De Waal opens his piece with the following paragraph.
The power to accuse someone of a grave crime on the basis of hearsay is a heady one. I have done it, and I faced the consequences of being wrong. Twenty years ago in the Nuba Mountains of central Sudan, I met a man, Chief Hussein Karbus, whose murder I had reported three years earlier. He was introduced to me by the man I had accused of ordering his death, a leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. The mistake had appeared in a report I authored for Human Rights Watch; it was the kind of error that human rights researchers sometimes make and rarely admit. The three of us sat together and laughed about it. Not all such missteps turn out so well.
From there he (or she) goes on to show how human rights organizations wield an immense amount of power and yet often do not accurately describe events or they do so in a way to fit a certain agenda. He doesn’t denounce human rights orgs or his own work. But from his piece you can see how no one should view any NGO as an impartial group.
But while de Waal doesn’t implicate human rights organizations and other such NGO as inherently untrustworthy, I do.
Read a May New York Times Magazine article on the U.S. accidentally striking a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan. The title and subtitle are key: “Doctors With Enemies: Did Afghan Forces Target the M.S.F. Hospital? – The U.S. government’s report has ruled the attack an accident. But mounting evidence suggests that Afghans’ mistrust for the nonprofit medical group might have set the tragedy in motion.”
There is a lot in the article so read it to see all that it reports. But I found paragraphs like the following particularly interesting.
In fairness, much like their American partners, the Afghan special forces sent up from Kabul were reliant on information from local sources, who had longstanding views about M.S.F.’s role in Kunduz. “That hospital is in the service of the Taliban,” Gard said when I visited him in Kunduz. “I swear to God, if they make it a hundred times, we’ll destroy it a hundred times.”
Obviously, Doctors Without Borders disputes that assessment. So who is right?
There is more, of course, on human rights organizations and other similar NGO. Read what Kenneth Roth, then executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote in 2014 at the Washington Post to see why I am so distrustful of them. Compare his calls for prosecution of U.S. personnel for his praise of noted torturer and communist Nelson Mandela. (Many other prominent people also praise Mandela, but this doesn’t exonerate Roth. Instead, it shows there are bigger problems.) See also what the Washington Free Beacon has reported on him.
There also was the way the United Kingdom went after its own troops who fought for it in Iraq. There wasn’t necessarily any human rights group or NGO behind the accusations against them (as far as I can tell), but the situation seems familiar: someone accuses troops of “war crimes” and then they are presumed guilty until they prove otherwise. (The accusations in this case were so baseless that the U.K. government later considered prosecuting the law firms which went after the U.K. troops on the behalf of enemy forces.)
Many people won’t share my inherent distrust of human rights groups and other NGO. But if you automatically trust them and take their word as unchallenged truth, then you are being played for a fool and doing a severe disservice to whomever you represent.
Alex de Waal’s article in the Boston Review is the latest reminder of this.