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Human rights watch and Isarael

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Associate director, Human Rights Watch

(source: NewYork Times)

Human Rights Watch was saddened to read that our founding chairman, Robert Bernstein, opposes holding Israel to the same standards that we apply to the rest of the world (“Lost in the Mideast,” Views, Oct. 21). Human Rights Watch does not believe that the human rights records of “closed” societies are the only ones deserving investigation. If that were the case, we would not work on U.S. abuses in Guantánamo Bay, police abuse in Brazil, maternal deaths in India, or the ill-treatment of migrants in the E.U. “Open” societies and democracies commit human rights abuses, too, and Human Rights Watch has an important role to play in documenting those abuses.

Human Rights Watch has produced more than 1,700 reports, letters, news releases and other commentaries on the Middle East and North Africa since January 2000, and the vast majority of these were about countries other than Israel. Our Middle East division is only one of 16 research programs at Human Rights Watch. The work on Israel is a tiny fraction of Human Rights Watch’s output.

It is not the case that Human Rights Watch had “no access to the battlefield” during and after the Israeli operation in Gaza in January 2009. We have a research assistant based in Gaza, and other researchers entered via the border with Egypt after the fighting and conducted interviews with victims, eyewitnesses, U.N. officials, local authorities and others. We also visited attack sites, analyzed ballistics evidence, and examined autopsy and other medical reports. Mr. Bernstein would excuse these violations because they were supposedly committed in “self-defense” rather than “intentionally.” But the Geneva Conventions prohibit abuses regardless of motivation. Moreover, many of Israel’s actions showed evidence of official policy; the same was true of Palestinian rocket fire into Israeli towns. We’ve published reports on both.

In April 2009, Mr. Bernstein brought his concerns about our work on Israel to a full meeting of the Human Rights Watch board of directors. The board rejected his view that Human Rights Watch should report on only closed societies, and expressed its full support for the organization’s work.Carroll Bogert, New York