Human Rights Watch World Report 1996
by Human Rights Watch
New York: Human Rights Watch, 1995. 388 pp. $25 (paper).
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
About one-fifth of this global review of 1995 deals with the Middle East, and the picture of it is generally negative. Algeria hosts "an increasingly ugly war." The human-rights picture in Egypt is "dismal." Use of the death penalty has expanded in Iraq. Saudi Arabia experienced "further deterioration." The Sudan suffers from Draconian emergency laws, the enslavement of women and children, and increasing economic difficulties. The only two governments to get thumbs-up are Kuwait and Morocco, with "significant improvements" in both cases.
While Human Rights Watch and similar organizations do excellent work exposing individual abuses, in the aggregate, their efforts raise three troubling problems. The first has to do with a near blindness to scale: minor and occasional problems are seen as much the same as brutal and systemic ones. When Turkey is said to have "serious problems" and Syria is a "tightly controlled society," that one is an open democracy and the other a totalitarian despotism gets obscured. In the literature of human rights, the censorship of a book is hardly different from mass murder. Second, emphasis on human-rights to the exclusion of all else leads to myopic policy recommendations in which national interests are virtually abandoned. For example, in the case of Turkey, the report implicitly criticizes the Clinton administration for not permitting human rights concerns to outweigh Turkey's role as an ally and a "big emerging market." Third, an exclusive concentration on states means that such movements as Hamas and Islamic Jihad appear not to rate even a single mention.
Related Topics: Daniel Pipes | June 1996 MEQ
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