News Release

Human Rights Watch’s U.S. Double Standard


A letter to Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth was released this morning: “Nobel Peace Laureates to Human Rights Watch: Close Your Revolving Door to U.S. Government.” Signed by more than 100 academics, authors and activists, the letter states: “Human Rights Watch characterizes itself as ‘one of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights.’ However, HRW’s close ties to the U.S. government call into question its independence.

“For example, HRW’s Washington advocacy director, Tom Malinowski, previously served as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton and as a speechwriter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In 2013, he left HRW after being nominated as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights & Labor under John Kerry. …

“In his capacity as an HRW advocacy director, Malinowski contended in 2009 that ‘under limited circumstances’ there was ‘a legitimate place’ for CIA renditions—the illegal practice of kidnapping and transferring terrorism suspects around the planet. Malinowski was quoted paraphrasing the U.S. government’s argument that designing an alternative to sending suspects to ‘foreign dungeons to be tortured’ was ‘going to take some time.’

“HRW has not extended similar consideration to Venezuela. In a 2012 letter to President Chávez, HRW criticized the country’s candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council, alleging that Venezuela had fallen ‘far short of acceptable standards’ and questioning its ‘ability to serve as a credible voice on human rights.’ At no point has U.S. membership in the same council merited censure from HRW, despite Washington’s secret, global assassination program, its preservation of renditions, and its illegal detention of individuals at Guantánamo Bay.

“Likewise, in February 2013, HRW correctly described as ‘unlawful’ Syria’s use of missiles in its civil war. However, HRW remained silent on the clear violation of international law constituted by the U.S. threat of missile strikes on Syria in August. …

“We therefore encourage you to institute immediate, concrete measures to strongly assert HRW’s independence. Closing what seems to be a revolving door would be a reasonable first step: Bar those who have crafted or executed U.S. foreign policy from serving as HRW staff, advisors or board members. At a bare minimum, mandate lengthy ‘cooling-off’ periods before and after any associate moves between HRW and that arm of the government.”

KEANE BHATT, keane.l.bhatt at
Bhatt, an activist and writer in Washington, D.C., helped organize the letter. His analyses and opinions have appeared in a range of outlets, including NPR, The Nation, Al Jazeera, The St. Petersburg Times, and CNN En Español.