Human Rights Watch Does Milosevic

Well.  At least this outrageous document appears to have been stillborn.  Aside from whatever initial publicity it may have generated via the P.R. – wire services and its god-only-knows-how-many iterations over the Internet (e.g., Reuters – AlertNet, Dec. 14), Human Rights Watch's Weighing the Evidence: Lessons from the Slobodan Milosevic Trial, written by the Senior Counsel with its International Justice Program, Sara Darehshori,  has received but one other mention in the English-language news media that I'm capable of checking–a medium-length report by ReutersBut that is about the most charitable thought I can summon.

As is clear from the document's partial list and usage of sources ("Acknowledgements"), this particular Human Rights Watch undertaking is Office of the Prosecutor-friendly from start to finish.  For example, we read that "[HRW] would like to thank Dermot Groome for reviewing the evidence sections of the paper" (p. 77).  But Groome was the ICTY prosecutor whose primary responsibility was making the charge of "genocide" stick to Milosevic for the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Similarly, we read that "Geoffrey Nice was especially generous with his time and insights and deserves special mention" (p. 77).  Of course, Nice was the chief prosecutor in charge of the entire Milosevic case.

We also read that ("Introduction" p. 6):

In order to prepare this report, Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens of individuals involved with the trial, including prosecutors, defense attorneys, Registry staff, and members of the ICTY’s Outreach Programme. In addition, we interviewed a number of journalists who followed the trial closely over the years. Based on these interviews, we began to review transcripts and decisions available on the ICTY website. Reviewing the transcripts allowed us to create a lengthy list of exhibits and witness statements we wished to examine further. At our request, the Prosecutor’s Office provided us with the exhibits we sought….

But aside from a few very prominent names and the references listed in the document's footnotes, I do not believe that HRW has disclosed exactly whom its sources were.

Perhaps most important, certainly from an historiographic point of view, HRW explains that ("Introduction" p. 5):

Often overlooked in the controversy about the trial’s management is the vast amount of evidence introduced that, at a minimum, shed important new light on how the armed conflicts were conducted.  Human Rights Watch believes the evidence introduced should help shape how current and future generations view the wars and in particular Serbia’s role in them.

Not only do these two sentences say a mouthful about the mission of the ICTY.  At least as important, they betray a great deal about the prevailing attitudes towards its records at the esteemed non-governmental organization Human Ruman Rights.  It has long been obvious that the ICTY is supposed to codify (loose ends and all) the Official History of the Wars over the Breakup of Yugoslavia.  If one approaches its records with the deliberately narrow and selective focus of Human Right Watch–"Human Rights Watch has not undertaken an exhaustive review of the evidence," the document's "Introduction" confesses; instead, HRW has "sought to highlight some evidence from the trial relating to how the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia gave material, financial, and administrative support to the Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia" (p. 6)–then just like HRW, one will be better able to help the ICTY shape how current and future generations view the wars, and in particular Serbia's responsibility for them.

All of this legal-historical engineering falls under Human Rights Watch's guiding political conception of "International Justice," of course.

A conception which, in its most elemental terms, judges rights and wrongs through the scopes of the great worldly powers.

And one great power in particular.  

Weighing the Evidence: Lessons from the Slobodan Milosevic Trial, Sara Darehshori, Human Rights Watch, December, 2006.  (For the PDF version of the complete report.)
Human Rights Watch Staff and Committees
"Lessons learned from Milosevic trial — rights group," Michelle Nichols, Reuters, December 13, 2006 
"ICTY: Milosevic Trial Exposed Belgrade's Role in Wars," Human Rights Watch Press Release, as posted by Reuters – AlertNet, December 14, 2006

"Who Is Behind Human Rights Watch?" Paul Treanor, 2004

"OPT: Civilians Must Not Be Used to Shield Homes Against Military Attacks," Human Rights Watch Press Release, November 22, 2006
"Rush To Judgment: Human Rights Watch Must Retract Its Shameful Press Release," Norman G. Finkelstein, CounterPunch, November 29, 2006
"Human Rights Watch Statement on our November 22 Press Release," December 16, 2006

The New York Times on the Yugoslavia Tribunal: A Study in Total Propaganda Service, Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, ColdType, 2004
"Milosevic's Death in the Propaganda System," Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, ElectricPolitics.com, May 14, 2006

"Human Rights Watch Does Milosevic," ZNet, December 16, 2006

FYA ("For your archives"): Am reproducing here, in full, what is without a doubt as shocking a statement ever to be issued by a "human rights" organization, Human Rights Watch's early 2003 "Policy on Iraq" statement.  So, "Human Rights Watch does not make judgments about the decision whether to go to war – about whether a war complies with international law against aggression," the third paragraph opens.  "We care deeply about the humanitarian consequences of war, but we avoid judgments on the legality of war itself because they tend to compromise the neutrality needed to monitor most effectively how the war is waged…."

