April 30, 2008

NGO Monitor's 2007 Report on HRW: Bias and Double Standards Continue

When it comes to promoting accountability in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Human Rights Watch once again fails becuase of its bias against Israel.

"The point is not to equate, excuse or balance abuses but to demonstrate that reporting is based on human rights principles rather than partisan considerations." HRW's Position Paper on the Durban Preparatory Committee (April 21, 2008):
The following analysis [by NGO Monitor] demonstrates that HRW's own activities related to Israel continue to fall short of this basic standard of universality


  • Analysis of Human Rights Watch's use of the rhetoric of international law and other terminology shows continued double standards and misleading or false claims.
  • HRW accuses Israel of “collective punishment” of Palestinians in a way that is inconsistent with both international law and past and present usage of the term by HRW itself.
  • HRW’s focus on Israel in 2007 dropped to 2005 levels after 2006 marked a return to the extreme bias of the 2000-2004 period. The change in 2007 allowed more resources to be focused on countries committing major human rights violations.
  • However, disproportionate emphasis on Israel continued, with major reports covering 400 pages in 2007, using the same methodologies as in 2006 that lack credibility.
  • This contrasts with the limited attention on human rights violations in Libya, Syria, and other countries in the region.
  • Israel was the focus of more multimedia items (audio, video, graphics) than any other country in the region.
  • Reports on Israel continue to be based on unverifiable evidence provided by “eyewitnesses,” selected journalists, and other inappropriate sources. In some cases hard evidence has shown this testimony to be blatantly untrue.
  • HRW mentioned one or more of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers in a total of only 6 publications. Of these, only two refer to them by name; the other references are in passing.
This report includes quantitative analyses of publications from HRW’s Middle East and North Africa section, using a weighted scale methodology consistent with NGO Monitor’s previous analyses, and an assessment of the use of language in the HRW publications.

NGO Monitor’s analysis of Human Rights Watch's (HRW) output devoted to each country in the Middle East and North Africa region shows that the focus on and condemnations of Israel in 2007 returned to 2005 levels (see 2005 report). This follows a sharp increase in 2006 (see 2006 report). However, Israel is still the focus of nine percent of HRW's output on the region– significantly greater than Libya, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah and other chronic human rights violators. The evaluation is based on a point system which accounts for both the volume of publications and their significance (a report clearly being much more significant and requiring more resources than a press release –see the methodological section of the appendix).

Use of Multimedia items

In 2007 there were more multimedia items on Israel (6 audio, video and graphics items) than any other country (4 for Hamas, 4 for Iran and 3 for Egypt – other countries received 2 or fewer). Most countries, including Israel, featured in one audio item each as part of the 2007 World Report. Israel's multimedia items also included audio commentary by Marc Garlasco on cluster munitions, pictures and audio on medical evacuations3, pictures and audio on students trapped in Gaza, and a video on cluster munitions. Multi-media material requires a higher level of investment by Human Rights Watch and can in many cases result in a larger impact than is the case in other types of HRW activities. When this increased impact is disproportionately focused on Israel, the issue of double standards becomes relevant.

Use of Reports

HRW puts a great deal of effort and resources into its major reports, often including a press conference and other public relations activities to accompany the publication. In many cases, the focus of a report is chosen weeks or months in advance of publication, and reflects a strategic decision regarding HRW’s priorities.
The disproportionate emphasis on Israel continued in 2007. The number of reports featuring Israel in 2007 (2)4 was equal to the number on Hezbollah, Egypt, and Iraq. Only Lebanon featured in more reports (3).5 Significantly, HRW officials chose not to issue any reports on Iran, Libya and Morocco in 2007. (In contrast, HRW’s press releases focusing on human rights violations in Iran constituted 17 percent of total press releases in the region, with Egypt targeted in a further 17 percent. Israel received 9% of the press releases, a proportionate amount given it received 10% of the over all focus).

Priorities within the Arab Israeli conflict

HRW’s priorities are also reflected in an analysis of the relative coverage of Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Hezbollah. The analysis shows minimal attention to internal Palestinian fighting and an over emphasis on Israeli actions in both the conflict with Hezbollah and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Figure 3 demonstrates almost the same distribution between publications focusing on Israel and the total focused on all groups in conflict with Israel (i.e. Palestinian groups and Hezbollah). This was despite the fact that nearly half of all Palestinian fatalities were caused by intra-Palestinian violence during 2007. 6

When Hamas seized control of Gaza by violent coup in June 2007, there were many clear violations of human rights.7 Human Rights Watch itself documented a few briefly. One example was the execution by Hamas of a cook for Mahmoud Abbas’s Presidential Guard (press release “Gaza: Armed Palestinian Groups Commit Grave Crimes” - June 13). The cook was executed by “throwing him to his death, with his hands and legs tied, from a 15-story apartment building in Gaza City”. Over the year, only 2 published items from HRW focused primarily on internal Palestinian violence, a third published item covered both internal Palestinian violence and attacks on Israelis. This is in comparison with seven documents focused on Palestinian attacks on Israelis.

Further comparisons between Israel and those in conflict with her are available in the appendix, including a breakdown of the collective term Palestinians.8

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