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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Human Rights Watch bows to Saudi Arabia

NGO Monitor noticed an outrageous event that happened last month: Human Rights Watch went to Saudi Arabia, one of the worst offenders of human rights on the planet, to raise funds to continue their anti-Israel crusade.

From Arab News, May 26:

RIYADH: Human Rights Watch is gaining more recognition and support in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world. During their recent visit to the Kingdom, senior members of the organization were given a welcoming dinner in Riyadh hosted by prominent businessman and intellectual Emad bin Jameel Al-Hejailan.

Other prominent members of Saudi society, human rights activists and dignitaries were invited to the dinner held to honor the guests.

In an introductory speech at the dinner, Al-Hejailan said the credo of human rights is rising in the Kingdom. He commended Human Rights Watch (HRW) for its work on Gaza and the Middle East as a whole.

HRW presented a documentary and spoke on the report they compiled on Israel violating human rights and international law during its war on Gaza earlier this year.

"Human Rights Watch provided the international community with evidence of Israel using white phosphorus and launching systematic destructive attacks on civilian targets. Pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations have strongly resisted the report and tried to discredit it," said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of HRW's Middle East and North Africa Division.

Whitson pointed out that the group managed to testify about Israeli abuses to the US Congress on three occasions.

But wait - HRW pretended to be "even-handed" to the members of the Magic Kingdom:

Keeping with its mission of even-handed criticism, Human Rights Watch has also leveled criticism at other states in the region, including Saudi Arabia. The organization recently called on the Kingdom to do more to protect the human rights of domestic workers.

"Saudi Arabia's current labor law excludes domestic workers, denying them rights guaranteed to other workers, such as a weekly day of rest, limits to hours of work, and overtime pay," said HRW in a statement in March as the Shoura Council was debating the issue.

This is the worst criticism that HRW can muster against Saudi Arabia? Domestic worker rights?

No mention of systematic discrimination against women, including the ban on driving? No mention about the bigotry against non-Muslims in the Kingdom, such as confiscating Bibles at the airport? No mention of the religious police who terrorize people day and night?

Well, of course not. HRW wasn't in Saudi Arabia to promote human rights in the Gulf. They were there to raise money, and it would not make sense to insult their potential benefactors.

Hassan Elmasry, a member of HRW's International Board of Directors and the MENA Division's Advisory Committee, called for the support of the organization.

"Supporters can spot and fully discuss human rights cases or stories with friends or family members before passing stories or cases to HRW," Elmasry said.

The group is facing a shortage of funds because of the global financial crisis and the work on Israel and Gaza, which depleted HRW's budget for the region.

"Our work involved a lot of travel and expenses for researchers. We are so modest and conservative in running a tight budget of less than $2 million to cover costs and expenses for over 20 researchers working on the Middle East and North Africa," he said.

"Half of this amount comes from individual donors. We call businessmen in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world to support HRW by sending donations," said Elmasry, who is also a managing director at Morgan Stanley in London.

As NGO Monitor points out, HRW spends far more time criticizing Israel than repressive Arab regimes (with the interesting exception of Saudi Arabia, which gets more attention but much weaker criticism.)

Apparently, HRW now is using its biased Gaza reports and videos as fundraisers specifically aimed at Arabs. If the gambit works, they will have incentive to expand their criticism of Israel to get more money next year.

Does anyone see an ethical issue there?