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FLASHBACK 2007 | Hijacking Human Rights | Human Rights Watch

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August 03, 2007


by Michael Barker

In our increasingly public relations-driven world, it is of little surprise that cynical political elites regularly use the rhetoric of democracy, peace, and human rights to disguise their overtly anti-humanist policies. Why should we expect less of our leaders in a world where the corporate media wages a relentless war to manufacture our consent for ruling demagogues? Thus it seems a logical assumption that budding mind managers will attempt to pervert the very concepts that their voters/targets hold most dearly. That this doublespeak is rendered invisible in the mainstream media is a given, but the lack of debate about this process in the alternative media is more worrisome.

Writers in the alternative press, of course, regularly question the rhetoric of our anti-democratic leaders, but the number of researchers investigating their cunningly misnamed (imperial) organizations – like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) – are few, and the number examining the democratic credentials of what are taken to be progressive organizations are even less still. This is disturbing in many ways, because if say for example I was a neoconservative and had identified this void of critical inquiry, then I would see the obvious utility of infiltrating and hijacking (or even creating) such unaccountable organizations so that I could use them for my own political purposes.[1] Thus if we are truly interested in creating progressive democratically run group’s within society, then it seems like a no-brainer that we should ensure their accountability through undertaking ongoing critiques of their work. While such activities are less necessary for organisations that invite a high degree of local participatory control, it is vital for national or internationally orientated groups that for the most part are privately run, with public involvement usually limited to monetary support.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is one of the latter such organizations, and as a highly regarded and influential international nongovernmental organization (NGO), it is vital that its global work be regularly examined to ensure that it remains true to it’s stated humanitarian mission. Simply put, this is because as Jonathan Cook writes:

“The measure of a human rights organisation is to be found not just in the strides it takes to seek justice for the oppressed and victimised but also in the compromises it makes to keep itself out of trouble. Because of the business that human rights defenders are in, they must be held to a standard higher than we demand of others.”[2]

Unfortunately, it seems that for the most part HRW has evaded such critical commentary from the Left, only coming under scrutiny from a handful of activists at a relatively late stage in their institutional history. So although this article aims to contribute towards what is hoped will be an ongoing critique of HRW’s work, the author recognises that in HRW’s case the following critical examination may be coming to late to help them resolve their democratic failures. That said, at the very least it is hoped that this article will encourage other like-minded readers to begin to think more critically about the work of global NGOs with a mind towards promoting and developing a world order based on participatory principles. Initially, this article will provide an overview of the recent critiques of HRW, however, the bulk of the article will interrogate the ‘democratic’ ties of some of the key people affiliated with HRW by focusing on their Americas Advisory Committee (work analysing their other advisory boards is currently in progress). Finally, HRW’s role as a leading proponent of ‘humanitarian’ interventions will be discussed, and recommendations made for how concerned activists may best counter the antidemocratic developments exposed in this study.

Abusing the Principles of Human Rights

In an instructive article dealing with human rights abuses in China, Ralph McGehee (1999) draws attention to the links between HRW’s Asia branch and the imperial ambitions of the NED and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He notes that: “US corporate-owned media, in league with government agencies, orchestrate media coverage to demonize states in conflict with corporate plans”. He observed that in China’s case many of those stories “seem to be generated by the ‘privately funded’ US-based Human Rights Watch/Asia” and that this:

“…reveal[s] the current US policy of using (rightly or wrongly) the theme of human rights violations to alter or overthrow non-US-favored governments. In those countries emerging from the once Soviet Bloc that is forming new governmental systems; or where emerging or Third World governments resist US influence or control, the US uses ‘human rights violations,’ as an excuse for political action operations. ‘Human Rights’ replaces ‘Communist Conspiracy’ as the justification for overthrowing governments.”[3]

In a similar vein, Sara Flounders (2002) illustrates how HRW provided the global media with information that enabled them to claim that in the West Bank “no massacre had taken place in Jenin” when in fact much other evidence suggested that a massacre had taken place.[4] She notes how HRW claims that “its reports are objective, balanced and evenhanded”, however:

“When it comes to Palestine this has meant equating the violence of the illegal Israeli occupation with the resistance of Palestinians to overwhelming military force. Once Human Rights Watch declared that ‘no massacre’ had occurred in Jenin, the demand for an inquiry and international action against Israeli crimes virtually disappeared. Media coverage shifted sharply. The Bush administration made a new round of demands on the Palestinians to condemn violence while calling Ariel Sharon ‘a man of peace’ and expressing sympathy for Israeli ‘self-defense’ measures. HRW statements echoed these shifts.”

