UN Watch

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United Nations Watch
UN Watch logo.JPG
Motto "Monitoring the United Nations, Promoting Human Rights"[1]
Founded 1993[2]
Type Non-governmental organization[2]
Fields United Nations,[2] Human rights[2] and struggle against anti-Semitism[3]
Key people
Alfred H. Moses, Chair;[2]
Per Ahlmark, David A. Harris, Co-Chairs;[2]
Hillel Neuer, Executive Director[4]
Website UN Watch Homepage

UN Watch is a Geneva-based non-governmental organization whose stated mission is "to monitor the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter".[2] It is an accredited NGO in Special Consultative Status to the UN Economic and Social Council and an Associate NGO to the UN Department of Public Information.[5]

UN Watch has been active in combating human rights abuses in Democratic Republic of the Congo and Darfur, and has been vocal against abuses in regimes such as China,[6] Venezuela, Cuba[7] and Russia,[8] often using its allotted time at the UNHRC to allow for dissidents and human rights activists to speak. UN Watch is frequently critical of what it views as anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiment at the UN and UN-sponsored events.[9][10] The NGO actively monitors the qualifications of candidate countries to United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) elections, and has been particularly critical of the 2015 election of China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.[11] It has been a strong critic of the UNHRC, asserting that many of its members have poor human rights records themselves. UN Watch has described the council as equally bad as or worse than its forerunner, the defunct[12] United Nations Commission on Human Rights.[13]

The group has been praised by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan,[14][15] and the Director General of the UN Office in Geneva Sergei Ordzhonikidze has acknowledged "the valuable work of UN Watch in support of the just application of values and principles of the United Nations Charter and support for human rights for all."[16] Agence France-Presse has described UN Watch both as "a lobby group with strong ties to Israel"[17] and as a group which "champion[s] human rights worldwide".


UN Watch was founded in 1993 under the chairmanship of Morris Berthold Abram. Abram served as the Chairman of the United Negro College Fund and President of Brandeis University. Abram was active in community affairs as President of the American Jewish Committee (1963–1968); Chairman of the National Coalition Supporting Soviet Jewry (1983–1988); and Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (1986–1989).[18]

Abram supported the UN as an institution. In 1999, Abram delivered a speech to the U.S. Congress on the subject of the treatment of Israel by the United Nations in which he said "UN Watch categorically supports the UN as an indispensable institution. The US should pay its past dues to the UN as a matter of national honor and in recognition of the UN's importance. In spite of the UN's flaws, it is inconceivable that the US withhold support from the only truly global organization in such an interdependent world."[19][20]

After Abram died in 2000, David A. Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, was elected Chairman of UN Watch.[21]

In 2001, Harris announced that UN Watch had become a wholly owned subsidiary of the American Jewish Committee. According to a press release at the time, “UN Watch was established with the generous assistance of Edgar Bronfman, President of the World Jewish Congress. Eighteen months ago, the American Jewish Committee and the World Jewish Congress reached an agreement, approved by the international board of UN Watch, to transfer full control of the organization to AJC, an agreement that went into effect on January 1, 2001.”[22]

Structure and status[edit]

UN Watch participates at the UN as an accredited NGO in Special Consultative Status to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and as an Associate NGO to the UN Department of Public Information (DPI). It is affiliated with the American Jewish Committee,[23][24] a NGO established in 1906, which was a pioneer advocate of the UN Charter's inclusion of international human rights guarantees, and the creation of the post of a High Commissioner of Human Rights.[25]

UN Watch has participated in the following UN activities: the Commission on Human Rights, a Panel Discussion on the United Nations and the Middle East, a Panel Discussion on Proposals to Reform the Commission on Human Rights, the Sub-Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the Working Group on Minorities. A UN Watch seminar in Geneva featured a tour of the Palais des Nations, a visit to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, and attendance at a meeting of the Committee Against Torture (CAT) with briefings from the Committee's Vice Chair.[26]

In October 2008, UNHCR listed the organization as having a staff of six.[27] UN Watch had 110 members in 2007, geographically distributed as follows: 56% from Europe, 38% from North America, and 4% from Oceania. UN Watch’s newsletter on UN issues now reaches nearly 5,000 subscribers around the world.[26]

Commentary from the group has appeared in BBC,[28] Al Jazeera,[29] Reuters,[30] Washington Post,[31] Agence France-Presse,[32] Voice of America,[33] The Jerusalem Post,[34] Fox News,[35] JTA,[36] and others.

