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Judi Lynn

Judi Lynn's Journal
Judi Lynn's Journal
March 14, 2013

The Bias of Human Rights Watch

March 14, 2013
Promoting Injustice

The Bias of Human Rights Watch

Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Over the past thirty years, Human Rights Watch has become one of the most recognized non-governmental organizations in the world due to its global promotion of human rights. But despite its claims to be an advocate of international human rights law, the reports issued by Human Rights Watch over the past decade have increasingly exhibited a bias towards certain rights over others. More precisely, Human Rights Watch repeatedly focuses on political and civil rights while ignoring social and economic rights. As a result, it routinely judges nations throughout the world in a manner that furthers capitalist values and discredits governments seeking socialist alternatives. It is this bias that lies at the root of Human Rights Watch’s scathing attacks on the government of Venezuela its recently deceased president Hugo Chávez. This bias was also evident in comments made in 2012 by Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, when he declared that Venezuela is “the most abusive” nation in Latin America.

According to Human Rights Watch’s mission statement, “Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world” and in order to achieve that objective “We challenge governments and those who hold power to end abusive practices and respect international human rights law.” The international human rights law referred to by Human Rights Watch is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was passed by the UN General Assembly in 1948. The Declaration encompasses political, civil, social, economic and cultural rights.

Capitalist nations, particularly the United States, have never been comfortable with the articles of the UN Declaration that require governments to guarantee the social and economic rights of their citizens. Among the social and economic rights that contravene capitalist values are the right to “food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services” (Article 25) as well as the right “to share in scientific advancement and its benefits” (Article 27). In a capitalist society, responsibility for obtaining food, clothing, housing and medical care rests with the individual not the state. Likewise, it is not the state’s responsibility to ensure that all citizens share equally in the benefits of scientific advancements developed by, for example, pharmaceutical corporations.

The United States does support those articles in the Declaration that promote civil and political rights. These rights ensure that “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law” (Article 7) “Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others” (Article 17); “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” (Article 18); and “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression” (Article 19). Basically, these are the individual rights that are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and that lie at the root of the liberal democratic concept of the “rule of law.” And while Human Rights Watch professes to defend the human rights enshrined in the UN Declaration, in reality, its work focuses exclusively on the civil and political rights recognized by the U.S. government.


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