Nobel peace laureates tell HRW: 'Close your revolving door to the US government'

Monday, May 26, 2014
More than 100 academics have written to Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth to request the group implements new measures to guarantee independence from the US government.

The letter published below was sent to Human Rights Watch's executive director Kenneth Roth on behalf of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire; former UN Assistant Secretary General Hans von Sponeck; current UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Richard Falk; and more than 100 scholars (listed below).

It is reprinted from Alternet.

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Dear Kenneth Roth,

Human Rights Watch characterises itself as “one of the world’s leading independent organisations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights.” However, HRW's close ties to the US government call into question its independence.

For example, HRW's Washington advocacy director, Tom Malinowski, previously served as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton and as a speechwriter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In 2013, he left HRW after being nominated as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor under John Kerry.

In her biography, Board of Directors' Vice Chair Susan Manilow describes herself as “a longtime friend to Bill Clinton” and “has hosted dozens of events” for the Democratic National Committee.

Currently, HRW Americas' advisory committee includes Myles Frechette, a former US ambassador to Colombia, and Michael Shifter, one-time Latin America director for the US government-financed National Endowment for Democracy.

Miguel Diaz, a Central Intelligence Agency analyst in the 1990s, sat on HRW Americas' advisory committee from 2003-11. Now at the State Department, Diaz serves as “an interlocutor between the intelligence community and non-government experts”.

In his capacity as an HRW advocacy director, Malinowski contended in 2009 that “under limited circumstances” there was “a legitimate place” for CIA renditions ― the illegal practice of kidnapping and transferring terrorism suspects around the planet.

Malinowski was quoted paraphrasing the US government's argument that designing an alternative to sending suspects to “foreign dungeons to be tortured” was “going to take some time”.

HRW has not extended similar consideration to Venezuela. In a 2012 letter to then-president Hugo Chavez, HRW criticised the country's candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council, alleging that Venezuela had fallen “far short of acceptable standards” and questioning its “ability to serve as a credible voice on human rights”.

At no point has US membership in the same council merited censure from HRW, despite Washington's secret, global assassination program, its preservation of renditions, and its illegal detention of individuals at Guantanamo Bay.

Likewise, in February 2013, HRW correctly described as “unlawful” Syria's use of missiles in its civil war. However, HRW remained silent on the clear violation of international law constituted by the US threat of missile strikes on Syria in August.

The few examples above, limited to only recent history, might be forgiven as inconsistencies or oversights that could naturally occur in any large, busy organisation. But HRW’s close relationships with the US government suffuse such instances with the appearance of a conflict of interest.

We therefore encourage you to institute immediate, concrete measures to strongly assert HRW's independence. Closing what seems to be a revolving door would be a reasonable first step: Bar those who have crafted or executed US foreign policy from serving as HRW staff, advisors or board members.

At a bare minimum, mandate lengthy “cooling-off” periods before and after any associate moves between HRW and that arm of the government.

Your largest donor, investor George Soros, argued in 2010 that “to be more effective, I think the organisation has to be seen as more international, less an American organisation”. We concur.

We urge you to implement the aforementioned proposal to ensure a reputation for genuine independence.


Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate

Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize laureate

Joel Andreas, Professor of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University

Antony Anghie, Professor of Law, S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah

John M. Archer, Professor of English, New York University

Asma Barlas, Professor of Politics, Director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity, Ithaca College

Rosalyn Baxandall, Professor Emeritus of American Studies, State University of New York-Old Westbury

Marc Becker, Professor of Latin American History, Truman State University

Jason A. Beckett, Professor of Law, American University in Cairo

Angélica Bernal, Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Keane Bhatt, activist, writer

William Blum, author, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II

Audrey Bomse, Co-chair, National Lawyers Guild Palestine Subcommittee

Patrick Bond, Professor of Development Studies, Director of the Centre for Civil Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban

Michael Brenner, Professor Emeritus of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh

Jean Bricmont, Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Louvain; author, Humanitarian Imperialism

Renate Bridenthal, Professor Emerita of History, Brooklyn College, CUNY

Fernando Buen Abad Domínguez, Ph.D., author

Paul Buhle, Professor Emeritus of American Civilization, Brown University

David Camfield, Professor of Labour Studies, University of Manitoba

Leonard L. Cavise, Professor of Law, DePaul College of Law

Robert Chernomas, Professor of Economics, University of Manitoba

Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History, Salem State University

George Ciccariello-Maher, Professor of Political Science, Drexel University

Jeff Cohen, Associate Professor of Journalism, Ithaca College

Marjorie Cohn, Professor of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Lisa Duggan, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University

Carolyn Eisenberg, Professor of History, Hofstra University

Matthew Evangelista, Professor of History and Political Science, Cornell University

Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law, Princeton University

Sujatha Fernandes, Professor of Sociology, Queens College, CUNY Graduate Center

Mara Fridell, Professor of Sociology, University of Manitoba

Frances Geteles, Professor Emeritus, Department of Special Programs, CUNY City College

Lesley Gill, Professor of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University

Piero Gleijeses, Professor of American Foreign Policy and Latin American Studies, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

Jeff Goodwin, Professor of Sociology, New York University

Katherine Gordy, Professor of Political Science, San Francisco State University

Manu Goswami, Professor of History, New York University

Greg Grandin, Professor of History, New York University

Simon Granovsky-Larsen, Professor of Latin American Studies, Centennial College, Toronto

