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Thread: Human Rights Watch

  1. #1
    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Human Rights Watch

    You might not always agree with them but their site has a wealth of useful information - Human Rights Watch.

    From the who we are page:

    We stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice.

    We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable.

    We challenge governments and those who hold power to end abusive practices and respect international human rights law.

    We enlist the public and the international community to support the cause of human rights for all.

    Human Rights Watch is an independent, nongovernmental organization, supported by contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly.

  2. #2
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default Agreed

    Agreed on the useful information.

    HRW marches to its mandate and that is to be expected and what I encountered in Rwanda.

    I place them well above Amnesty International on the accuracy and standards scale.

    For example you can read Leave None to Tell the Story online; I touched on this work in my essay in SWJ concerning books on the genocide.



  3. #3
    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Default Another useful site

    Here's another useful site: Integration-Net. I worked on this site for 5 years, and it's one of the best in the world for refuge / resettlement issues. While it is definitely Canadian centric, the resources section has some very useful links to global issues.


    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University

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    I used a lot of info from Human Rights Watch on a presentation I did on the Genocide in Rwanda. Leave None To Tell The Story is riveting.
    Last edited by mikemac64; 01-27-2007 at 04:13 PM.

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    As some folks who posted earlier on this thread, I have a somewhat postitive view of HRW, vis-a-vis their other NGO brethren.

    In the short term, it seems that the military's and HRWs agendas are divergent in particular and convergent in general. HRW may complain about specific acts of American atrocities, but at the end of the day both groups want a liberal, stable world order.

    Thoughts on how to use this to advantage?

  6. #6
    Council Member milesce's Avatar
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    Default Hrw

    HRW did an interesting report following up on the initial phase of Iraq a few years back, focusing on civilian casualties in air-to-ground bombing.

    Their conclusion was interesting. They could not find a single case where a pre-planned target caused any civilian casualties, and were very complimentary of both the restraint shown by US forces and the ability to very carefully target leadership targets, building, etc., without causing civlian casualties.

    At the same time, they strongly condemned many of the last minute incidents, most of which were targeted at the "55 most wanted", most of which were based on last-minute intelligence, and virtually none of which reached the intended targets, but did cause significant numbers of civilian deaths. On the whole, they are pretty fair -- which means they are going to be critical all around, both of the US and other countries.
    Charles Sheehan-Miles
    Prayer at Rumayla: A Novel of the Gulf War

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    Quote Originally Posted by milesce
    HRW did an interesting report following up on the initial phase of Iraq a few years back, focusing on civilian casualties in air-to-ground bombing...
    You are referring to their pub Off Target: Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq, published in Dec 03.
    ......Many of the civilian casualties from the air war occurred during U.S. attacks targeting senior Iraqi leaders. The United States used an unsound targeting methodology that relied on intercepts of satellite phones and inadequate corroborating intelligence. Thuraya satellite phones provide geo-coordinates that are accurate only to within a onehundred-meter (328-foot) radius; therefore, the United States could not determine the origin of a call to a degree of accuracy greater than a 31,400-square-meter area. This flawed targeting strategy was compounded by a lack of effective assessment both prior to the attacks of the potential risks to civilians and after the attacks of their success and utility. All of the fifty acknowledged attacks targeting Iraqi leadership failed. While they did not kill a single targeted individual, the strikes killed and injured dozens of civilians. Iraqis who spoke to Human Rights Watch about the attacks it investigated repeatedly stated that they believed the intended targets were not even present at the time of the strikes.

    Coalition air strikes on preplanned fixed targets apparently caused few civilian casualties, and U.S. and U.K. air forces generally avoided civilian infrastructure. Coalition forces did, however, identify certain targets as “dual use,” including electricity and media installations. Human Rights Watch’s investigations found that air strikes on civilian power distribution facilities in al-Nasiriyya caused serious civilian suffering and that the legality of the attacks on media installations was questionable....
    HRW also clearly put the blame on the Iraqis for many of the deaths of their own civilians:
    ...The investigation showed that Iraqi forces committed a number of violations of international humanitarian law, which may have led to significant civilian casualties. These violations included use of human shields, abuse of the red cross and red crescent emblems, use of antipersonnel landmines, location of military objects in protected places (such as mosques, hospitals, and cultural property), and a failure to take adequate precautions to protect civilians from the dangers of military operations. The Iraqi military’s practice of wearing civilian clothes tended to erode the distinction between combatants and civilians, putting the latter at risk, although it did not relieve Coalition forces of their obligation to distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians and to target only combatants....
    Overall, it is an interesting read.

