CEO of Human Rights Watch misattributes video of Gaza destruction.

For a couple of years now, it’s been apparent to me and others – including some Nobel laureates – that Human Rights Watch isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

We’ve seen their blatant double standards and hypocrisy on who should and shouldn’t be allowed to sit on the U.N. Human Rights Council; we’ve seen how people within the organisation can and do move seamlessly from and then back into the U.S. regime; and we’ve seen their CEO Ken Roth agitating for war in Syria (on ‘humanitarian’ grounds, of course – like the millions of people killed and displaced by U.S. wars over the last fifteen years alone, the countries ruined, just never happened).

Roth also believes, incidentally, that ‘for all its faults, the U.S. government remains the most powerful proponent of human rights’. A quite staggering claim that many people ranging from Latin America to the middle east to southeast Asia to north Africa would, I am certain, strongly disagree with.

Roth’s language in regards to the crimes of the Syrian regime and it’s armed forces – and you won’t find me denying that they have committed war crimes (the documentation is way too extensive for it all just to be dismissed as Western propaganda) – has always been particularly harsh. Have a look at this series of tweets, for example:

Assad is committing ‘mass murder’ in no uncertain terms, those criminals Russia and Hezbollah are facilitating him, and it’s down to Obama to step in and save the day.

Nevermind that Obama is quite clearly a ‘mass murderer’ himself.

In regards to the crimes (moral and legal) of the U.S. regime though, his tone changes quite markedly.

According to a report from the Syrian Network of Human Rights, 64 civilians, including 31 children, were killed in a series of U.S. lead airstrikes on the Syrian village of Bir Mahalli on Thursday the 30th April.

Roth’s response to this blatant atrocity? As here:

So straight away, he’s presenting the attack as an accident, a mistake, by asking ‘What went wrong?’. And the U.S. merely ‘kills’ civilians, rather than deliberately ‘murders’ them. Nor is there any attempt to blame Barack Obama personally for the slaughter. He also places ‘ISIS’ squarely into the picture, thus locating the attack within a ‘war on terror’ framework.

This is not atypical for Roth, and I would defy anyone to find a tweet of his about U.S. crimes which employs language like ‘murder’.

You won’t be able to, and that’s probably because he thinks ‘for all its faults, the U.S. government remains the most powerful proponent of human rights’, and because he has friends and ex-colleagues actually working for the U.S. regime.

This morning, Roth tweeted a picture of a devastated looking town or city, saying it showed ‘what Assad’s barrel bombs have done to Aleppo’. As here:

Christoph Koettl, who works for Amnesty International U.S., then tweeted in reply that:

That this video was actually of Gaza, rather than Aleppo, then appeared to be confirmed by the Danish state broadcaster. As here:

This isn’t the first time that Human Rights Watch have misattributed an image in such a fashion.

In February, they had to issue a correction after they inadvertently used a photograph of Kobane, a ‘town devastated by U.S. air strikes and the use of explosive weapons by ground forces’ in their words, to illustrate ‘ the Syrian government’s use of barrel bombs in air strikes elsewhere in the country’.

Now, i’m not alleging deliberate deception on the part of Ken Roth/HRW here. I’m sure his misattribution of this video was simply a mistake. I’m also sure that there are plenty of genuine images and videos floating around that could easily make the same point.

But when errors like this keep occurring, what it suggests to me is that their determination to show the Assad regime as being comprised of brutal, irredeemable, evil mass murdering monsters sometimes gets the better of their discernment, judgement and duty to verify,

They already *know* the regime is guilty, and so aren’t very careful in how they choose to demonstrate that. And when you’re a high profile human rights organisation with a multi-million dollar budget, and a significant degree of influence, it isn’t really good enough.

And again, let’s see if we can find an equivalent mistake by them, where they’ve posted images purporting to show damage caused by U.S. airstrikes, but which are actually from somewhere else entirely. You probably can’t, because they’ll be much more careful, and much more conservative, when it comes to attributing blame and criminality to the U.S..

I put this down to people like Roth and other senior Human Rights Watch officials basically being drawn from a small cadre of privileged, U.S. based liberals with roots in the Democrat party, corporate media and the corporate-philanthropic world (have a look at their board of directors, for example).

And so they’re going to share certain ideological assumptions with these elites, and one of those assumptions is that the United States of America ‘remains the most powerful proponent of human rights’, whose role is to ride to the rescue when people are in trouble. This in its turn will shape their output in terms of it’s focus, tone and framing.

That this narrative is thoroughly self-serving, and even dangerously delusional given the U.S.’s track record, will probably never occur to them.

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7 Responses to CEO of Human Rights Watch misattributes video of Gaza destruction.

  1. Hi Peter,
    I’m a bit loathe to criticise your analysis on the double standards – at best – of HRW and Roth, but I think your critique would be so much stronger if you acknowledged their absolute mendacity in weaving and supporting this propaganda war against Syria, which is so essential in supporting the current ground war being waged by our Terrorists through our local agents the KSA, Israel and Turkey. The key element in this propaganda war is the entirely false claim that ‘Assad’, read the Syrian Arab Army, is using ‘barrel bombs’, some with Chlorine, and intentionally targeting civilians. I take great exception to your statement that
    “you won’t find me denying that they have committed war crimes (the documentation is way too extensive for it all just to be dismissed as Western propaganda)”.
    While it is possible that some members of the Syrian army have committed war crimes – summary execution may be a war crime – ( though every US drone strike everywhere in the world is the same), the SAA is fighting a brutal insurgency using Western supplied weapons in which it has lost well over 50,000 of its own regular soldiers.
    In addition, I would dispute the claim that there is extensive documentation of such crimes, and the vast bulk of what there is is exactly ‘Western propaganda’ – and propaganda so pervasive and insideous that even some leaders don’t appear to know it is just lies.
    When you see HRW constantly pointing out the war crimes committed daily by Israel in Gaza, and incidentally now too in southern Syria as the IDF assists Al Nusra and ISIS, and demanding that Israel’s leaders be brought before the ICC ( as Amnesty has just demanded of Syria), then I might take some note of what Roth has to say.

  2. causticlogic says:

    Similar point to David’s above. ” and you won’t find me denying that they have committed war crimes” .read here as accepting they have, based on documentation. Not that I’m necessarily disagreeing, but I’m curious what kind of war crime you take as a thoroughly documented one. At the risk of leading I could ask would you include the 2012 Houla Massacre, or the May 2013 al-Bayda and Baniyas massacres? Or the recent alleged chlorine attack on Sarmin, or the 2013 Ghouta alleged Sarin attack?

    If yes to any of these, I’d point out that documented can mean nothing more than baseless allegations, written down (“documented”), maybe in a document with some supporting leaps of logic. The best evidence suggests strongly that each of those was a rebel crime fobbed off on the “regime” – and little surprise the intervening and lesser massacres of the same illogically evil nature, seem to continue the pattern.

    These findings are not widely accepted, but that’s a problem with the world, not the findings.

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