James N. Green, Professor of Latin American History, Brown University

A. Tom Grunfeld, Professor of History, SUNY Empire State College

Julie Guard, Professor of Labor Studies, University of Manitoba

Peter Hallward, Professor of Philosophy, Kingston University; author, Damming the Flood

John L. Hammond, Professor of Sociology, Hunter College, CUNY Graduate Center

Beth Harris, Professor of Politics, Ithaca College

Martin Hart-Landsberg, Professor Economics, Lewis and Clark College

Chris Hedges, journalist; author, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

Doug Henwood, journalist; author, Wall Street

Edward Herman, Professor Emeritus of Finance, University of Pennsylvania; co-author, The Political Economy of Human Rights

Susan Heuman, Ph.D., independent scholar of history

Forrest Hylton, Lecturer in History & Literature, Harvard University

Matthew Frye Jacobson, Professor of American Studies and History, Yale University

Jennifer Jolly, Co-coordinator of Latin American Studies, Ithaca College

Rebecca E. Karl, Professor of History, New York University

J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Professor of Anthropology and American Studies, Wesleyan University

Ari Kelman, Professor of History, University of California, Davis

Arang Keshavarzian, Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, New York University

Laleh Khalili, Professor of Middle East Politics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Daniel Kovalik, Professor of International Human Rights, University of Pittsburgh School of Law

Rob Kroes, Professor Emeritus of American Studies, University of Amsterdam

Peter Kuznick, Professor of History, American University

Deborah T. Levenson, Professor of History, Boston College

David Ludden, Professor of History, New York University

Catherine Lutz, Professor of Anthropology and International Studies, Brown University

Arthur MacEwan, Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Massachusetts-Boston

Viviana MacManus, Professor of Women's and Gender Studies, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Chase Madar, civil rights attorney; author, The Passion of [Chelsea] Manning

Alfred W. McCoy, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Teresa Meade, Professor of History, Union College

Thomas Murphy, Professor of History and Government, University of Maryland, University College Europe

Allan Nairn, independent investigative journalist

Usha Natarajan, Professor of International Law, American University in Cairo

Diane M. Nelson, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University

Joseph Nevins, Professor of Geography, Vassar College

Mary Nolan, Professor of History, New York University

Anthony O’Brien, Professor Emeritus of English, Queens College, CUNY

Paul O'Connell, Reader in Law, School of Law, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Christian Parenti, Professor of Sustainable Development, School for International Training Graduate Institute

David Peterson, independent writer and researcher

Adrienne Pine, Professor of Anthropology, American University

Claire Potter, Professor of History, The New School

Margaret Power, Professor of History, Illinois Institute of Technology

Pablo Pozzi, Professor of History, Universidad de Buenos Aires

Gyan Prakash, Professor of History, Princeton University

Vijay Prashad, Edward Said Chair of American Studies, American University of Beirut

Peter Ranis, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, CUNY Graduate Center

Michael Ratner, human rights attorney; author, The Prosecution of Donald Rumsfeld

Sanjay Reddy, Professor of Economics, New School for Social Research

Adolph Reed, Jr., Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

Nazih Richani, Director of Latin American Studies, Kean University

Moss Roberts, Professor of Chinese, New York University

Corey Robin, Professor of Political Science, Brooklyn College, CUNY Graduate Center

William I. Robinson, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara

Patricia Rodriguez, Professor of Politics, Ithaca College

Andrew Ross, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University

Elizabeth Sanders, Professor of Government, Cornell University

Dean Saranillio, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University

T.M. Scruggs, Professor Emeritus of Music, University of Iowa

Ian J. Seda-Irizarry, Professor of Political Economy, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Denise A. Segura, Professor of Sociology; Chair, Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

Mark Selden, Senior Research Associate, East Asia Program, Cornell University

Falguni A. Sheth, Professor of Philosophy and Political Theory, Hampshire College

Naoko Shibusawa, Professor of History, Brown University

Dina M. Siddiqi, Professor of Anthropology, BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Francisco Sierra Caballero, Director of the Center for Communication, Politics and Social Change, University of Seville

Brad Simpson, Professor of History, University of Connecticut

Nikhil Pal Singh, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History, New York University

Leslie Sklair, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, London School of Economics

Norman Solomon, author, War Made Easy

Judy Somberg, Chair, National Lawyers Guild Task Force on the Americas

Jeb Sprague, author, Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti

Oliver Stone, filmmaker; co-author, The Untold History of the United States

Steve Striffler, Professor of Anthropology, Chair of Latin American Studies, University of New Orleans

Sinclair Thomson, Professor of History, New York University

Miguel Tinker Salas, Professor of History and Latin American Studies, Pomona College

James S. Uleman, Professor of Psychology, New York University

Alejandro Velasco, Professor of History, New York University

Robert Vitalis, Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

Hans Christof von Sponeck, former United Nations Assistant Secretary General (1998-2000)

Hilbourne Watson, Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Bucknell University

Barbara Weinstein, Professor of History, New York University

Mark Weisbrot, Ph.D., Co-director, Center for Economic and Policy Research

Kirsten Weld, Professor of History, Harvard University

Gregory Wilpert, Ph.D, author, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power

John Womack, Jr., Professor Emeritus of Latin American History and Economics, Harvard University

Michael Yates, Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

Kevin Young, Ph.D., Latin American History, State University of New York-Stony Brook

Marilyn B. Young, Professor of History, New York University

Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar, Professor of History; Co-Director, South Asian Studies, Brown University

Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics and Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies, University of San Francisco

From GLW issue 1010