Board and funding[edit]

Current board members include:[37]

UN Watch is funded by private individual donations and charitable foundations.[26]

Positions and activities[edit]



In 2008, the post of United Nations special rapporteur for the Congo was eliminated by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The elimination was done with the support of Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Russia and other countries, following a request by the Congolese administration of President Joseph Kabila. According to a subsequent report prepared by the office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, both government and rebel forces proceeded to carry out mass killings, rape and torture. In November of that year, UN Watch called on the UNHRC to apologize for abolishing the post, and stated that the UNHRC should be held to account for the move, given the atrocities people there were enduring. UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer said in a statement, "Morally, those countries (on the Council) who were behind the elimination of the monitoring mandate in March ought now to apologise to the victims of Congo... We will never know how many lives could have been saved if the Council, deferring to Congo's government, had not caused this unconscionable protection gap which slashed an early-warning mechanism just when the victims needed it most." Other rights groups called for the reestablishment of the post.[40]

On 1 December 2009, following atrocities in the eastern Congolese province of North Kivu, the UNHRC condemned abuses against civilians in Congo. UN Watch said it was hoping to see a reassignment of a UN rights expert to the region, and said abuses "making eastern Congo a living hell" needed to be properly investigated.[41] UN Watch said a total of 50 groupings had signed the appeal to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and human rights chief Navi Pillay, asking to restore the post of UN rights monitor there.[42]


UN Watch chaired the NGO Activist Summit For Darfur in 2007.[43]

On 27 April 2008, UN Watch joined human rights organizations around the world in launching a "Justice for Darfur" campaign. The organizations behind the campaign included Amnesty International, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch. The campaign called on the United Nations Security Council, regional organizations and national governments to pressure Sudan to cooperate with the International Criminal Court, and to arrest suspected war criminals Ali Kushayb and Ahmad Harun. The Sudanese government had refused to surrender either suspect to the Court, and had in fact promoted Harun to the position of State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs.[44]


UN Watch commended the US, France and other democracies for their “forceful criticism” of Iran’s human rights record at a UN hearing in Geneva's UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in February 2010. At the same time, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer cautioned that the outcome of the council session could be limited to a “toothless” report to be adopted.[45]


In the wake of the January 2010 Haiti earthquake, the UN Human Rights Council's 47 members unanimously passed a resolution that expressed concern about rights abuses in the wake of the quake and urged the government and aid groups to protect children from violence and exploitation. UN Watch slammed the UN Human Rights Council's two-day special session on Haiti as "a harmful waste of the organization's precious time, resources, and moral capital," adding that the council "has no budget, authority or expertise on humanitarian aid" and "ignores more pressing human rights problems".[46]


Following Switzerland’s 2009 vote to ban minarets, UN Watch stated that it was particularly embarrassed by the fact and that it will work toward its repeal. The NGO's director Hillel Neuer said that banning of Muslim structures by a government is wrongful discrimination.[47]

UNHRC Elections[edit]

Along with Freedom House, UN Watch has opposed the candidacies of states with poor human rights records for the United Nations Human Rights Council. The 2006 UN resolution establishing the council requires that, in electing states to the panel, UN member states "shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights."[48]


In May 2007, UN Watch and Freedom House submitted a joint report on an election to the United Nations Human Rights Council, stating that candidates Angola, Belarus, Egypt and Qatar were unfit to sit on the human rights body, because they themselves violated rights. The report said that the four countries "are authoritarian regimes with negative UN voting records (on rights issues) and are not qualified to be Council members". The report further described candidates Slovenia, Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands as "well qualified" for the Council, and called candidates Bolivia, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Nicaragua, the Philippines and South Africa as "questionable".[13]