    I personally feel HRW to be a reliable source of information; their bias - if you want to call it that - is clear and does not distort their reporting, which I have always found to be evenhanded. The one time that I had personal contact with them, when they had a team working in northern Iraq investigating the Anfal, I was very impressed with their professionalism.

  8. #8
    Council Member milesce's Avatar
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    Default That was the one

    I couldn't recall the title of the report, thanks for posting the excerpts!
    Charles Sheehan-Miles
    Prayer at Rumayla: A Novel of the Gulf War

  9. #9
    Council Member milesce's Avatar
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    Default HRW Statement on soldier executions

    This just came into my email.

    Iraq: Execution of Captive Soldiers Violates the Laws of War

    Iraq Insurgent Group Claims to Have Executed Two Missing US Soldiers

    (New York, June 8, 2007) - An insurgent group named the Islamic State of
    Iraq announced on Monday that it had executed two US soldiers who went
    missing last month. If confirmed, this act would constitute a serious
    violation of international humanitarian law and those responsible would be
    guilty of war crimes, Human Rights Watch said today.

    On Monday, television networks around the world showed a video clip
    purportedly made by the Islamic State of Iraq, which showed what appears
    to be both the missing soldiers' identification cards. In the video, the
    insurgent group, which in the past has claimed links to al-Qaeda, claims
    that it executed the men.

    "Those claiming to hold the US soldiers captive must treat the men
    humanely," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights
    Watch. "If they have done otherwise, they have committed war crimes."

    The two soldiers - Specialist Alex Jimenez, 25, and Private Byron Fouty,
    19 - went missing on May 12 when insurgents ambushed their patrol near the
    town of Mahmoudiya, 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of Baghdad. In the
    Euphrates River, US forces later found the body of Private First Class
    Joseph Anzack, Jr., a third US soldier who went missing at the same time.

    US forces subsequently deployed some 4,000 troops, backed by Iraqi army
    soldiers, to sweep through a large swath of territory around Mahmoudiya in
    search of the missing soldiers. In a statement, the US command said that
    American troops had detained 11 people and questioned 450 in connection
    with the search.

    On May 14, two days after the soldiers went missing, the Islamic State of
    Iraq issued a statement calling on both US troops and the Iraqi Army to
    halt their search if they wanted their soldiers back alive. In the video
    clip that aired on Monday, the insurgent group stated that it had killed
    the US soldiers because US troops and the Iraqi army had failed to heed
    its warnings.

    "Fearing the occupying army will continue its searches, harming our Muslim
    brothers, we decided to settle the matter and announced the news of their
    killing to cause bitterness to God's enemies," a spokesman for the Islamic
    State of Iraq said in the video.

    Customary international law requires that all captured belligerents be
    treated humanely and provides that the murder or willful killing of a
    captured belligerent is a war crime.

    "No matter what the cause, killing captives violates international
    humanitarian law," said Whitson. "Every party to a conflict is subject to
    the laws of war, and the requirement to treat captive soldiers humanely is
    one of the most basic provisions."

    Executing a captured combatant also violates basic precepts of Islamic law
    governing the conduct of war, according to most scholars of Islamic law.

    Human Rights Watch has documented violations of the laws of war of all
    parties to the conflict, including insurgent groups, US forces and the
    Iraqi government forces.

    To view the October 2005 Human Rights Watch report on violations of the
    laws of war by Iraqi insurgent groups, "A Face and a Name: Civilian
    Victims of Insurgent Groups in Iraq," please visit:
    Charles Sheehan-Miles
    Prayer at Rumayla: A Novel of the Gulf War

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    Default -and Speaking of Watching Human Rights


    "An international human rights group has called on Iran to stop executing people under the age of 18, saying the country leads the world in the practice.

    Human Rights Watch said Iran had executed at least 17 juvenile offenders, eight times more than any other country, since the beginning of 2004, including two so far this year.

    Such sentences violate international treaties ratified by Iran that prohibit the death penalty for crimes committed by people under the age of 18, according to the human rights group.

    It said Iran's judiciary had repeatedly upheld death sentences for juveniles charged with committing crimes when they were as young as 15. "

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    One of the things that I think helps HRW (and something that some who work there express pride in) is that they are not dependent on public donations to the extent Amnesty is. HRW gains most of its donations from fewer but far more generous philanthropists. They would argue that this allows them to play less of an advocacy role than Amnesty has to and focus more on balanced scholarly work that attempts to "inform" the public debate, rather than push it.