More recently, HRW’s work in Palestine has come under fire from Jonathan Cook (2006) for seemingly “distorting its findings to placate the Israel lobby”.[5] This provoked HRW’s Middle East policy director, Sarah Leah Whitson, to respond to Cook’s critique whereupon she misrepresented his argument, which in turn invited a reply from Cook who observed that:

“If this is how one of the directors of HRW distorts my arguments and evidence when I carefully set out my case in black and white on the page, one has to wonder how faithfully she and her organisation sift the evidence in the far trickier cases relating to human rights, where things are rarely so black and white.”[6]

Crucially Cook clarifies his observations in his initial article by noting that he was “not challenging HRW’s research, which appears to show unequivocally that Israel did commit major war crimes; I am contesting its distorted presentation of the facts it unearthed to suit what looks suspiciously like a political agenda.”

Just over a month later in November 2006, Cook again highlighted HRW’s hypocrisy and doublespeak in Palestine, drawing attention to their press release Civilians Must Not Be Used to Shield Homes Against Military Attacks; which he observed was a travesty for it “denounce[ed] the Palestinians for choosing collectively and peacefully to resist house demolitions, while not concentrating on the violations committed by Israel in destroying the houses and using military forms of intimidation and punishment against civilians”.[7] Others like Norman Finkelstein (2006) also called upon HRW to retract this press release, which was subsequently withdrawn by HRW just over 2 weeks later.[8]

In a similar vein to HRW’s controversial actions in Palestine, Heather Cottin (2002) questioned the way HRW “equates the actions of the Colombian guerrilla fighters struggling to free themselves from the oppression of state terror, poverty and exploitation with the repression of the U.S-sponsored armed forces and paramilitary death squads”.[9] Taken together these recent examples clearly illustrate that there is more to HRW than first meets the eye. However, it is their promotion of foreign interventions in the name of ‘human rights’ that is potentially their most dangerous activity – as revealed by Edward S. Herman, David Peterson and George Szamuely (2007) in a devastating critique, titled Human Rights Watch in Service to the War Party, which examines HRW’s role in supporting the dismantlement of Yugoslavia. They conclude that:

“Sadly, HRW has… been an important contributor to human rights violations in the former Yugoslavia. HRW helped stir up passions in the demonization process from 1992 onward and actively and proudly contributed to preparing the ground for NATO’s ‘supreme international crime’ in March 1999.”[10]

The first full-length investigation of the people working behind the scenes at HRW was undertaken by Paul Treanor (2004), in which he methodically worked through the elite linkages of their Europe and Central Asia Advisory Committee. Treanor noted that:

“…human-rights interventionism became a consensus among the ‘foreign policy elite’ even before September 11. Human Rights Watch itself is part of that elite, which includes government departments, foundations, NGO’s and academics. It is certainly not an association of ‘concerned private citizens’. HRW board members include present and past government employees, and overlapping directorates link it to the major foreign policy lobbies in the US.”[11]

Indeed, HRW was created in 1978 as the Helsinki Watch (which later became HRW’s Europe and Central Asia Advisory Committee) “at the instigation of [ambassador-at-large for President Carter] Arthur Goldberg” with the start-up costs covered by a $400,000 from the Ford Foundation.[12] Furthermore, as Bruce Montgomery (2002) observes their establishment credentials were fortified by Robert L. Bernstein (the founder of HRW) who “began by recruiting the establishment elite to give the cause clout and visibility.”[13] Kirsten Sellars (2002) also points out that:

“The Ford Foundation played a crucial part in the development of the human rights movement in the seventies and eighties. A graph based on The Foundation Grants Index shows that Ford provided the lion’s share of US foundation grants for international human rights work in the years 1977 to 1991, especially in the first five years. (Kathryn Sikkink, ‘Human Rights, Principled Issue-Networks, and Sovereignty in Latin America’, International Organization, 47(3), Summer 1993, 421.) In particular, Ford was responsible for financially kick-starting many new human rights NGOs in the late seventies, including Helsinki Watch and the other Watch committees, the Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights, and the International Human Rights Law Group [now known as Global Rights. It also revived older groups such as the International League for Human Rights."[14]

For activists and researchers familiar with the Ford Foundation’s elitist and anti-democratic history, this in itself should start alarm bells ringing as to the political motivations guiding the financial support which helped bring about HRW’s existence.[15] This is because the Ford Foundation’s backing of HRW is consistent with ‘democratic’ changes occurring within the US foreign policy elites thinking in the 1970s, which was beginning to recognise the importance of soft-power in promoting American hegemony. These changes were no doubt informed by the political experiences gained by the political elites running liberal philanthropic foundations (like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations’), which in 1984 eventually led to the creation of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the United States Institute for Peace (USIP). Ironically, these groups carry out the same disruptive work that the CIA and USAID are well known for, yet under the protective rhetoric of democracy and peace.[16] However, the type of democracy promoted by these organisations is best referred to as low-intensity democracy, or polyarchy.