In May 2008, UN Watch and Freedom House called on the UN General Assembly to vote against candidates Bahrain, Gabon, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zambia for poor human rights records. According to Human Rights Watch, Sri Lanka's candidacy was also opposed by a coalition of more than 20 nongovernmental organizations around the world, as well as three Nobel Peace Prize laureates, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu of South Africa, and Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina.[48]


In May 2009, UN Watch and Freedom House again submitted a joint report on a UNHRC election. The report described candidates China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia as "the worst of the worst" in terms of human rights. The report also described candidates Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Djibouti and Russia as "not qualified", and Bangladesh, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria and Senegal as "questionable". UN Watch and Freedom House described the council's record for its first three years as poor. They stated that Islamic countries with Cuban support rewrote rules for a freedom of expression monitor in a manner that limits expression, and that an "alliance of regressive regimes" succeeded in having the Council cancel human rights investigators for trouble spots such as Belarus, Cuba, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Darfur. In contrast, they said, the alliance led to the council appointing an investigator who was involved in founding a controversial human rights prize in honor of Muammar al-Gaddafi and another who believes that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job. Hillel Neuer said, "The vision had been that the council would be a voice for victims, but it is now in a state of crisis."[49]


UN Watch expressed alarm over a report that Asian countries might facilitate Iran’s election in May 2010 to the 47-member UNHRC.[45]


UN Watch is credited with leading the campaign to deny Syria's bid for a seat.[50]


UN Watch strongly condemned the 2014 elections of Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba, and Russia to the Human Rights Council. In an interview by France 24, executive director Hillel Neuer called this a “black day for human rights.”[51] A campaign to remove these countries from the body, "Dictator-free HRC" is ongoing along with a petition on the organization's website.[52][53]

Other UN activities[edit]

Durban Review Conference[edit]

On 19 April 2009, the day before the UN Durban Review Conference, UN Watch and other non-governmental organizations hosted the "Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy," in order to raise public awareness to the issues of discrimination and racially motivated torture. Invited speakers included survivors of the genocide in Rwanda and former dissidents from Iran, Cuba and Myanmar.[54][55] UN Watch also hosted a "Conference Against Racism, Discrimination, and Persecution" in Geneva. Speakers at the latter conference included former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy and former Miss Canada and President of Stop Child Executions Nazanin Afshin Jam.[56][57][58]

Goldstone Report[edit]

Main article: Gaza War (2008–09)

UN Watch submitted a 29-page legal petition to the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict requesting the recusal of member Christine Chinkin because she was one of 31 academics and lawyers who had co-signed a letter published in the Sunday Times before being selected for the mission that accused Israel of not complying with international humanitarian and human rights law.[59] The letter described Israel's military offensive in Gaza as "an act of aggression", stating that "invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza's 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law", and adding that "the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes".[60] UN Watch stated that, since Chinkin had already formed and expressed a judgment on the very issues the Mission was meant to investigate, she could not fulfill the impartiality requirement for fact-finding missions.[59] The petition cites authorities of international law, including a 2004 precedent of the international tribunal for Sierra Leone, in which Justice Geoffrey Robertson was disqualified by his fellow judges over the appearance of bias.[61]

The UN Watch request was covered by the Deutsche Presse Agentur and the Khaleej Times[62] and Agence France Presse.[17] UN Watch further noted that in a May 2009 meeting with Geneva NGOs, Chinkin denied that her impartiality was compromised, saying that her statement only addressed jus ad bellum, and not jus in bello; however, according to UN Watch, the statement not only determined that "Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence," but additionally charged that they were "contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law," and constituted "prima facie war crimes."[63]

