The media should rethink its relationship with HRW

Have you ever had a conspiracy theorist as a friend?  Someone who’s always more willing to believe a dark and complicated narrative rather than a simple and obvious story.  Such people would rather believe that the entire world is controlled by the CIA or the Illuminati, and even as they’re reading this are thinking that I’m incredibly naïve to argue otherwise.
Mutoni Karasanyi
Mutoni Karasanyi

Have you ever had a conspiracy theorist as a friend?  Someone who’s always more willing to believe a dark and complicated narrative rather than a simple and obvious story.  Such people would rather believe that the entire world is controlled by the CIA or the Illuminati, and even as they’re reading this are thinking that I’m incredibly naïve to argue otherwise.

If you have had such a friend, you’ve likely developed the habit of doubting their explanations or at least, fact-checking their exaggerated stories before you contribute to their campaigns of misinformation.

In international politics however, it is often such extreme organisations whose voices become amplified by sensational media coverage.  When accusations against an African country are made, rather than seeking its government officials or citizens, the first place journalists call are the organizations which attract donors by identifying problems, but never contribute to solutions.  There, no matter which ‘director’ or ‘spokesperson’ picks up, they’re sure to get exactly the quote they’re looking for!

By now, you’ve probably guessed that I’m talking about Human Rights Watch International, Africa’s greatest supplier of negative press.  Considered by some the world’s greatest advocate for a broad list of human rights, and yet is likely the most criticized and discredited organization of its stature.  The long list of documented allegations against the organisation spans the globe from Latin America and the Caribbean, to East Africa and most notably, in the Middle East (See Wikipedia- Criticism of HRW).  Several issues have been raised about their research methodology, the validity of their claims, and even, the political bias of their staff.

Consider the fact that the HRW’s own founder, Robert Bernstein, has publicly criticised the organisation and accused it of poor research methods, relianceupon false witnesses, and general practices which are “antithetical to the transparency that Human Rights Watch demands of others.” After years of disagreement with organisation’s board of directors, Bernstein finally left and founded the Advancing Human Rights Organization in 2011.

Last September, several news articles regarding the M23 in Congo supported their analysis with Rwanda “stands accused by UN experts and human rights groups.” But by ‘groups’, they’re really only referring to one group- the HRW. After the UN report came out, the HRW had published several, lengthy articles to support their UN’s claims. International media coverage then chose to echo the HRW rather than the rebuttals from the Rwandan government, or even to report on the reestablished relations with donors, such as the UK and the Netherlands. Their apparent reporting bias contradicts the very principles of a ‘free press’, which the HRW enjoys lecturing developing countries about.

While most think of hysterical as a synonym to humorous, it can also describe someone who’s delusional or simply crazy. And for a moment, I considered titling this article “HRW- Hysteria Runs Wild”; however, that wouldn’t be fair. The HRW might be a biased and misinformed institution, but the problem really begins when so many journalists rely solely upon one institution for an ‘on-the-ground’ perspective. Despite the number of government officials, aid agencies, nonprofits, and Donor embassies, they could call or seek a balanced perspective from; they’ve grown comfortable with the HRW, and even more likely, the HRW probably calls them first.

Maybe now that a former US Diplomat has called the HRW’s political agenda into question, western journalists might finally become disillusioned about the organisation’s apparent lack of integrity. As TNT reported, Johnson’s report includes 20 years of documentation on how the HRW has been “manically obsessed with Rwanda, aimed at rewriting history and influencing world opinion in a slanted manner.” I applaud Mr. Johnson for his report and sincerely hope that it will break the trust the media has built for the HRW. However, the truth doesn’t always sell newspapers- hysteria does!

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