Something about Human Rights Watch


   Recently a friend who works as a reference librarian
   dredged up on my behalf a copy of an April 1984 Americas
   Watch report, Human Rights in Nicaragua.  Juan E. Mendez,
   then the director of Americas Watch's Washington office, and
   Aryeh Neier, one of Human Rights Watch's (née the U.S. Helsinki
   Watch Committee) founding members, were the principal authors.

In the Introduction, we read (pp. 5-7): 

  Obviously, the human rights situation cannot be considered without reference to the effort by insurgent groups sponsored by the United States to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.  Though the Americas Watch takes no position on the military conflict as such, we condemn the human rights violations committed by the insurgents as we condemn those committed by the government.  In addition, we believe that the United States deserves some of the blame for the abuses by the government of Nicaragua because the activities sponsored by the U.S. lead to such measures as the forcible relocation of the Miskitos.  At the same time, we do not believe that the Nicaraguan government is entitled to escape blame for abuses it commits because of the U.S. sponsored effort to overthrow it.  Regardless of the threats it faces, disappearances cannot be justified; censorship of information about human rights abuses cannot be justified; and so on.
  Just as it is disingenuous for the government of Nicaragua or its apologists to explain away abuses of human rights by citing the U.S. effort to overthrow the Sandinistas, similarly it is disingenuous for the United States to cite abuses of human rights as justification for what it is doing to Nicaragua.  Yet this is what the Reagan Administration is doing….
  As should be obvious, a human rights rationale for trying to overthrow the Sandinistas hardly squares with efforts by the Reagan Administration to shore up the government of El Salvador, which has a horrendous record on human rights, or with efforts to secure military and economic assistance to Guatemala, which has one of the worst human rights records in the world.  Such insincere use of a human rights rationale does grave damage to the prospect of improving the human rights situation in Nicaragua and elsewhere.

Take it for what it's worth: This was the strongest criticism leveled against the Washington regime's policy toward the government in Managua that Human Rights in Nicaragua mustered.  El Salvador had a "horrendous record on human rights."  And Guatemala "one of the worst human rights records in the world."  But the United States was "insincere" in its use of the "human rights rationale."  Besides, this U.S. lack of sincerity "does grave damage to the prospect of improving the human rights situation in Nicaragua and elsewhere." 

Even more striking is the second sentence in the first of the paragraphs reproduced above: "Americas Watch takes no position on the military conflict as such, we condemn the human rights violations committed by the insurgents as we condemn those committed by the government."

Words are (at least they ought to be) unnecessary.

Near the end of this 50-page report, Americas Watch devoted approx. 6 pages to what it called "Human Rights Violations by Opposition Groups" (pp. 43-48).  Here the "insurgents" were given their due—meaning, of course, various contra alliances: The Frente Democratico Nicaraguense (FDN) and the Alianza Revolucionaria Democratica (ARDE) and two Miskito groups (the Misura and the Misurasata).

"Nicaragua's government is under attack by several forces conducting guerrilla warfare and aerial attacks designed to cause its violent overthrow," this section opens (p. 43).  The 1983 kidnapping, torture, and execution of the U.S. citizen John Hunter is recounted (pp. 47-48).  But not much else. 

Except, that is, for this monument to selective, even strategic neutrality (p. 48):

  In March 1984, the insurgents mined Nicaragua's ports in Corinto, El Bluff and Puerto Sandino.  As reported by the Washington Post ("C.I.A. Helped to Mine Ports in Nicaragua," April 7, 1984), the United States participated in the mining with direct knowledge of President Reagan.  We pass no judgment on the military legitimacy of these attacks, nor on their relationship to free navigation and trade, just as we have no comment on economic targets in other conflicts.  We are concerned, however, with the potential for serious injury to civilian noncombatants that these actions entail, and we note that some civilians have already been injured.  In this respect, these actions are also human rights violations and we call on the U.S. to end them.

If, in retrospect, you are underwhelmed by these brief examples of Human Rights Watch's early monitoring of compliance with the Helsinki Accords (a fable in its own right), and your impression jibes with mine that, even way back then, this squad was training its "human rights" binoculars at the Sandinistas far more earnestly than at the foreign power seeking their overthrow by sponsoring armed guerrilla and terrorist campaigns against them—then you might also be interested in this: 

Human Rights Watch in Service to the War Party, ZNet, February 25, 2007  


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