Be sure to let me know, in case you've ever come across anything worse.  (Outside the Nazi archives, that is.  And similar moral-historical backwaters.)

(For Human Rights Watch's personnel as of December 2006, see its Board of Directors and Advisory Committees and Staff and Committees.)

Human Rights Watch Policy on Iraq

Human Rights Watch has worked for more than twenty years in war zones. We believe that our most important contribution to reducing the suffering that war so often entails is to monitor and promote all warring parties' compliance with international humanitarian law. This law – principally the Geneva Conventions and their Protocols – is designed to spare civilians and noncombatants as much as possible the hazards of war.

Should the United States launch a war against Iraq, we will insist that the United States and its military allies as well as Iraq comply with international humanitarian law. As we have repeatedly done in the past, we will monitor such matters as each party's targeting decisions, its use of indiscriminate weapons systems, and its treatment of prisoners and civilians. We will highlight the humanitarian needs of those displaced or victimized by war and demand their protection. We will urge the United States to exercise control over its agents and allies inside Iraq, to ensure that they treat prisoners humanely and do not engage in reprisals against civilians. We will highlight the need to prepare for the horrors that President Saddam Hussein may yet unleash on his people in his effort to remain in power. Once the war is over, we will seek to bring to justice those responsible for genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity and to exclude them from government posts. And we will call for the necessary resources to help Iraqis build a country in which the rights of all people are respected.

Human Rights Watch does not make judgments about the decision whether to go to war – about whether a war complies with international law against aggression. We care deeply about the humanitarian consequences of war, but we avoid judgments on the legality of war itself because they tend to compromise the neutrality needed to monitor most effectively how the war is waged – that is, compliance with international humanitarian law – and because they often require political and security assessments that are beyond our expertise. Whether or not one favors launching a war, whether or not a war is legally justified, we believe that agreement should be possible on the necessity of waging war in a way that minimizes harm to noncombatants, as international humanitarian law requires.

As in the case of other armed conflicts, Human Rights Watch thus does not support or oppose the threatened war with Iraq. We do not opine on whether the dangers to civilians in Iraq and neighboring countries of launching a war are greater or lesser than the dangers to U.S. or allied civilians – or, ultimately, the Iraqi people – of not launching one. We make no comment on the intense debate surrounding the legality of President George Bush's proposed doctrine of "pre-emptive self-defense" or the need for U.N. Security Council approval of a war.

The sole exception that Human Rights Watch has made to its neutrality on the decision whether to go to war is in the case of humanitarian intervention – the military invasion of a country to protect its people. We have advocated military intervention in limited circumstances when the people of a country are facing genocide or comparable mass slaughter. Horrific as Saddam Hussein's human rights record is, it does not today appear to meet this high threshold – in contrast, for example, with his behavior during the 1988 Anfal genocide against the Iraqi Kurds.

We also recognize that the threatened war in Iraq is not one of humanitarian intervention, but one designed, according to the public statements of the U.S. government, to deprive the Iraqi government of its alleged chemical and biological weapons, to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons, and to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Although in making a case for war George Bush has referred to the Iraqi government's severe repression, this is clearly a subsidiary argument to his call to address Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction and to force "regime change." There can be little doubt that if Saddam Hussein were overthrown and any weapons of mass destruction reliably surrendered, there would be no war, even if the successor government were just as repressive.

Human Rights Watch has done extensive work documenting the horrendous human rights record of Saddam Hussein and his government. We assembled in unprecedented detail evidence of the Anfal genocide, and we continue to monitor and report his violations of human rights. We have also consistently called for Saddam Hussein and other responsible Iraqi officials to be brought to justice for their role in the Anfal and other atrocities. As in all of our work, we believe that exposing a government's human rights violations is a necessary first step toward pressuring the government to end those violations. These efforts to curb Iraqi repression should not be read as support for war.

Similarly, Human Rights Watch has reported on and denounced U.S. violations of international humanitarian law, in Panama, the Gulf War, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan. We have criticized the U.S. government's targeting decisions, its failure to take certain precautions to minimize civilian casualties, its use of certain indiscriminate weapons, and its failure to follow the rules governing prisoners-of-war. Criticism of the U.S. government's conduct in a possible war in Iraq should not be read as opposition to that war.


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