from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Human Rights Organizations Off the Deep End

October 12, 2011

Blog Post

What does one make of organizations that wish to see George W. Bush behind bars—but have never expressed similar sentiments about Fidel Castro, Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, or Hassan Nasrallah?

Those organizations would be Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, which just this week asked Canada to try to prosecute former president Bush “for his role in authorizing the torture of detainees.”  They issued their statements now because Mr. Bush is soon to visit Canada again. The HRW press release is entitled “Canada: Don’t Let Bush Get Away With Torture.”

The problem, you see, is the abject failure of the Obama Administration, or perhaps more broadly the problem is America: “The U.S. government’s refusal even to investigate Bush’s role in authorizing torture makes it all the more important that Canada take its obligation seriously,” said HRW’s executive director. Of course, Bush is not the only criminal: “Bush attended an unpublicized event in Canada in September, the same month former Vice President Dick Cheney also traveled to Canada. Prior to Cheney’s trip, Human Rights Watch urged the Canadian government to investigate his role in authorizing torture and the CIA secret detention program.” Like Americans, Canadians apparently require tutelage in respect for human rights from these self-appointed consciences of the democratic world.

But Amnesty and HRW are outspoken only with respect to certain officials. Bashar al-Assad visited Paris in 2008 and 2009: silence. Putin hit Brussels this year: silence. When in good health Fidel was a world traveler: silence. No calls for prosecution for the many killings such people have ordered. When it comes to enemies of the United States (recall Yasser Arafat as well) there may be an appeal to release a certain prisoner or a demand for more political rights, but there is no call to bar travel or to advance criminal charges. I am aware that heads of state have sovereign immunity, but why do these organizations not call for indictments by the International Criminal Court or at least demand that they be refused entry into decent countries altogether?

This is a sad development, for human rights violations are rampant in many countries and principled international human rights organizations are surely needed. What is not needed is the kind of “activism” that tries to bar our former president and vice president (and similarly, Israeli officials) from traveling. This is a travesty of human rights activity, and an insult to democratic countries that live under the rule of law and must defend themselves from war and terror. When “human rights organizations” become merely a part of the trendy international Left, the cause of human rights is deeply damaged.