civilians replete with painstakingly gathered evidence are coupled with bewildering omissions of context and blended into a package that assumes an inherent Israeli immorality," and denouncing "efforts to turn criticism of individual officers and soldiers into a wholesale indictment of Israel’s military establishment and the decision to resort to military force." According to Kampeas, the HRW reports on the 2009 fighting in Gaza "fail to assess evidence — including videos of Israeli forces holding their fire because of the presence of civilians — that Israel has provided to show that such incidents were the exception to the rule; they fail to examine what measures Israel has taken to prevent civilian deaths, which would be pertinent in examining any claim of war crimes."
In October 2009, Robert L. Bernstein, the founder of HRW, criticized the organization's policy in the Middle East in The New York Times op-ed. Bernstein questioned the fact that "with increasing frequency, [HRW] casts aside its important distinction between open and closed societies... The region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region." Tom Porteus, director of the London branch of Human Rights Watch, replied that the organization rejected Bernstein's "obvious double standard. Any credible human rights organization must apply the same human rights standards to all countries." Jane Olson and Jonathan Fanton wrote, "we were saddened to see Robert L. Bernstein argue that Israel should be judged by a different human rights standard than the rest of the world", and "as long as open societies commit human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch has a vital role to play in documenting those violations and advocating to bring them to an end." Human Rights Watch noted that Bernstein had brought his concerns to the Human Rights Watch Board of Directors in April 2009 and also noted that the board had unanimously rejected his view that Human Rights Watch should report only on closed societies, and expressed its full support for the organization's work.
In April 2010, The New Republic published a very lengthy and critical piece about HRW, discussing HRW's "giving disproportionate attention to Israeli misdeeds." Specifically, "Robert James—a businessman, World War II veteran, and member of the MENA [Middle East and North Africa Desk of HRW] advisory committee who has been involved with HRW almost since its inception—calls the group 'the greatest NGO since the Red Cross'," but argues that it is chronically incapable of introspection. “Bob [Bernstein, founder and former chair of HRW] is bringing this issue up on Israel,” he says. "But Human Rights Watch has a more basic problem. ... They cannot take criticism." The New Republic, referring to Bernstein's op-ed piece in The New York Times, quotes Bernstein, saying, "Yet, as difficult as it was to go public, Bernstein does not believe that Human Rights Watch left him with much choice. 'They think they’ve heard me out,' he says. 'You see, they think they’ve listened to me until they can’t listen anymore. Actually, they haven’t listened at all.'"
In November 2010, Bernstein gave the Shirley and Leonard Goldstein Lecture on Human Rights at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. During this lecture, he accused HRW of "fault[ing] Israel as the principal offender" in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and suggested that groups like HRW were responsible for polarization on university campuses.
In January 2012, New Europe quoted an NGO Monitor report which said that HRW gives "disproportionate attention" to Israel and the Occupied Territories, which received "more attention in 2011 than Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, or Iraq." The article also said that the HRW reports continued to show "bias on Israel," and that "all op-eds published on the Arab-Israeli conflict in major media focused on allegations against Israel."
Orlando Radice, writing in the Jewish British newspaper, The JC, said, regarding an interview with HRW director Ken Roth, that "this was less of an interview than an exercise in denial, obfuscation and plain old censorship."
Marc Garlasco, a senior investigator for HRW, has been criticized for being an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia. Emma Daly confirmed in March 2010 that Garlasco had resigned from Human Rights Watch in February 2010, and offered no elaboration. "He has written a book about Nazi-era medals. In one post he wrote, 'That is so cool! The leather SS jacket makes my blood go cold it is so COOL!'" Commenting on allegations concerning Garlasco in the media, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's policy director said on September 9, 2009 that Human Rights Watch's employment of "a man who trades and collects Nazi memorabilia" as its senior military expert is a "new low". HRW issued a rebuttal to the allegations which stated that the "accusation is demonstrably false and fits into a campaign to deflect attention from Human Rights Watch's rigorous and detailed reporting on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Israeli government", noting that Garlasco "has never held or expressed Nazi or anti-Semitic views."
Helena Cobban, a fellow Middle East analyst on the Human Rights Watch Middle East advisory board, noted that Garlasco engaged with "people who clearly do seem to be Nazi sympathizers," something she called "extremely disturbing".