    Leave None to Tell the Story is a great piece of research by Allison De Forges, its up there with Linda Melvern's and Gerald Prunier works on the Rwandan Genocide. I think though the best recent work (at least to get an issue on the public's radar) was on the 2005 Andijan Massacre piece Bullets Were Falling Like Rain.

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    Council Member redbullets's Avatar
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    If I can dig them out, I'll send the titles - HRW published a couple of excellent hard covers about the Anfal Campaigns and genocidal operations against the Iraqi Kurds of the late-1980's. When I worked for the USG in Kurdistan in the mid-1990's, we referred interested VIPs to those publications as excellent sources of background knowledge.


    Just because you haven't been hit yet does NOT mean you're doing it right.

    "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." President Dwight D. Eisenhower

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    Quote Originally Posted by redbullets
    If I can dig them out, I'll send the titles - HRW published a couple of excellent hard covers about the Anfal Campaigns and genocidal operations against the Iraqi Kurds of the late-1980's. When I worked for the USG in Kurdistan in the mid-1990's, we referred interested VIPs to those publications as excellent sources of background knowledge.

    They're no longer available on-line in free pdf, but they are still readable on-line, or you can order hard copies:

    HRW, Jul 93: Genocide in Iraq - The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds

    HRW, Dec 92: The Destruction of Koreme During The Anfal Campaign

    I was able to visit Koreme during OPC, and had the opportunity to sit down and speak with some of the survivors from '88. It was a sobering experience.

    Joe - would you have happened to be with the DART team during the time frame you mentioned?

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    Default HRW (or other NGOs) as superior information sources?


    This may be a bit off-topic, because the discussion thus far seems to have revolved around NGOs with respect to specific events and incidents (e.g., alleged war crimes). However, that said:

    This book ( has an interesting roundtable including, among others, Carl Ford (formerly of State INR) and an HRW staffer. I haven't read the chapter in some time, but if I recall, the HRW staffer stated that, at least in assessing general political stability and political risk, he thought NGOs were at an advantage vis-a-vis government intelligence services. His reasoning was that the latter mainly liased with their counterparts, whereas since the NGOs worked with "the truly disadvantaged" (to steal a phrase from William Julius Wilson), they got a more accurate sense of how things are.

    I suppose one could extend the argument, as seems to have already occurred in this thread, to different reporting channels, different oversight mechanisms, different incentive structures, and so on, as well as different world views and recruiting mechanisms.

    I know some of the people on this board have served as FAOs, attaches, etc. I'd be curious to see whether they agree with the HRW staffer.


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    Default What's up with Russia these days?

    So I realize that this blog has almost entirely been dedicated to human rights violations in the Middle East--since this is the Small Wars Journal, but as the perpetual antagonist that I am , I'd like to throw a wrench into the conversation. Has anyone been keeping up with the "new and pro-western" Russia? What's been going on with Georgia aside, how about what's STILL going on in Chechnya?

    Now I don't claim to be an expert on this region as my area of interest tends to be more in Western and Baltic Europe, as well as China. However, my cousin who has been somehow conned into being an overseas correspondent for NPR is there and has brought up some interesting issues that plague the everyday civilian in the region--regardless of nationality or technical country of residence.

    It seems that the facade that Russia keeps putting up about their new "dedication to Human Rights"...blah blah blah... is a little more than absolute bs. The Kremlin is just as active as ever in criminal and torture activities (quite possibly more-so than in many countries in the middle east). For those who are not particularly familiar with the region, this is the article that started my inquiry:

    What I find interesting, is when people mention human rights violations (particularly in the media) the immediate image is of jihadists in the middle east despite potentially worse, or at least more disturbing, issues going on in a country that claims to be "civilized." Russia is of course, not the only country to be doing these types of things and it's understandable that the media is less apt to cover a story that does not entirely and immediately involve the lives of US citizens. However, I find it interesting that we condemn certain countries for these same things while subsequently ignoring the fact that an ally (and a slightly European one at that) is also guilty of equally insidious human rights violations.

    Here's what Human Rights Watch has been saying since 2005 when they began to take notice:

    Sorry to interrupt the flow. Just wanted to know what others think. Comments?
    Last edited by chelseam23; 10-26-2009 at 02:01 AM.

