The Deputy Executive Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) Iain Levine, posted what he called an “extraordinary” letter from United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Wednesday evening.

The letter placed blame for the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) on 18 NGOs, including HRW, for stymieing U.S.-led efforts to reform the corrupt institution.

“It is unfortunate that your letter sought to undermine our attempts to improve the Human Rights Council,” Haley wrote. “You put yourself on the side of Russia and China, and opposite the United States, on a key human rights issue.”

Levine’s post went up a little after 6 on Wednesday evening. Throughout the day there were a number of news articles — including at Politico, Bloomberg, and The New York Times — all with the same spin: Haley blamed the NGOs.

What’s clear from the Times article is that Haley charges were accurate. HRW and the other NGOs did oppose the U.S. initiative. I also suspect that it was HRW that released the letter to the news organizations. In other words, if HRW hadn’t protested, we would never have known about the rebuke. But HRW must have understood how damning Haley’s charges were and wanted to get it out (before it leaked) so it could control the spin.

The Times of course helped by titling the piece, “Haley Blames Watchdog Groups for U.S. Withdrawal From U.N. Rights Council.” But the real story is: Human Rights Groups Admit to Blocking U.S. Efforts at U.N. Reform.

Haley wrote that the U.S. effort at  reform was focused on two things: 1) the vetting of states to join the council and 2) ending the council’s anti-Israel bias. The second item is a reference the UNHRC’s Agenda Item 7, which singles out Israel, the only state in the world so targeted.

The Tower noted that “The New York Times report appears to confirm the particulars of Haley’s charges.”

Haley wrote that while the U.S. had requested responses to its resolution for reforming the council, HRW and other human rights NGOs wrote a letter requesting “that Member States oppose our resolution and not engage on the text.” In other words, HRW wasn’t just disagreeing with the U.S., it was shutting down the U.S. efforts.

The Times, in fact, reported, “Human Rights Watch was among the nongovernmental organizations that opposed Ms. Haley’s push for a General Assembly vote.”

While Louis Charbonneau, HRW’s United Nations director, told the Times, that it was “outrageous and ridiculous” to suggest that HRW or its fellow NGOs were working against reform, nothing in the Times report suggests that Haley’s charges were wrong. Nor did Charbonneau deny that HRW asked other state to oppose the U.S. resolution and not even address it.

Charbooneau said that the problem with the U.S. proposal was that it would “it would have opened a Pandora’s box of even worse problems.” The Times explained that HRW and other NGOs feared that it would lead to Russia  and China proposing changes that would further weaken the council.

But that makes no sense. In 2006, when the council was created to succeed the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, Ken Roth, the executive director of HRW said, “Under this new system countries with poor human rights records like Saudi Arabia will never have a seat on the council again.” But the council does have numerous countries with abysmal human rights records, and that was one of the things the U.S. wanted to change. If HRW is fighting the U.S. on something its own leader said was important, the opposition to the American proposals is cynical not principled.

Furthermore, if the U.S. resolution would “open a Pandora’s box” of damaging proposals from Russia and China, why did Russia and China oppose the U.S. resolution?

HRW is trying desperately to spin the news, and is getting help from media outlets, but the truth is that Haley criticized them fairly, and they don’t like (or expect) to be criticized.


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