The inquiry members rejected the petition and said that the mission investigated whether Israel, Hamas or the Palestinian Authority had unnecessarily caused death or injury to innocent civilians by specific acts of armed conflict that violated international humanitarian law and international human rights law stating "On those issues the letter co-signed by Professor Chinkin expressed no view at all."[64][65] The members further wrote in their reply that the fact-finding mission cannot be considered a judicial or even a quasi-judicial proceeding.[65] Hillel Neuer, director of UN Watch, said that the arguments raised by the mission ignored the well-established set of standards to international fact-finding missions.[66] Goldstone said that the letter signed by Chinkin could have been the grounds for disqualification, had the mission been a judicial inquiry.[67] Two groups, a group of UK lawyers and academics and a group of Canadian lawyers from prominent law firms and human rights organizations, pronounced separately their support for the UN Watch request that Prof. Chinkin be disqualified from the United Nations Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict and expressed their disappointment that the well-founded request was rejected by the mission.[68][69][70] Chinkin's prior statements, the lawyers wrote, "necessarily compromises the integrity of this inquiry and its report".[70]

The Goldstone Report concluded that the Gaza police forces were a civilian police force and "cannot be said to have been taking a direct part in hostilities and thus did not lose their civilian immunity from direct attack as civilians".[71] The report did not "rule out the possibility that there might be individuals in the police force who retain their links to the armed groups" but finds no evidence that the police were part of the Gaza armed forces and that it "could not verify the allegations of membership of armed groups of policemen."[71] UN Watch noted that on this matter the Goldstone Report relied on the testimony of the Gaza police spokesperson Islam Shahwan, whose credibility had been compromised by previous claim that Israel had been targeting the Palestinian population in Gaza by distributing libido-increasing chewing gum, and the mission accepted the interpretation of Shahwan's own words "face the enemy" as meaning "distributing food stuffs".[72]

The mission report stated that in July 2009 it received, through UN Watch, an official preliminary report of the Israeli Government entitled "The operation in Gaza: Factual and Legal Aspects", which outlined the government of Israel's position on many issues.[73] Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of the UN Watch, charged that the report misrepresented his correspondence with mission chief Richard Goldstone and that he merely sent Goldstone a link to the report published online. Neuer posted a correspondence with the UN and Goldstone on the UN Watch blog to confirm his words.[74] The group further commented that "Israeli public figures who say their country would have benefited by cooperating with the UN Human Rights Council’s 'fact-finding' mission on the Gaza conflict are mistaken", because "Israel’s detailed facts and legal arguments [presented in the Israeli Government report] were either ignored, or summarily dismissed".[74]

UN anti-Israel bias and antisemitism[edit]

UN Watch is active at the UN in combating anti-Israel and anti-Semitism, and what it dubs the selective and politicized treatment of Israel by many UN bodies.[75] The group supported former Secretary General Kofi Annan's declared goal of ending the UN's imbalanced treatment of Israel[76] and has been highly critical of the United Nations Human Rights Council,[9][10][77] The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has described U.N. Watch as a pro-Israel organization.[78]

Claudia Rosett quoted UN Watch's director Hillel Neuer who said that since the UN Human Rights Council was launched in mid-2006 and until the beginning of 2010, it issued 33 condemnatory resolutions; of these, half a dozen have concerned Burma and North Korea, while the other 27 have focused on condemning Israel, while absolving its attackers, including the Iranian-backed militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.[79]

March 2007 UNHRC speech[edit]

On 23 March 2007, UN Watch's Hillel Neuer delivered a harshly critical speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), stating that the Council had betrayed the dreams of its founders and become "a nightmare". Neuer charged that the Council ignores human rights abuses worldwide, opting instead to enact "one resolution after another condemning one single state: Israel". He further argued that the Council's stated concern for Palestinian human rights is deceptive, and provided examples where it ignored atrocities against Palestinians "because Israel could not be blamed. … The despots who run this Council couldn’t care less about Palestinians, or about any human rights. They seek to demonize Israeli democracy, to delegitimize the Jewish state, to scapegoat the Jewish people."[80]

The UNHRC President, Luis Alfonso De Alba of Mexico, responded by threatening to "remove from the record" the testimony, and said he "would not "express thanks for that statement. … I will not tolerate any similar statements in the Council. The way in which members of this Council were referred to, and indeed the way in which the council itself was referred to, all of this is inadmissible."[81][82] The Human Rights Council later stated that the remarks were never actually stricken from the record.[83]