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    Default Hi Chelsea

    BTW: this thread has not been active for two years. Which proves, among other things, you have situational awareness, else you would have started a new thread. So,

    Good to see that you have decided to jump in among the wolves. Since I've no wolf, I'll have to use what I have on hand.

    Mascot Hi Chelsea.jpg

    Now, to the less toothy side of the discussion.

    A popular sport is Russian- and Putin-bashing, occasionally engaged in by yours truly (have to satisfy half-Finnish genes) and by Stan - among others. We might attribute that to a hangover from the Cold War (examine Bob's World's posts for that concept); but in Stan's case the war is not always that cold - and an adversary relationship still subsists (e.g., Herman Simm).

    All that having been said, and positing that the 2009 event was engineered by the Chekists (the alphabet soup today has more letters - KGB was easier), the Ingushetia assasination might well be very legal under Russian domestic law.

    You'll find the story in Graham H. Turbiville, Jr., Hunting Leadership Targets in Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorist Operations (JSOU Report 07-6, 2007), pp.14-15 pdf (photos in article):

    Shamil Basayev—the most notorious, effective, and hunted Chechen insurgent and terrorist leader in the Caucasus—died in a large roadside explosion in Igushetia, a 10*July 2006 event that Russia quickly claimed as a “special operations” success.[1] The last public communiqué that Basayev is known to have written appeared just the day before he died. It was issued to express his Caucasus jihadists’ gratitude to Iraqi mujahideen for their elimination of five “Russian diplomats” and “spies” ambushed in Baghdad on 3 June 2006. Basayev noted that the deaths were fitting revenge for the February 2004 assassination of former Chechen President, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, by Russian Foreign Security Service agents in Doha, Qatar. [2] A likely contributing factor was the Chechen earnest request to the Arab / Iraqi guerrillas for this action. Further illustration of common Chechen-Iraqi insurgent interests were Iraqi militant demands that Russia withdraw from Chechnya.[3]

    One of the Russian diplomats in Iraq was killed on the spot, with the other four kidnapped and executed later that month by the Iraqi “Mujahideen Shura Council.” [4] The Shura Council, which videotaped the event, purports to be an umbrella organization for a number of guerrilla groups—for example, “Al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers (Iraq).” At the time, Al Qaeda was led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the priority terrorist target of U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF). Being Iraq’s most prominent and murderous insurgent, he was killed in a U.S. operation on 8 June, just days after the Russians were kidnapped.[5]

    Russian President Vladimir Putin reacted with seeming decisiveness to the murder of the diplomats in Iraq.[6] He requested and received the authority — “unanimously, unconditionally, and limitlessly” — from the Russian Parliament to deploy military and security service/special operations personnel abroad to identify and hunt down terrorists who harmed Russian citizens and to attack their bases.[7] He specifically ordered the personnel “to find and eliminate the terrorists” responsible for the abduction and murders.[8] Not long thereafter on 20 July, Putin appeared on Russian television to personally decorate the unseen (by cameras) and unnamed Russian special operators credited with Basayev’s elimination.[9]

    Remarkably in this several-week summer period, several incidents occurred:

    a. A top Chechen militant leader was targeted and killed by Russian security services.

    b. Russian diplomats (characterized as spies) were murdered in a carefully planned and executed operation by Iraqi insurgents.

    c. The most wanted terrorist in Iraq at the time was eliminated in a U.S. special operation via air strike.

    d. The vengeance for a 2-year-old Russian security service assassination in Qatar was invoked.

    e. The President of Russia vowed to hunt down and kill specific individuals involved in terrorist attacks on Russians.

    While the U.S. interest in targeting combatant leaders has become particularly visible and developed in the post-11 September 2001 security environment and subsequent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, attention to the issue predates that by decades. It has been at least as great in other countries, which have their own rich experience, rationale, successes, and failures.

    1. See Lawrence A. Uzzell, “Basayev’s Death: Versions Abound,” Chechnya Weekly, 14*July 2006, Vol. VII, No. 28. This article addresses the variety of conflicted stories appearing in the first days following Basayev’s death. The circumstances of his death have been widely disputed, including whether Russian security forces even had a role. However, the Russian government pressed ahead with its claim of a “well-coordinated and targeted” special operation despite some foreign and internal Russian skepticism.

