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by Gerald M. Steinberg


December 10 is International Human Rights Day -- marking the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 1948. In accepting this document following the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust, the signatories pledged to protect the "inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family." Like other such anniversaries, the date provides an opportunity to examine the accomplishments, as well as the failures, in implementing this pledge.

The failures are clearly dominant -- in much of the world, human rights, including the basic right to life, are given short shrift. The watchdogs, both in the United Nations itself, and in the accompanying network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that claim to promote morality and human rights, have not only failed -- they have become a major part of the problem.

The basic norms of human behavior, including the right to life, are violated regularly by oppressive regimes in Burma, Sudan, North Korea, Syria, China (particularly in occupied Tibet), Iran, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. And yet the representatives of some of these governments also sit on the "reformed" United Nations Human Rights Council. The UNHRC and many similar organizations pay lip service to ethical norms, while applying double standards and closing a blind eye to the massive violations. In 2001, the U.N. held a conference in Durban attended by thousands of delegates, ostensibly to combat racism and xenophobia. Following a preparatory conference in Iran, led by Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson, this exercise became a vehicle for hatred and anti-Semitism.

Many of the hundreds of NGOs that claim to promote and protect human rights are often guilty of aiding and abetting this disgraceful process. Powerful international groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Paris-based FIDH (International Federation of Human Rights), and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) have used the massive resources at their disposal to exploit these norms to pursue private ideological agendas. They participated in the NGO Forum of the 2001 Durban conference, which was even worse than the diplomatic session. The NGO reports consistently focus disproportionately on the United States and Israel, and erase the context of terrorism in order to make false and frequent accusations of "war crimes," "collective punishment," "indiscriminate mass killing," and "violations of international law." For example, in 2006, HRW published hundreds of pages attacking Israeli responses to Hizbollah attacks, and glossing over Hezbollah's aggression and use of human shields. In contrast, this group issued a handful of reports protesting real basic rights violations in Burma, or analyzing the conflict in Sri Lanka.

The "halo effect" enjoyed by the U.N. and NGO human-rights network two or three decades ago has also been eroded by reports which make headlines, but are later shown to be fabricated or unverifiable. Lacking their own research capabilities, groups such as HRW and Amnesty rely on "local eyewitnesses" for evidence in Colombia (FARC), Gaza (Hamas), Lebanon (Hezbollah), and elsewhere. However, there are numerous documented cases in which these "eyewitnesses" are part of the political warfare which exploits the rhetoric of human rights by making false claims. They know that their reports, regardless of the lack of evidence or context, will be used to promote boycotts, demonization, and other political campaigns. In this way, human rights have become a vehicle to promote incitement, hatred, and terror -- the antithesis of the objectives proclaimed in 1948.

In order to change this dismal state of affairs, and restore the moral foundation and universality of human rights, the structure of the international diplomatic and NGO mechanisms must be changed, and the leaders must be replaced. The creation of alternative mechanisms to promote human rights, in which membership is limited to democratic governments, and which (without Iran and Sudan) would restore some of this lost legitimacy. Instead of the ineffectual and compromised head of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, new officials willing to stand up to politicized double standards are necessary.

Among the NGO superpowers, Kenneth Roth, who has headed Human Rights Watch since 1993, and Irene Khan, who has controlled Amnesty International since 2001, have been in power for far too long. They are responsible in large part for the politicization of human rights, including the double standards and lack of credibility. The same is true for the leaders of other groups in Europe and elsewhere that claim to promote human rights, and misdirect tens or in some cases hundreds of millions of dollars annually provided for this purpose.

At the same time, in order to restore the lost moral foundation of the human-rights movement, the donors and members of these organizations must also act responsibility to ensure that their support is not abused. It is not enough to simply write a check and come to an annual cocktail party, and declare that they have done their share to promote human rights. Donors to NGOs can be compared to directors of corporations that are accountable for transgressions committed by the officers of their firms. Following the 2001 Durban NGO Forum, the Ford Foundation (under threat of congressional investigation) accepted responsibility for funding some of the most virulent participants, and has implemented guidelines that are designed to prevent a repetition. Some donors to groups such as HRW have cut or conditioned their donations on an end to the double standards, and some members and officials of Amnesty have resigned in protest. These are all steps in the right direction.