While only one study has exposed the anti-democratic orientation of the USIP, far more studies (especially more recently) have laid bare the ‘democracy’ promoting practices of the NED and its cohorts – it’s four primary grantees being the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, the Center for International Private Enterprise, and the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center.[17] The seminal study examining the NED is Professor Robinson’s Promoting Polyarchy: he notes that:

“[T]he NED was created in the highest echelons of the US national security state, as part of the same project that led to the illegal operations of the Iran-Contra scandal. It is organically integrated into the overall execution of US national security and foreign policy. In structure, organization, and operation, it is closer to clandestine and national security organs such as the CIA than apolitical or humanitarian endowments as its name would suggest. The NED has operated in tandem with all major interventionist undertakings in the 1980s and 1990s.”[18]

As the latter part of this study will illustrate, some of HRW’s Americas Advisory Board are directly promoting the agenda of the NED-linked ‘democracy’ establishment, while many others are closely linked to its most influential proponents. For reasons of concision, however, the author has chosen to focus predominantly on the ‘democratic’ affiliations of HRW’s Americas Advisory Board members, and so does not concentrate on each individual’s links to what appear to be genuinely democratic organizations. This decision has been taken because the primary purpose of this essay is to draw attention to the close interlocks that exist between the human rights and the ‘democracy promoting’ communities. That many of the people working with HRW are also invited to work with progressive groups’ is a given (especially considering the lack of attention paid to their activities), but this should surely also indicate the depth of the problem facing progressive activists who endeavour to promote a democracy based on participatory principles, not imperialism. (In most cases progressive links are not highlighted, although many of them can be found at SourceWatch.)

Before launching into the investigation of HRW Americas Advisors, it is important to clarify a few methodological details to help make the article easier to read. For a start, all the HRW advisors for which biographical information was available online (40 of 43 – biographical information was not available for Mark Kaplan, Andy Kaufman, and Tony White) have been examined in alphabetical order, that is, bar George Soros who is introduced first due to the exceptionally important role he has played in a number of ‘democratic’ organizations. Secondly, due to the paucity of critical research on many of the ‘democratic’ organizations introduced in this article, a short summary of their ‘democratic’ links has been provided in the appendix: however, where a ‘democratic’ group’s work is directly relevant to the HRW advisor being examined this information is sometimes provided in the main body of the text. Finally, to make the article easier to read many of the articles internet references have been omitted, thus a complete version of this essay with all references included can be obtained from the author on request.

Introducing HRW’s Americas Advisors: A Truly ‘Democratic’ Board

George Soros

Roland Algrant

Roberto Alvarez

Cynthia J. Arnson

Lloyd Axworthy – Chair

Carlos Basombrio

Peter D. Bell

Marcelo R. Bronstein

Paul Chevigny

Roberto Cuellar

Dorothy Cullman

Miguel Diaz

John Dinges

Denise Dresser

Nancy Englander

Tom J. Farer

Muni Figueres

Myles Frechette

Alejandro Garro

Peter Hakim

Ronald G. Hellman

Bianca Jagger

Stephen L. Kass

Marina Pinto Kaufman – Vice-Chair

Susanna Leval

Michael Maggio

Kenneth R. Maxwell

Jocelyn McCalla

David Nachman

Robert A. Pastor

Bruce Rabb

Michael Shifter

Julien J. Studley

Rose Styron

Javier Timerman

Arturo Valenzuela

Horacio Verbitsky

George R. Vickers

Alexander W. Wilde


Agent of Imperialism: Human Rights Watch as ‘Democracy Promoter’

As this article has demonstrated, the activities of HRW’s Americas advisors are closely entwined with those being pursued by various ‘democracy promoting’ elites. In fact, the numerous overlaps that exist between HRW’s Americas advisory board and the ‘democracy promoting’ establishment are so extensive that in many cases you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two groups. This raises a number of serious issues, as if HRW were really genuinely concerned with the promotion of democracy and human rights, then knowledge of their links to anti-democratic organizations – which they must certainly be aware of by now – should surely give them cause to rethink their choice of advisors at the very least. However, given HRW’s elitist origins (fully outlined in the introduction) it seems more likely that such ‘democratic’ ties are actually an integral part of their modus operandi. Indeed, HRW’s intimate relations with ‘democracy promoters’ like the NED and USIP may be merely seen as a reflection of the high degree of influence liberal elites and liberal foundations have over the running and funding of HRW.

