Ken Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch (HRW), allegedly took close to half a million dollars in Saudi donations “by promising not to support advocacy” of gay rights in the Muslim-dominated Middle East and North Africa, media reports disclose.

The generous donation reportedly came from a UK-based foundation run by Saudi real estate mogul Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber.  At the time the donation was made, HRW was looking into the abusive labor practices in the company owned by the Saudi billionaire, according to news reports. Millions of Asian and African immigrants work in Saudi Arabia, often without legal protection and in sub-human conditions.

After media attention turned to the questionable donation, HRW issued a public apology, describing it as a “deeply regrettable decision” and a “serious error.” The group promised to return the gift and open an inquiry into the matter, the New York-based rights group said in a statement on Friday. It also acknowledged that the money came from the “owner of a company that Human Rights Watch had previously identified as complicit in labor rights abuse.”

The Jerusalem Post reported the latest controversy while highlighting Roth’s checkered track record:

The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), Ken Roth, accepted a major donation from a Saudi real estate tycoon by promising not to support advocacy of the LGBT community in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Intercept first reported Monday on the quid pro quo between Roth, who has gained a reputation for strident attacks against Israel, and Saudi billionaire Mohamed Bin Issa al-Jaber.

“Human Rights Watch [HRW] accepted a sizable donation from a Saudi billionaire shortly after its researchers documented labor abuses at one of the man’s companies, a potential violation of the rights group’s own fund-raising guidance,” wrote The Intercept’s Alex Emmons.

“In 2012, Roth signed a memorandum of understanding with al-Jaber containing language that said the gift could not be used for LGBT rights work in the region. He was later pictured next to Jaber at a 2013 ceremony to memorialize the funding,” the self-described online “adversarial journalism” the online site wrote.

“The controversial donation is at the center of a contentious internal debate about the judgment and leadership of Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth,” wrote The Intercept. (…)

Roth has faced severe criticism in a New York Times opinion piece from the late Robert L. Bernstein, founder of HRW and its chairman from 1978 to 1998, for his failure to promote human rights in closed Middle Eastern nations.

“I must publicly join the group’s critics. Human Rights Watch had as its original mission to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters. But recently it has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state,” wrote Bernstein in 2009.

Roth was a zealous advocate of pushing the UN’s Human Rights Council to post a blacklist of companies operating in the disputed Palestinian territories. The list is perceived by critics as a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions measure targeting Israel.

HRW was embroiled in a Saudi fund-raising scandal in 2009. A Wall Street Journal op-ed alleged that the group sent officials to the kingdom to secure funds by showing off its fights with “pro-Israel pressure groups.”

This is not the first time the Roth-led rights group has faced accusations of taking Saudi “donations” in quid pro quo deals. In 2009, HRW’s former chief Sarah Leah Whitson allegedly raised funds in Saudi Arabia to promote the now-debunked Goldstein Report, which falsely accused Israel of human rights violations during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict, the watchdog group NGO Monitor reported. Judge Richard Goldstone, the author of the document, later apologized for the biased report.

In November, Israel deported HRW’s country director Omar Shakir for his support for the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“Can one take Ken Roth seriously on LGBT issues after he accepted $470,000 from a Saudi real estate tycoon to not criticize the repression and murder of gays [?]” asked Benjamin Weinthal, a senior research fellow at the D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).

Roth, a supporter of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, has been lavishing praises on the Iranian regime officials despite their brutal and deadly suppression of gays in the country, Weinthal noted. “[L]ast year Roth praised Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a tweet, after he defended his regime’s execution of gays.” he wrote in The Jerusalem Post.

The incident once again discredits HRW as a genuine rights group. Taking money from an entity under one’s investigation is a textbook definition of corruption. Apart from the culture of corruption and nepotism prevalent in some of these so-called human rights groups, this also highlights the willingness of these human rights activists to go soft on gross violations in the Muslim world, while at the same time peddling their ideological agenda in the West.

Roth, himself, has been obsessed with U.S. President Donald Trump since the day he took office. “Donald Trump’s successful campaign for the US presidency was a vivid illustration of this politics of intolerance,” he posted on HRW’s official website after the U.S. presidential election. “The dangerous rise of Populism” in the West was a “global attacks on human rights values,” the group declared in its 2017 World Report. “Nativism, xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia are on the rise,” the report lamented.

Pro-EU Roth has also been busy providing ammunition to the opponents of the UK’s Brexit Referendum. “A key risk of Brexit is that it could divide and weaken the EU,” the HRW claimed just days ahead of the UK’s departure from the EU on February 1, 2020, “at a time when Europe should be a positive force in the world on human rights, climate change, and much else besides.”

HRW country director Omar Shekir deported from Israel from supporting antisemitic BDS Movement

[Cover image via YouTube]

 

 
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