Human Rights Watch's Upside-Down View of the World

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Why is it not surprising to learn that Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, is on the warpath against the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq? Two trends worth noting: Human Rights Watch often seems to judge democratic governments (flawed and otherwise) much more harshly than it does autocracies (witness Whitson's apologies for the Qaddafi regime), and then there's this: The bien-pensant human rights community seems to dislikes Iraqi Kurds in much the same way it dislikes Israelis. This might be rooted in the fact that both the Kurds and Israelis are pro-American. And we can't have that, can we?

Here, via Qubad Talabani, is an interesting report from someone inside Kurdistan who argues that Human Right Watch is smearing the Kurdish government:

If Human Rights Watch Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson is to be believed, the Kurdistan Regional Government is "no more respectful of Kurdish rights to free speech than the government that preceded it." The government that preceded the KRG must mean, of course, Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime. I'm not certain exactly what they have been smoking at Human Rights Watch, or who their field investigators have naively listened to, but this kind of offensive absurdity from a respected international human rights organization needs a response.

I write this week's column from Rudaw's office in Erbil, rather than half a world away in the United States. Since I began writing my Thursday column for Rudaw last August, no one - not the newspaper editors, not the authorities of the Kurdistan Regional Government, not anyone - has asked me to change what I wrote or avoid certain topics.

While in Dohuk a few days ago I also spoke to a friend who lectures at the university there. He told me how he recently found clear evidence of corruption among the local authorities, and wrote an article about it. He sent the article to top KRG leaders in Erbil, and also published it in one of several independent Kurdish newspapers in the region. Immediately after publication of the article, the KRG froze all business contracts and assets of the authorities involved and began an investigation. In other words, an independent media functioned in precisely the way it is supposed to - exposing government malfeasance and precipitating action to put an end to it.


This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/06/human-rights-watchs-upside-down-view-of-the-world/240270/