Unfortunately, as the mass media do not provide an accurate reflection of society, it is not surprising that the elitist image of HRW revealed in this article is rarely documented in their coverage of human rights issues. This is because as Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky (1988) suggested in their seminal work Manufacturing Consent, the mass media’s primary (yet for the most part unstated) goal is to manufacture public consent for elite interests. Bearing this in mind, it is logical – that in spite of contrary evidence – that the mass media portrays HRW as a progressive organization, and that critiques of HRW’s elitist history are rendered invisible in the mainstream media.[19] (What is less logical though is the lack of criticism that HRW and many of the other groups examined in this study have received in the alternative media – although perhaps that is another question for later article.)

So is HRW really an agent of imperialism? The short answer is yes: that said, this is of course a difficult question to answer briefly, as there is no doubt that HRW has and continues to carry out progressive work that protects some human rights in some areas of the world. However, it is important to note that this does not necessarily mean that they are helping to create a more progressive global society. Critical examinations of groups like the NED and the USIP have demonstrated that the discourse of democracy and peace serves as a brilliant rhetorical cover for promoting elite democracy – that is, low intensity democracy or polyarchy. Thus although HRW may be promoting some form of human rights, it appears that like the NED and the USIP, their work may be undermining the efforts of other more progressive groups struggling to promote a more egalitarian and participatory world order.[20] Critically, Julie Mertus (2004) in her important study, Bait and Switch: Human Rights and US Foreign Policy, illustrates that in spite of all the work of human rights groups:

“The United States is in fact still leading the world on human rights, but in the wrong direction, promoting short-term instrumentalism over long-term ethical principles, double standards instead of fair dealing, and a fearful view of human nature over a more open one… Human rights talk has not been accompanied by human rights behaviors.”[21]

Here it is instructive to turn to James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer’s (2005) incisive analysis regarding the mechanics of social change. In an attempt to understand why many NGOs may actually be exacerbating the very problems that they are aiming to fix, Petras and Veltmeyer explain that:

“In Latin America… the main concern [of the US government] in the 1960s and 1970s was to stave off pressures for revolutionary change – to prevent another Cuba. To this end, USAID promoted state-led reforms and the public provision of credit and technical assistance to the mass of small and peasant producers in the region. A good part of ODA [Overseas Development Aid] took a bilateral form, but increasingly USAID turned to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as their executing arm, bypassing governments in the region and channelling funds more directly to the local communities. The NGOs provided collateral ‘services’ or benefits to the donors, including strengthening local organizations opting for development and weakening class-based organizations with an anti-systemic orientation. In this context, the NGOs were also used, almost incidentally – and somewhat ‘innocently’ from the per¬spective of many of their personnel – not only to promote economic and social development (rather than social change and revolution) but to promote the values of democratic forms of organization as well as capital¬ism (the use of the electoral mechanism in their politics and the market in their economics).”[22]

Not being ones to mince their words, Petras and Veltmeyer go on to describe such NGOs as the “executing agents of US imperialism” which “helped turn local communities away from organizations seeking to mobilize for direct action against the system and instead promoted a reformist approach to social change.”[23] Likewise Joan Roelofs (2003) also suggests that many “[c]ivil society organizations are convenient instruments for imperialism” which are effectively “controlled by elites via funding, integration into coalitions, and overlapping personnel.”[24] As Ian Smillie (1995) observes, the irony of this situation is that “[d]espite frequently repeated reassurance that NGO independence is reasonably intact, the fact is that [since the 1960s] Northern NGOs have stumbled into a contracting era without appearing to have noticed it.”[25]

Clearly HRW would rank among those NGOs that Petras, Veltmeyer and Roelofs would describe as a working in the service of imperialism, a diagnosis which I for one would agree with. But even if one were not inclined to go this far, it can be argued with certainty that (at the very least) by working so closely with the ‘democracy promoting’ community HRW is actively legitimizing the promotion of polyarchy, and thus undermining efforts to promote participatory democracy. Indeed, the presence of such extensive ‘democratic’ ties among HRW’s Americas advisory board alone should be irreconcilable for a group which aims to promote human rights, unless of course HRW sincerely believes that neoliberal economics coupled with political disengagement will provide the best protection for global human rights. However, given the evidence presented in this article, it seems more likely that rather than just being indirectly linked to the ‘democracy’ elites, HRW is in actual fact an integral member of the ‘democracy promoting’ community – albeit a liberally orientated member.