In the Spring of 2009, the U.N. Human Rights Council has scheduled a follow up to the infamous Durban conference. This provides a rare opportunity for the governments that actually care about human rights, as well as the NGO community, to reverse course, and demonstrate that the lessons have been learned. If they succeed, this will mark an important step in the restoration of the values embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But if they fail, the Declaration, and the foundation of an international moral code based on a single universal standard, may never recover.

These are some of the NGO's under discussion. The material is taken from the NGO Monitor November 2007 Digest (Vol. 6, No. 3)


NGO campaigns against Israel's Gaza policy continue the Durban strategy

As NGO Monitor has reported, a number of influential international NGOs -- including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, Christian Aid, and ICAHD (funded by the European Union) -- published highly political statements in advance of the Annapolis peace summit (November 27). Most used similar rhetoric, repeating one-sided condemnations of Israeli policy in response to attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza, including accusations of "collective punishment" and blame for a "humanitarian crisis".

After the summit, more groups joined the campaign. On November 28, 2007 29 NGOs issued a joint statement, including Defense for Children International -- Palestine Section, Oxfam, World Vision -- Jerusalem, American Friends Service Committee, Medecins Du Monde, Medical Aid for Palestine (UK), Mercy Corps, and Terre des Hommes. They charge that Israel's "decision to limit fuel and potentially electricity to the general population constitutes a form of collective punishment which directly contravenes international humanitarian law." Israel is also condemned for "indiscriminate attacks and other human rights violations and abuses against civilians." Following the pattern of the past decade and the 2001 Durban strategy of demonization, these NGOs largely ignore systematic Palestinian violations of human rights, and use pseudo-legal language to deny Israelis the right to self-defense against terror. As a result, these NGO statements lack credibility and further undermine the universality of human rights norms.

Ford Foundation funds conference promoting new Middle East NGO forum

The Ford Foundation and Canadian Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) sponsored a conference in Istanbul on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in September, 2007. The forum was convened by the Washington, D.C. based Fund for Peace, with the aim of "rais[ing] public consciousness and press[ing] decision makers to do more to protect civilians caught in conflict." In addition to a number of journalists and academics, other participants included Sarah Leah Whitson and Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch, Executive Director of ACRI Rachel Benziman, UPMRC board member Allam Jarrar, Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) director Mohammed Zeidan, and Hansjoerg Strohmeyer of UN-OCHA.

Attendees signed the "Boshphorus Consensus", which restated articles of IHL relating to civilians, and declared the intention to set up a "new regional forum consisting of local civilian (non governmental) organizations... to jointly monitor and publicly report on attacks on civilians by state and non state actors." The document also promises to "promote the advancement of these principles...through advocacy...." (Publicity for this document's release continued in November.)

NGO Monitor has documented in detail the highly biased and politicized approach of NGOs such as HRW, UPMRC, HRA (as well as UN-OCHA). Hopefully, the "Bosphorus Consensus" will be used as the basis for the promotion of universal human rights across the Middle East, rather than for narrow and politicized anti-Israel campaigning.

Durban Conference 2009: Update

The NGO Forum of the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance initiated a coordinated campaign of virulent anti-Israel demonization -- the "Durban Strategy." The UN's "Durban II" 2009 forum is intended to focus on implementation of the 2001 resolution.

In November 2007, activities aimed at furthering the "Durban Strategy" and the planning of the "Durban 2009" conference continued. The NGO Committee Against Racism (part of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations [CONGO]) held a meeting November 7, to begin planning for the scheduled meetings of the Durban II Preparatory Committee to be held in the first half of 2008. And on November 20, the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to advance the Durban II process. According to the watchdog group, "Eye on the UN," these activities have been met with a level of opposition and criticism: "there was a clear signal [in November] that Durban II will not be allowed to claim consensus and its credibility will be challenged throughout the build up [to the planned 2009 conference]." "Eye on the UN" cites the public condemnation of the "Durban Declaration and Programme of Action," by the United States and Israel, and the US delegate stated that his country "has well-known, principled objections to the overall direction and procedures leading up to the planned Durban Review Conference..."

European governments, charities continue to fund War on Want, ignoring radical campaigning

In the past, British charity War on Want (WoW) -- whose radical political activities have drawn intense criticism -- has failed to provide financial details on its website. A copy of the NGO's 2006 official submission to the UK Charity Commission has now become available on the Charity Commission's site, which includes details of WoW's government funding sources.