HRW replied that Garlasco "covered Iraq as a senior intelligence analyst at the Pentagon". The Guardian reports that he served in this role for 7 years. In addition they write that he was chief of high-value targeting during the Iraq war in 2003, was on the Operation Desert Fox (Iraq) Battle Damage Assessment team in 1998, and led a Pentagon Battle Damage Assessment team to Kosovo in 1999. He also participated in over 50 interrogations as a subject matter expert.
In a piece for The National, Alan Philps writes that "the Netanyahu government and its supporters have set out to destroy the credibility of the UN Human Rights Council and all non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the human rights field." "The aim is clearly to de-legitimize the organization at a time when its rights-based analysis coincides with some of the views of the US president Barack Obama," Philps continued.
In a piece for the Christian Science Monitor, Robert Marquand noted that a U.N. report by "Jurist Richard Goldstone, head of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chief prosecutor for the Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal", showed illegal white phosphorus use consistent with Garlasco's first hand testimony which was provided to the Monitor. Marquand further wrote that it was not okay "to use Garlasco to distract from or obfuscate findings that war crimes and crimes against humanity may have taken place in Gaza".
Criticism of fund raising
On September 7, 2010, it was announced that George Soros planned to donate US $100 million to Human Rights Watch. Soros's donation was criticized by Gerald Steinberg, the founder of the pro-Israel research organization NGO Monitor.
Some columnists have criticized Human Rights Watch for requesting, encouraging or accepting financial donations in Saudi Arabia, and have criticized the methods by which HRW requests, encourages or accepts these funds. According to the critics, these methods include descriptions of HRW's "battles" and arguments with Israel and its supporters. Herb Keinon, a columnist for the Jerusalem Post, and Jeffrey Goldberg, a correspondent for the Atlantic and former columnist for the Jerusalem Post, claim this compromises HRW's integrity. In an email exchange, Jeffrey Goldberg asked HRW director Kenneth Roth if funds were raised to fight back against pro-Israel lobbying groups. Roth responded, "The Saudis obviously are aware of the systematic attacks on us by various reflexive defenders of Israel. Everyone is." He states that these complaints are common in "discussions" during fundraisers and are not just exclusive to Saudi Arabia. Mark Regev (spokesman for Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu) has said, in response to HRW's fund raising visit to Saudi Arabia, that "A human rights organization raising money in Saudi Arabia is like a women's rights group asking the Taliban for a donation".
David Bernstein of the George Mason University School of Law wrote that something is "wrong when a human rights organization goes to one of the worst countries in the world for human rights to raise money to wage lawfare against Israel", although IPS later claimed he apologized for suggesting that HRW did not also discuss Saudi human rights abuses during the meetings.
Human Rights Watch says the allegations that HRW had "compromised its neutrality" by meeting with Saudi donors were based on "misleading assumptions and wrong facts". HRW notes that staffers made two presentations in Saudi Arabia in May 2009 in private homes to people who were interested in Human Rights Watch. Among an estimated 50 guests at a reception in Riyadh, there were three with governmental affiliations, "the spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior; the deputy head of the Human Rights Commission, a governmental organization; and a member of the Shura Council, a government-appointed consultative body." According to HRW, none of those individuals were solicited for funds and HRW never accepts funds from government officials in any country. HRW stated that there is no reason why Saudi citizens cannot legitimately want to support human rights. Gerald Steinberg, the executive director of NGO Monitor, said that the HRW defense was an "absurd attempt to cast a distinction between soliciting Saudi officials and prominent members of society who owe their very position to the regime."
HRW told Inter Press Service that the notion "that any money from Saudi Arabia is tainted because it comes from a country with a totalitarian ruling regime is a gross generalization", adding, "The ethnic background of our donors is irrelevant to the work we do...It's not relevant to our work in Israel that many, many of our donors are Jewish. And it's not relevant for the work that we do that we get money from Arab countries".
According to HRW, its work in Saudi Arabia was discussed at the receptions, including "coverage of women's rights, the juvenile death penalty, domestic workers, and discrimination against religious minorities". HRW also claimed, "No other human rights group has produced a more comprehensive, detailed, and thorough body of work on Saudi Arabian human rights issues in recent years than Human Rights Watch" (HRW Saudi Arabia). Although the Gaza situation was covered, HRW claimed that the coverage was justified, since the Gaza war dominated worldwide headlines and is a regional issue in Saudi Arabia. Criticism of HRW as anti-Israel was juxtaposed against the accusations HRW faces in much of the Middle East that HRW is soft on Israeli human rights violations.