Unfortunately, the hegemonic position that HRW’s work has attained over the global promotion of human rights has negative consequences for democratic governance which are not immediately obvious. David Chandler (2006) observes that:

“While mainstream commentators conflate human rights with empowerment, self-determination and democracy, there are few critics who draw attention to the fact that the human rights discourse of moral and ethical policies is essentially an attack on the public political sphere and democratic practices.”[26]

Indeed with the end of the Cold War ‘humanitarian’ interventions have grown to become a central pillar for justifying what should in a more honest world be called illegal wars of aggression. Problematically, for anyone interested in challenging such humanitarian doublespeak, Chandler points out that “it is perhaps even more concerning that many commentators argue that critical discussion of the human rights framework itself is unproductive and dangerous.”[27] This reasoning perhaps helps to explain why few commentators in even the alternative media have undertaken sustained criticisms of HRW and its ‘democratic’ affiliates. Talking about the rise of NGOs more generally, Petras and Voltmeyer (2001) suggest that:

“It is symptomatic of the pervasiveness of the NGOs and their economic and political power over the so-called ‘progressive world’ that there have been few systematic Left critiques of their negative impact. In a large part this failure is due to the success of the NGOs in displacing and destroying the organized leftist movements and co-opting their intellectual strategists and organizational leaders.”[28]

This is clearly a dangerous situation for progressive activists still wishing to promote participatory democracy, as many of the large transnational NGOs (like HRW) are unlike governments almost totally unaccountable to the public, and it can easily be argued that their presence actually works to minimise meaningful public participation in political activities. Indeed, Petras and Voltmeyer (2001) go on to note, that:

“In most cases the NGOs are not even membership organizations but a self appointed elite which, under the pretence of being “resource people” for popular movements, in fact, competes with and undermines them. In this sense, NGOs undermine democracy by taking social programs and public debate out of the hands of the local people and their elected natural leaders and creating dependence on non-elected overseas officials and their anointed local officials.”[29]

Chandler concludes his critique of humanitarian interventions by noting that: “[t]he destructive dynamic of human rights interventionism is not because human rights policies are not fully applied or because international institutions are following some hidden Great Power agenda, but precisely because the human rights discourse itself is deeply corrosive of the political process.”[30] While Petras and Voltmeyer would certainly agree with Chandler’s description of the corrosive nature of the discourse of human rights, Chandler’s analysis falls short by failing to recognise the vital role that international liberal philanthropists have played in openly (not covertly) engineering the legalistic discourse of human rights which dominates the globe today. That said, perhaps Chandler’s failure to address the vexing issue of liberal philanthropy should not be considered to be just a personal shortcoming, as his exclusion of any discussion of the critical role of liberal foundations is more symptomatic of academia in general.

Writing in 1993, Mary Colwell observed that private foundations – both liberal and conservative – “are largely ignored in studies of how public policy is made in the United States… [and that in] much of what is written about the nonprofit, ‘third’ or ‘independent’ sector… the critical role of private foundations and data from research about the political and economic elite is absent.”[31] This is certainly the case with studies concerned with human rights, even progressive ones like Chandler’s. One of the few scholars to have comprehensively investigated the anti-democratic influence of liberal foundations is Joan Roelofs, who suggests that, liberal foundations:

“…greatest threat to democracy lies in their translation of wealth into power. They can create and disseminate an ideology justifying vast inequalities of life chances and political power; they can deflect criticism and mask (and sometimes mitigate) damaging aspects of the system; and they can hire the best brains, popular heroines, and even left-wing political leaders to do their work.”[32]

To briefly summarize. Liberal foundations started seriously funding progressive activist organizations (like the civil rights movement) in the 1960s. Then through a process referred to as strategic philanthropy, liberal foundations were able to successfully moderate civil society by directing the bulk of their funding towards the more conservative progressive groups, thus reducing the relative influence of more radical activists through a process either described as channelling or coopting.[33] Unfortunately, to date, Roelofs (the leading writer/scholar critically examining such processes of cooption) has not provided a detailed analysis of the effect of liberal philanthropy on the human rights movement. But she does point out that:

“‘Solidarity’ groups, which relate the poverty and rebellions throughout Latin America to U.S. corporate penetration backed by overt and covert mili¬tary action, are potentially challenging to the system. [Liberal f]oundations have attempted to counter this perspective by creating Americas Watch [now a part of HRW] and many other human rights organizations. These regard the troubles arising from a lack of respect for human rights throughout Latin America. They hope to improve the situation by such means as bringing human rights violations to the attention of the media and international organizations and encouraging human rights groups throughout the hemisphere. The problem with this legal approach is that abuses are regarded as ‘deviations,’ even when a regime is using terror as an instrument of policy.”[34]

Participatory Solutions for Participatory Social Change

Fortunately for progressive activists, the answers to the ‘democratic’ problems raised in this article are rather simple. However, before any suitable solutions can be implemented, individuals and organizations concerned with protecting human rights and promoting a more egalitarian world order will in the first instance need to acknowledge that a problem exists. Given the paucity of information and current commentary concerning this subject, it is likely that this will be the most difficult step for progressive activists and their organizations to make. In fact, the issue of developing sustainable funding (in ways compatible with participatory principles) for progressive social change has not even been seriously addressed by many progressive activists either – a recent exception being INCITE!’s (2007) The Revolution Will Not Be Funded (published by South End Press).

