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Exchange with Human Rights Watch on Wikileaks


MY INITIAL EMAIL (sent Dec 6, 2010)

TO [email protected],
Given that the US government has threatened to prosecute Wikileaks, and given that high profile pundits and poltitians have even called for Julian Assange's assassination, why hasn't HRW issued a forceful statement defending Assange and Wikileaks by now.

Your silence – thus far – contrasts sharply with your voluminous criticism of the Venezuelan government for – in your view – limiting freedom of expresion and intimidating crtitics. My apologies if you have already issued a staement and I somehow missed it. However, as of now, I cannot find anything on your website.

Joe Emersberger

REPLY FROM HRW (Dec 8, 2010)

Dear Mr. Berger (sic),

In response to your query, we are relating the following to press who have
inquired what our position is on Julian Assange's arrest:

Human Rights Watch has no information regarding Mr. Assange's personal
actions in Sweden and thus no position on his arrest other than concern that
he be accorded full rights of defense due under international and domestic
law. We do have concerns at recent allegations from various political
figures that the actions of Wikileaks in releasing classified US cables
somehow amount to either "terrorism" or "espionage" in the absence of
evidence of an intent to attack civilians or endanger national security.
Threats against Mr. Assange's life are particularly reprehensible.

Although the quantity of the Wikileaks material is unprecedented, the nature
of the material is not. Standard media frequently reveal government
information of an embarrassing nature, and this can be in the public
interest and in furtherance of the right to receive information in a
democratic society. We have expressed concern to Wikileaks that care be
taken not to reveal information that endangers lives, and we continue to
monitor the disclosures to that end.

All the best,

Dinah PoKempner
General Counsel

MY REPLY (Dec 8, 2010)

Thank you for replying Ms. PoKempner
You wrote

"Although the quantity of the Wikileaks material is unprecedented, the
nature of the material is not. Standard media frequently reveal government
information of an embarrassing nature, and this can be in the public
interest and in furtherance of the right to receive information in a
democratic society."

Is HRW not aware that Wikileaks has made source material directly available
to anyone with access to their site?

Readers can make their own evaluations of the material without relying on
editors or reporters to select or interpret it for them. Hence Wikileaks
democratizes access to information in a manner that the "standard media" does
not.

Does HRW welcome that aspect of Wikileaks work?

Is HRW not alarmed this democratizing aspect of their work explains, in
large part, why Wikileaks, and not the "standard media" is now facing serious
reprisals from the US government among other governments and corporations?

You wrote

"We have expressed concern to Wikileaks that care be taken not to reveal
information that endangers lives, and we continue to monitor the disclosures
to that end"

Has HRW expressed concern to the Obama administration over its rejection of
Wikileaks' offer to cooperate with the US government in editing the
documents so that lives are not placed at risk?

What does HRW think of Private Bradley Manning being held in solitary
confinement, denying him even visits from his family, despite the fact that he
poses no security risk and has not even been convicted of a crime?

Has HRW publicly commented on his case? I find no mention of it on your
website.

Below are two questions about HRW's reporting on Haiti that I've sought
answers to for years. Please answer them.

1) When a coup deposed Haiti's democratically elected government in 2004,
why didn't HRW condemn the coup, call on other countries not to recognize
the regime, invoke the OAS charter, and call for an investigation of the US
role? Many of these things were done by the community of Caribbean nations
(CARICOM). A third of the UN General Assembly called for an investigation
into the overthrow of Aristide. Why didn't HRW back them up?

2) Since 2004, why has HRW written about 20 times more about Venezuela than
about Haiti despite the fact that the coup in Haiti created a human rights
catastrophe in which thousands of political murders were perpetrated and
the jails filled with political prisoners?

Joe Emersberger

FOLLOW UP NOTE SENT DEC 16, 2010
 

Dear Ms. PoKempner
 
I'm very glad that HRW has finally spoken up in defence of Wikileaks.
 
 
 
Will you be replying to my questions about Haiti below?
 
Also, I wanted ask when HRW will be speaking out in defence of Bradley Manning? I find no mention of him on your website. My apologies if I've missed it.
 
On Democracy Now this morning, medical evidence was cited that Manning solitary confinement is likely having a serious impact on his health. He has been imprisoned since May of 2010 despite not having been convicted of a crime.[1]
 
Please recall that when the Venezuela government sued "civil society" leaders who had endorsed the Carmona dictatorship for receiving US funds, HRW spoke up quickly and strongly in their defence. [2] They were not imprisoned in Venezuela at all – much less subjected to what Bradley Manning has been subjected to by your government for several months.
 
Joe Emersberger
 
 
[2] http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2005/07/07/venezuela-court-orders-trial-civil-society-leaders

HRW (BOKEMPER) REPLIES AGAIN (Dec 17, 2010)

Dear Mr. Emersberger,

Thank you for your comments. We are concerned about the fact Bradley Manning has been held in prolonged isolation and other aspects of the investigation, and we are following his case through individuals who represent him. Human Rights Watch has  protested the practice of prolonged solitary confinement in many contexts, including the United States. Our work on solitary confinement as an abuse of human rights is often listed as a resource, including on sites that are reporting on Private Manning’s plight.  Just to give you a small sample of our research in this area:

* One of our early contributions was a report condeming such conditions in “super-max” facilities: http://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/2000/supermax/
* We’ve also reported on solitary confinement of Guantanamo detainees: http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/06/09/locked-alone
* We’ve also reported on the effects of solitary on mentally ill prisoners:  http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/03/22/solitary-confinement-and-mental-illness-us-prisons

I am afraid I am not able to respond to your comments on Haiti and Venezuela (I don’t think questions are set out below), as I do not work on those areas.  If you would like to send comments to our Americasdivision, you can send them directly to: [email protected].  Please be aware that while we try to cover many human rights issues, we do not have the resources to cover every problem, victim or country in the depth that we or others might like.

Best wishes,

Dinah PoKempner

MY REPLY (Dec 17, 2010)

 

Ms. PoKemper:
Thank you for replying again. I and forwarding my questions regarding Haiti and Venezuela to the person you suggested (Guillermo Farias) by copying him on this correspondence. I am very glad that you have been following Bradley Manning’s case, but when will HRW be commenting on it publicly?
Again, those questions regarding Haiti and Venezuela were were

1) When a coup deposed Haiti's democratically elected government in 2004,
why didn't HRW condemn the coup, call on other countries not to recognize
the regime, invoke the OAS charter, and call for an investigation of the US
role? Many of these things were done by the community of Caribbean nations
(CARICOM). A third of the UN General Assembly called for an investigation
into the overthrow of Aristide. Why didn't HRW back them up?

2) Since 2004, why has HRW written about 20 times more about Venezuela than
about Haiti despite the fact that the coup in Haiti created a human rights
catastrophe in which thousands of political murders were perpetrated and
the jails filled with political prisoners?

Joe Emersberger 

HRW REPLIES AGAIN (same day):

Dear Mr. Emersberger,

I am leaving your other questions for the Americas Division.  We do not, as a matter of policy, forecast when we are going to comment on something to the press, but I am glad you are following our statements in the media.

Dinah PoKempner

MY REPLY (same day)

In that case, please let me ask you this: Why has HRW not yet commented publicly on Bradley Manning's case? As a human rights group, should you not be extremely concerned about the consequences of a whistleblower like Manning, who exposed grave human rights abuses, being made an example of through brutal punishment?   

 
 

 
 

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