In 2008, HRW issued five single-country reports and one multi-country report criticizing the Saudi Arabian government, and in August 2009, HRW issued a report, "Human Rights and Saudi Arabia's Counterterrorism Response: Religious Counseling, Indefinite Detention, and Flawed Trials", criticizing the Saudi Arabian government's counterterrorism program.
Appointment of Shawan Jabarin
In February 2011, HRW appointed Shawan Jabarin to their Mideast Advisory Board. Jabarin is a very controversial figure, labeled "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by the Israeli Supreme Court for his dual roles in both the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine militant group and the human rights organization Al Haq. HRW’s decision to include Jabarin on its Mideast Board sparked criticism from Robert L. Bernstein, a founder of HRW, Stuart Robinowitz, a prominent New York attorney who has undertaken human-rights missions for the American Bar Association and Helsinki Watch (the predecessor to HRW) in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and El Salvador, and Prof. Gerald Steinberg, the president of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor.
In regard to reporting on the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, Israel-based journalist Jonathan Cook claimed that by making statements regarding the intentions of Israel and Hezbollah to target or to avoid targeting civilians that were not justified by the available evidence, HRW "[seemed to distort] its findings to placate the Israel lobby". Cook stated, "HRW is accusing Hezbollah of committing graver war crimes than Israel, even though it killed far fewer civilians both numerically and proportionally, because its rockets are 'less accurate'". A representative of HRW responded, defending the organisation's objectivity. Cook countered that he did not criticise the empirical aspects of HRW's research, only its interpretation of that research.
HRW has also been criticised for taking Israel's side in its claim that the Palestinians had used human shields. Norman Finkelstein has criticised HRW for "seeking to appease pro-Israel critics after taking the heat for its report documenting Israeli war crimes in Lebanon".
In late 2012 HRW was directly criticized by Hamas, after HRW criticized Palestinian armed groups for launching hundreds of rockets toward populated areas in Israel in December 2012. A Hamas spokesperson responded that the Palestinians are fighting an occupying power and attempting to liberate their homeland, and that this is "not terrorism as HRW claims."
Human Rights Watch responds to criticism
In the wake of the Goldstone report, in 2009 HRW accused Israel and its supporters of an organized campaign of false allegations and misinformation designed to discredit the group over its findings concerning the Gaza War. HRW tied the criticism to a statement by a senior official in the Israeli prime minister's office in June 2009, pledging to "dedicate time and manpower to combating" human rights organizations. HRW said it concluded the criticism amounted to an organized effort, since attacks from different sources appeared to be co-ordinated. HRW said that similar language and arguments in criticism implied that there had been prior coordination. Iain Levine of HRW said, "We are having to spend a lot of time repudiating the lies, the falsehoods, the misinformation".
A group of 10 Israeli rights groups has protested that the Israeli government has been attempting to "instill fear and silence or alarm vital organizations" that were engaging in free public discourse.
Allegations of bias concerning Africa
In April 2009, HRW published a report that accused the Eritrean government of being responsible for serious human rights violations. Sophia Tesfamariam, Director of the US Foundation for the Horn of Africa, refuted the allegations in the report, which she described as an "anti-Eritrea report", and stated, "HRW goes to great lengths to embellish the truth in its attempts to paint a bleak picture of Eritrea and its government". She described it as “not only short on facts and evidence, but also short on intellectual and professional integrity”.
The Ethiopian government has also raised questions about HRW's methods. It commissioned a report of its own that dismissed Human Rights Watch's allegations of human rights abuses in the Ogaden as hearsay and its methods as slapdash.
A special tribunal dealing with war crimes involving Bangladesh's 1971 independence war against Pakistan asked Human Rights Watch to explain why it should not be charged with contempt of court for a statement from the organization saying the trial of former Islamic party leader Ghulam Azam was "deeply flawed" and did not meet international standards. Azam was sentenced to 90 years in jail for war crimes. The U.S. ambassador in Bangladesh expressed his concern over the prosecutors' move.
A prominent Saudi human rights activist has described the Human Rights Watch report on the rights situation in Saudi Arabia as contradicting the truth in some of its items and has said that the report fails to take into account the religious background of the Saudi people in many cases.
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