Realistically, it is unreasonable to assume that the evidence presented in this paper will be enough to radically alter the high regard many individuals have for HRW and liberal philanthropists more generally. Therefore, the first step that I propose needs to be taken to change this situation is to launch a vibrant public discussion of the broader role of liberal foundations and the NED in funding social change – an action that will rely for the most part upon the interest and support of grassroots activists all over the world. Only then, once progressive activists concerned with the promotion of human rights have considered all the evidence, will it be possible for them to collectively decide upon the most appropriate way to engage in humanitarian activities that will promote not undermine participatory democracy (and human rights). Indeed, to counter the negative influence of the ‘democracy promoting’ establishment – which of course includes liberal philanthropists – on NGOs like HRW, it is vital that progressive citizens committed to a participatory democracy work to develop alternate funding mechanisms for sustaining grassroots activism, so they can break the “insidious cycle of competition and co-optation” set up by liberal foundations and their cohorts.[35] Then perhaps progressive NGOs and activists will be able to “systematically criticize and critique the ties of their colleagues with imperialism and its local clients, their ideology of adaptation to neoliberalism, and their authoritarian and elitist structures.” Petras and Veltmeyer add that progressive NGOs would then need to encourage their less progressive counterparts “to get out of the foundation/government networks and go back to organizing and educating their own people in Europe and North America to form socio-political move¬ments that can challenge the dominant regimes and parties that serve the banks and the [Transnational Corporations].”36 This is certainly no small order, but it is certainly one that will better enable progressive activists all over the world to promote participatory democracy rather than polyarchy.


[1] It is interesting to note that the phenomenal success of the new Right from the 1970s onwards, was in large part based on the mimicry of the liberal foundations strategies. See, Yves Dezalay and Bryant G. Garth, The Internationalization of Palace Wars: Lawyers, Economists, and the Contest to Transform Latin American States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 127, 276.

[2] Jonathan Cook, ‘The Israel Lobby Works its Magic, Again: How Human Rights Watch Lost Its Way in Lebanon‘, Counterpunch, September 7, 2006.

[3] Ralph McGehee, ‘CIA’s War against China‘, Friends of Tibet, December 1999.

[4] Sara Flounders, ‘Massacre in Jenin, Human Rights Watch and the Stage-Management of Imperialism‘, CovertAction Quarterly, Fall 2002.

[5] Jonathan Cook, ‘The Israel Lobby Works its Magic, Again: How Human Rights Watch Lost its Way in Lebanon‘, Counterpunch, September 7, 2006.

[6] Jonathan Cook, ‘Human Rights Watch: Still Missing the Point: Should We Deny Lebanon the Right to Defend Itself?‘, Counterpunch, September 25, 2006.

[7] Jonathan Cook, ‘Palestinians are Being Denied the Right of Non-Violent Resistance?: Would HRW Have Attacked Martin Luther King, Too?‘, Counterpunch, November 30, 2006.

[8] Norman G. Finkelstein, ‘Human Rights Watch Must Retract its Shameful Press Release: Rush to Judgment‘, Counterpunch, November 29, 2006; HRW, ‘Human Rights Watch Statement on our November 22 Press Release‘, Human Rights Watch, December 16, 2006.

[9] Heather Cottin, ‘George Soros, Imperial Wizard‘, CovertAction Quarterly, 74, Fall 2002.

[10] Edward S. Herman, David Peterson and George Szamuely, ‘Human Rights Watch in Service to the War Party: Including A Review of “Weighing the Evidence: Lessons from the Slobodan Milosevic Trial” (Human Rights Watch, December, 2006)‘, Znet, February 25, 2007.