In 2006, it received £300,006 from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), £229,820 from the European Commission, £34,017 from the UK National Lottery Charities Board, £24,696 from the Department of Foreign Affairs Ireland and £189,000 from Comic Relief, one of the UK's major charity campaigns (page 16). While funding amounts are listed, it is not clear how much from each source is directed towards WoW's "Palestine campaign;" no further information is available on the European Commission or the Irish Government's websites. (DFID lists WoW as a recipient of Civil Society Challenge Fund for humanitarian projects, unrelated to Israel.)

Such government and charitable support for WoW is highly problematic, given the NGO's radical politicized campaigning against Israel. Even if grants are directed, money is fungible, and institutional support also increases the NGO's credibility. The result is that WoW's total budget of £1,432,348 includes £535,536 allocated to "campaigning and policy work" which clearly contradicts stated EU, UK and policy goals. (See NGO Monitor's recent reports on EU Funding, DFID, and Irish Government Aid for more information on these guidelines.)

Amnesty International - Israel youth members promote refugee rights

Amnesty Israel's youth members lobbied Knesset members on refugee rights in November, 2007. They pressured the MKs to vote in favor of two bills designed to increase the rights of refugees seeking asylum in Israel, by offering a broader definition of what constitutes legitimate refugee status under Israeli law. The group successfully persuaded 62 Knesset members to sign a petition in favor of letting 1,200 Sudanese refugees stay in Israel in the summer of 2007. This activity does not reflect the anti-Israel campaigning that has characterized this NGO, and is an example of how the Israeli branch of Amnesty can promote its stated mandate to undertake "research and advocacy for the protection and promotion of the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and IDPs [internally displaced persons]."

PNGO, Badil and other NGOs hold anti-Israel Boycott conference in West Bank

The Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO), a radical group which played a prominent role at Durban 2001, organized a conference -- "First Palestinian Conference for the Boycott of Israel (BDS)" -- along with other radical anti-Israel NGOs November 22, 2007 in the West Bank. The stated aim was "to promote all forms of boycott against Israel among Palestinian community organizations, unions, as well as political, academic and cultural institutions." PNGO, which has received funding from the Ford Foundation, was instrumental in producing many of the preparatory materials for the Durban 2001 conference, including the document calling for embargoes on Israel. BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights was also a "main supporter of the November 22, conference." BADIL is one of the most active NGOs in promoting extremist Palestinian political positions in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a signatory to an August 2002 call to boycott Israel, including an endorsement of the NGO Declaration of the 2001 Durban conference, and has received funding from sources including Oxfam, Canadian International Development Agency, Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, and the Swiss Foreign Ministry.

This is an excerpt about the New Israel Fund from "Sending our youth the wrong signals," by Isi Leibler. It appeared in the Jerusalem Post, November 12, 2007

"The New Israel Fund, which raises over $25 million from American Jews, has the gall to describe itself as a 'Zionist' organization which 'loves Israel.' Yet the JTA reports that it recently hosted an Israeli Arab who stated publicly that the 60th anniversary of Israel represented a 'Nakba' (disaster) and expressed regret that Israeli Arabs had 'not fought the occupation seriously'...The same organization also promoted Michael Karayanni, an Arab-Israeli Hebrew University law professor who urged American Jewish audiences to support replacing the Israeli flag and anthem imposed on Arab Israelis in 1948. Yet the New Israel Fund still continues to receive funding from Jewish Federations."

This is an except from Tom Tugend article on the New Israel Fund. It is called "New Israel Fund renews local presence after four-year hiatus", and it appeared in Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, November 2, 2007.

"It is NIF's support of Arab groups, such as those represented by the two speakers, that raise the hackles of critics. One opponent cited is Gerald Steinberg, director of NGO Monitor...Referring to the remarks of the two speakers, Steinberg said, 'This is not about making Israel a better society; it's about denying the legitimacy of Israel to exist.' In response, Larry Garber, NIF's CEO, said that his organization would continue to fund Arab rights groups, even if they say or do things with which the NIF doesn't quite agree."


Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg is the head of the Political Studies Department at Bar-Ilan University, a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and Executive Director of NGO Monitor. The NGO Monitor promotes critical debate and accountability of human rights NGOs in the Arab Israeli conflict.

This article was published December 10, 2007 in National Review Online and is archived at OGVlNTgzNzhhZTUxMDVmMWE4NzFiYThiZWVmMzkwMTM=&w=MQ==


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