Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Venezuela and Human Rights Watch

"Venezuela is Latin America's biggest exporter of crude oil and has the world's largest petroleum reserves." - Brian Ellsworth and Andrew Cawthorne, Venezuela death toll rises to 13 as protests flare Reuters 02/24/2014

A group of dozens of scholars has written a letter to the Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) raising some very legitimate questions about its independence from the US government, reprinted as The Corruption of Human Rights Watch Consortium News 05/13/2014.

They take note of HRW's position on Venezuela. HRW has been prominent in criticizing the Venezuelan government in ways that echoes the propaganda current far-right opposition against Nicolás Maduro's government that is, diplomatically at least, being backed by the Obama Administration:

Currently, HRW Americas' advisory committee includes Myles Frechette, a former U.S. ambassador to Colombia, and Michael Shifter, one-time Latin America director for the U.S. government-financed National Endowment for Democracy. Miguel Díaz, a Central Intelligence Agency analyst in the 1990s, sat on HRW Americas' advisory committee from 2003-11. Now at the State Department, Díaz 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 U.S. 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 President Chávez, HRW criticized 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 U.S. 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 Guantánamo 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 U.S. threat of missile strikes on Syria in August. [my emphasis]

There clearly have been human rights abuses on the part of the Venezuelan government officials during the current crisis. One of the clearest signs of that is that the government itself has brought charges against numerous officials on that count.

But the questions of HRW's current independence in promoting claims against governments that the US government is actively or passively targeting for regime change is an especially legitimate one.

And any human rights advocacy group whose advisory board has room for an open advocate and kidnapping and torture really needs to re-examine its standards.

The more I hear about the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the more concerns I have about it. The Center of Media and Democracy's SourceWatch article on the NED quotes one of its founders, Allen Weinstein from a 2000 source saying, "A lot of what we [NED] do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA."

The NED blog cited an HRW report in this 05/05/2014 post, Venezuela: punished for protesting.

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