Greg Grandin (2007) recently observed that HRW has “jumped on the media and political bandwagon” by arguing that Hugo Chavez is attacking freedom of expression in Venezuela by failing to renew a broadcast license for “one of the oldest and largest opposition-controlled TV stations” RCTV. This is particularly interesting as amongst other things “RCTV actively participated in the U.S.-backed [and NED aided] coup that briefly overthrew Venezuela’s democratically elected President Hugo Chavez in 2002.” Likewise, John Pilger also castigated both Amnesty International and Reports sans Frontiers for being wrong in demonizing Chavez concerning the RCTV affair. See, Greg Grandin, ‘Free Speech in Venezuela‘, AlterNet, June 22, 2007. ; John Pilger, ‘Pilger on Reporters Without Borders and RCTV‘, The New Media Machines, June 8, 2007. (6 minute video)

[11] Paul Treanor, ‘Who is behind Human Rights Watch?‘, 2004.

[12] Interestingly, Arthur Goldberg had been “general counsel for the steelworkers union for many years and helped engineer the merger between the AFL and CIO… [and] he was even credited with delivering the blue-collar vote to Kennedy, who rewarded him with the position of secretary of labor and later associate justice of the Supreme Court and ambassador to the United Nations.” Goldberg also worked “briefly as a partner at Paul Weiss” a Wall Street law firm that current HRW advisor, David Nachman, also worked at during the 1980s. “In terms of the Helsinki monitors, according to Korey, ‘Goldberg saw the need for a responsible and highly regarded American NGO that could provide detailed information about Communist repression that might sensitize Western public opinion…. He met with the President of the Ford Foundation, McGeorge Bundy, and prevailed upon him to form an appropriate NGO’ (Korey 1998, 138).” “Other major funding sources in the 1980s were the MacArthur Foundation, the Revson Foundation, the J. M. Kaplan Foundation, and George Soros, who ultimately hired Aryeh Neier [the founding executive director of HRW] to head his own foundation.” See, Dezalay and Garth, The Internationalization of Palace Wars, 279, 281.

Also see, David Korey, The Promises We Keep: Human Rights, the Helsinki Process, and American Foreign Policy (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993); David Korey, NGOs and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “A Curious Grapevine” (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998).

The founding executive director of HRW, Aryeh Neier, served in this position for 12 years before joining the Open Society Institute in 1993, but prior to this he had worked for 15 years at the American Civil Liberties Union, eight of which he spent as one of their national directors. ‘Aryeh Neier‘.

[13] Bruce P. Montgomery, ‘The Human Rights Watch Archives’, Peace Review, 14:4 (2002), 457; Ford Foundation Annual Report 1979 (October 1, 1978 to September 30, 1979).

“Robert Bernstein, the president of Random House, came to Helsinki Watch through a concern that began in the early 1970s to protect the freedom of expression of Soviet and Eastern European dissidents. A number of important lawyers were also involved from the beginning, including the two other officers, Orville Schell and Adrian De Wind, who were partners in leading Wall Street firms and had been or were at the time presidents of the New York City Bar. Along with this group associated with Helsinki Watch were the presidents of major universities, including Chicago, MIT, and Columbia; and leaders of great banks, including Lazard Freres and Salomon Broth¬ers, as well as representatives of the literary world, including the authors E. L. Doctorow, Toni Morrison, and Robert Penn Warren.” See, Dezalay and Garth, The Internationalization of Palace Wars, 132.

Robert Berstein is currently chair of Human Rights in China, serves on the national council of Human Rights First, and is a member of HRW’s Asia Advisory Committee.

[14] Kirsten Sellars, The Rise and Rise of Human Rights (Sparkford, UK: Sutton Publishing, 2002), 222.

With regards to the formation of Helsinki Watch, “[t]he Ford Foundation was particularly keen to recruit opinion-leaders, and a blue-chip board, drawn heavily from the ranks of the Council on Foreign Relations, was duly convened.” Kirsten Sellars, The Rise and Rise of Human Rights, 140. For a detailed examination of the elite orientation of the Council on Foreign Relations, see Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter, Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977).

[15] Edward H. Berman, The Ideology of Philanthropy: The Influence of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations on American Foreign Policy (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1983); Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003); Frances S. Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (London: Granta, 1999). The Ford Foundation continues to be a strong supporter of HRW, and in 1997 gave them a grant for $1 million. See, Ford Foundation Annual Report 1997.

[16] For critiques of USAID and the CIA see, Steve Weissman, The Trojan Horse: A Radical Look at Foreign Aid (San Francisco: Ramparts Press, 1974); Ward Churchill and Jim Van der Wall, The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars against Domestic Dissent (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1990).