Neuer's speech was praised in a number of editorials and op-ed's. The Wall Street Journal opined that Neuer's candor disrupted the Council's "obfuscation" and "fraudulence".[84] An op-ed writer in The National Post stated that the speech became "a major hit on YouTube".[85] In its editorial, The New York Sun called it a rare "diplomatic moment to remember", and published the full text of his remarks.[80] Alan Gold, an Australian human rights activist, opined Neuer's speech was "a non-government organisation laying bare the mendacity and prejudice of a key UN body."[86]


Sexual exploitation[edit]

UN Watch, the World YWCA, and the World Alliance of YMCAs published a statement against sexual exploitation and child pornography. "Today far too many children are sexually exploited and abused causing lifelong damage. More than two million children are exploited in the multibillion-dollar sex industry each year and 1.2 million children are trafficked annually", the statement said.[87]

Robinson Medal of Freedom[edit]

In July 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama awarded Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a Medal of Freedom.[88]

The conferral of the award to Robinson generated a mix of responses. John R. Bolton, a former US Ambassador to the United Nations, opined she should not receive the award due to her opposition to "the security or national interests of the United States".[89] Nancy Rubin, a former U.S ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission, said Robinson "highlighted the rights of women and children and promoted monitoring and reporting throughout the world" and commented that "as a Jewish American who affirms that defending the human rights of all is a basic tenant of my faith, I wholeheartedly endorse your recognition of Mary Robinson for the narrative of her life."[90] Congressman Michael McMahon of New York welcomed the presenting of the award to Robinson.[91] Forty-five Republican Congressmen sent a letter to President Obama asking him not to confer the award on Robinson, citing "her failed, biased record as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights".[92] Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of New York separately called the award "a mistake."[93]

Robinson asserted that in opposing the conferral "certain elements" of the Jewish community had put forward "totally without foundation" allegations in opposition to her receiving the award. In an open letter response to Robinson's comments, Hillel Neuer of UN Watch rejected her claims and criticized her role in the 2001 Durban Conference, stating: "Leadership means taking responsibility. You may not have been the chief culprit of the Durban debacle, but you will always be its preeminent symbol."[93]

Reception history[edit]

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said "I deeply appreciate the valuable work performed by UN Watch. I believe that informed and independent evaluation of the United Nations' activities will prove a vital source as we seek to adapt the Organization to the needs of a changing world."[14][15] At the 2006 Centennial Anniversary of the American Jewish Committee, the Director-General of the UN Office in Geneva, Mr. Sergei Ordzhonikidze, praised the work of UN Watch by saying "allow me to also pay tribute to the valuable work of UN Watch in support of the just application of values and principles of the United Nations Charter and support for human rights for all."[16]

Ian Williams, former president of the United Nations Correspondents Association[94] and author of The UN For Beginners,[95] wrote in an opinion piece in The Guardian in 2007 that the main objective of UN Watch "is to attack the United Nations in general, and its human rights council in particular, for alleged bias against Israel". Williams supported UN Watch's condemnation of the UN Human Rights Council as a hypocritical organization, but also accused UN Watch itself of hypocrisy for failing to denounce what he called "manifest Israeli transgressions against the human rights of Palestinians."[96]

The New Republic's Martin Peretz, in a 2007 blog piece, described the organization as "a truth-telling organization."[97] Claudia Rosett, a journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, praised UN Watch as "stalwart and invaluable".[98]

The American journalist and political commentator Phyllis Bennis described UN Watch as a "small Geneva-based right-wing organisation" that is "hardly known outside of UN headquarters".[99] She stressed that "undermining and delegitimising" Richard Falk through "scurrilous accusations" has been an "obsession of UN Watch" when he became Special Rapporteur.[100]

Agence France-Presse has described UN Watch both as "a lobby group with strong ties to Israel"[17] and as a group which "champion[s] human rights worldwide".[101]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ UN Watch: Letter to His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-moon, The Secretary-General of The United Nations. 2 November 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Mission and History". UN Watch. Retrieved 7 December 2011. 
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  5. ^ Mission & History, UN Watch
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    UN Watch hosted a panel of distinguished speakers, including a Darfur survivor and a UN expert, at its Activist Summit on Darfur today at the UN Office in Geneva

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]