    2. See Lawrence Uzzell, “Rumors swirl about Yandarbiev assassination,” Chechnya Weekly, 18 February 2004, Vol. 5, No. 7; also “Qatar extradites two Russian agents convicted of killing Chechen ex-president,”, 24 December 2004, available from (accessed May 2007).

    Yandarbiev was assassinated by a remotely detonated bomb planted in his car, possibly placed while he and his bodyguards were visiting a mosque. His two bodyguards were killed and his teenage son wounded when the bomb exploded on a Qatari highway. Two Russians, allegedly intelligence officers working temporarily at the Russian embassy, were arrested after Qatari security traced their van. They confessed after “clever interrogation” and were tried and sentenced to life in prison. However, authorities in Qatar agreed to their extradition to Russia months later. Alternative stories have Yandarbiev assassinated by rival Chechen factions and disgruntled business partners.

    3. Francesca Mereu and Simon Saradzhyan, “Putin: Destroy Hostage Killers,” 29 June 2006, No. 3442, available from (accessed May 2007).

    In addition, the Chechen opposition has a “special unit” whose mission is to search for individuals who commit “war crimes” against the Chechen people or remove property or war booty. Even after the Russians were sentenced in Qatar, the unit commander claimed to be gathering information on Yandarbiyev assassination perpetrators. The unit supposedly has a database that includes fingerprints, voice recordings, and other information for post-war trials against Russians and others who “killed and plundered under the cynical silence of the whole world” wherever they might hide. The unit commander denied any intention to carry out extra-judicial punishment. See also “The experience of Mossad is unacceptable to us,” Chechenpress, 29 October 2004, translated in CEP20041101000342.

    4. The Web site of the Chechen resistance-associated Kavkaz Center——published the “thank you” telegram. The released part of the message read as follows:

    Mujahideen of the Caucasus express huge gratitude to those who has carried out the elimination of the Russian diplomats the spies in Iraq. Their elimination is the worthy answer to the murder by Russian terrorists from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation of the Chechen diplomat, ex-president of CRI [Chechen Republic of Ichkeria], Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev.

    5. Patrick Quinn, “Zarqawi killed in air strike by U.S.,” Associated Press, 9 June 2005. Also see Scott Macleod and Bill Powell, “How They Killed Him,” Time, 11 June 2006.

    6. Putin chose to publicly announce his intentions to seek out the militants involved — and call for help in identifying the murders — at a 28 June 2006 meeting with the Saudi Foreign Minister in Moscow. See Francesca Mereu and Simon Saradzhyan, “Putin.”

    7. See three references:

    a. “Russia to Fight Terror Worldwide,” 5 July 2006, available from (accessed May 2007)

    b. “Troops Abroad,” 8*July 2006, available from (accessed May 2007)

    c. Ivan Preobrazhenskiy: “President’s Military Right,”, 8 July 2006, translated in CEP20060711035001.

    8. Putin’s intentions were called “absolutely moral and legal from a logical point of view,” by the First Deputy Speaker of the State Duma, Oleg Morozov, and widely reported in the Russian media. For example, see ITAR-TASS, 4 July 2006, translated in CEP20060704950089.

    9. The 20 July 2006 award ceremony was noted in various media, including Tatyana Aleksandrova and Mikhail Antonov, presenters, “Vesti,” Rossiya TV, 20 July 2006, translated in CEP20060720950276.
    Now, if the SVR I Law experts are as sharp as their KGB ancestors, I expect they would argue not only compliance with their domestic law, but also that targeted assassinations comply with iinternational law. That is, if there is any proof that they did it at all.

    So, it's a rough world out there in the back alleys; and a little Velociraptor Power is not a bad idea.

    What would be your argument vs. the SVR boys and girls - realizing I don't expect a polished legal answer since that would be unfair. Oh, and you have to remember that the US also does targeted killings.

    Cherers and have fun here

    Last edited by jmm99; 10-26-2009 at 03:31 AM.

  17. #17
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Previous threads


    Respnding to:
    Has anyone been keeping up with the "new and pro-western" Russia? What's been going on with Georgia aside, how about what's STILL going on in Chechnya?
    There are several relevant threads on affairs in the Central Asian region, on Chechenya and its neighbours:

    So SWC has not completly looked away, although the viewing figures are not large, except the Georgia -v- Russia campaign.

    JMM has also weighed in above.


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    Well there are many human rights NGO's around the world and no doubt they're doing their part well in protecting, implementing and securing the basic rights of every human. I think these sorta departments are an essential need for most third world countries.


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