[17] Recent literature exposing the NED’s polyarchal works includes, Michael J. Barker, ‘Taking the Risk out of Civil Society: Harnessing Social Movements and Regulating Revolutions‘, Refereed paper presented to the Australasian Political Studies Association Conference, University of Newcastle 25-27 September 2006; Anthony Fenton, ‘Legitimizing Polyarchy: Canada’s Contribution to “Democracy Promotion” in Latin America and the Caribbean‘, Znet, October 29, 2006; Greg Grandin, Empire’s workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006); Hilary Keenan, ‘Aid Without Mercy: The Paid Pipers of Civil Society‘, 21st Century Socialism, September 15, 2006; Kim Scipes, ‘Worker-to-Worker Solidarity Committee to AFL-CIO: Cut all Ties with NED‘, Znet, May 1, 2006; Gerald Sussman, ‘The Myths of “Democracy Assistance”: US Political Intervention in Post-Soviet Eastern Europe‘, Monthly Review, December 2006.

For a recent article on the British government’s involvement in the ‘promotion of democracy’ see, William Clark, ‘Philanthropic Imperialism‘, Lobster: The Journal of Parapolitics, Issue 53 Summer 2007.

[18] William I. Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US intervention, and Hegemony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 89.

[19] Two recent books critiquing the discourse of human rights include, Jean Bricmont, Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006); and Bonny Ibhawoh, Imperialism and Human Rights: Colonial Discourses of Rights and Liberties in African History (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2007).

[20] Indeed, “[o]ne of the fundamental issues facing critical intellectuals today is the corruption of political language, the obfuscation of capitalism as it presently exists through the use of euphemisms and concepts that have little relationship to the social and political realities they purport to discuss.” James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer, Globalization Unmasked: Imperialism in the 21st Century (London, Zed Books, 2001), 61.

[21] Julie A. Mertus, Bait and Switch: Human Rights and US Foreign Policy (New York: Routledge, 2004), 1.

[22] James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer, Empire With Imperialism: The Globalizing Dynamics of Neoliberal Capitalism (London: Zed Books, 2005), 178.

[23] Petras and Veltmeyer, Empire With Imperialism, 178, 179.

[24] Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy, 203, 203-204.

[25] Ian Smillie, The Alms Bazaar: Altruism Under Fire: Non-Profit Organizations and International Development (London: Intermediate Technology Publications, 1995), 167.

[26] David Chandler, From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond: Human Rights and International Intervention (2nd Edition) (London: Pluto Press, 2006), 206-207.

“It is on the alleged basis of these new human rights needs that the liberal social democratic interventionists have taken over from the conservative Right as the biggest advocates of increased military spending.” David Chandler, From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond, 167.

[27] David Chandler, From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond, 14.

[28] James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer, Globalization Unmasked, 128.

[29] James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer, Globalization Unmasked, 132.

“NGOs emphasize projects, not movements. They ‘mobilize’ people to produce at the margins, not to struggle to control the basic means of production and wealth. They focus on the technical and financial-assistance aspects of projects, not on structural conditions that shape the everyday lives of people. The NGOs co-opt the language of the Left-’popular power,’ ‘empowerment,’ ‘gender equality,’ ‘sustainable development,’ ‘bottom-up leadership,’ etc. The prob¬lem is that this language is linked to a framework of collaboration with donors and government agencies committed to non-confrontational politics. The local nature of NGO activity means that ‘empowerment’ never goes beyond influencing small areas of social life with limited resources, always within conditions permitted by the neoliberal state and macroeconomy.” See, James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer, Globalization Unmasked, 133.

[30] David Chandler, From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond, 236.

[31] Mary A. C. Colwell, Private Foundations and Public Policy: The Political Role of Philanthropy (New York: Garland Pubishers, 1993), 195.

[32] Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003), 8.

[33] Robert F. Arnove, (ed.), Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad (Boston, Mass.: G.K. Hall, 1980); Michael J. Barker, ‘The Liberal Foundations of Environmentalism: Revisiting the Rockefeller-Ford Connection,’ Capitalism Nature Socialism, Submitted; Mary A. C. Colwell, Private Foundations and Public Policy; Donald Fisher, ‘The Role of Philanthropic Foundations in the Reproduction and Production of Hegemony: Rockefeller Foundations and the Social Sciences,’ Sociology, 17, 2, 1983; Craig J. Jenkins, ‘Channelling Social Protest: Foundation Patronage of Contemporary Social Movements,’ in W. W. Powell and E. S. Clemens, (eds.), Private Action and the Public Good (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998); Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy; John Wilson, ‘Corporatism and the Professionalization of Reform,’ Journal of Political and Military Sociology, 11, 1983.

Of course, during the 1960s and 1970s radical activists were also literally eliminated by the CIA and FBI. See, Ward Churchill and Jim Van der Wall, The COINTELPRO Papers.

[34] Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy, 140-141.

[35] Brian Tokar, Earth for Sale: Reclaiming Ecology in the Age of Corporate Greenwash (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1997), 214.

[36] James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer, Globalization Unmasked, 137.


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