Keane Bhatt, DC-based activist & guest on “Unauthorized Disclosure”

While the prominent human rights organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW), engages in some excellent work, especially on drones and autonomous killer robots, there are agendas pursued by the organization in certain countries that appear to conflict with their commitment to advancing human rights.

A letter published two weeks ago and addressed to HRW executive director, Kenneth Roth, calls attention to known former and current US government officials, who have worked for the organization, and how they likely are responsible for some unsettling efforts on the part of the organization.

For example, according to the letter, “Miguel Díaz, a Central Intelligence Agency analyst in the 1990s, sat on HRW Americas’ advisory committee from 2003-11. Now at the State Department, Díaz serves as ‘an interlocutor between the intelligence community and non-government experts.’”

Another individual, Tom Malinowski, who currently serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights & Labor under John Kerry, was HRW’s Washington advocacy director. Prior to going to work for HRW, he was a special assistant to President Bill Clinton and a speechwriter for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.” (Albright, of course, infamously said US policy was “worth it” in Iraq, even if half a million Arab children had died as a result.)

For this week’s episode of “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, Rania Khalek and I are joined by Keane Bhatt, a DC-based activist and writer. He talks to us about the letter written to pressure Human Rights Watch to close its “revolving door” and be more independent from the US government. Bhatt shares some examples of why those concerned with human rights should raise this issue with this organization, even as the organization is doing some critically important work on human rights.

During the discussion portion of the show, Gosztola and Khalek discuss the UC Santa Barbara shooting, Venezuela sanctions, Obama as deporter-in-chief, proxy forces being used by the US government, a California Supreme Court decision on police secrecy around shootings, a lawsuit against an incident of mass detention in Aurora, Colorado, and Edward Snowden’s NBC interview.

The podcast is now available on iTunes for download. For a direct link (and direct download), go here. And, below is a player for listening to the podcast without getting it from iTunes:

During the interview, Bhatt declares, “The letter is very simple. If Human Rights Watch characterizes itself as an independent global organization, then it should strengthen those credentials and it should live up to those credentials by closing what we call its revolving door.”

“What I’ve found through my research, which is conveyed in the letter, is the way in which high-level US government officials basically spend time within the foreign policy arms of the US government then go on to work at Human Rights Watch before then going back into government.”

He makes clear, “I don’t mean to diminish the importance of some of its critical coverage and advocacy around the kinds of questions that you focus on quite correctly—drones and automated drones and the kinds of prospects for a much less accountable form of warfare. But the letter was basically conceived to promote greater independence and greater accountability on behalf of Human Rights Watch because what I have discovered is the tendency to implement the double standards in the kind of advocacy and policy priorities that Human Rights Watch engages in.”

Thus far, Bhatt says a petition at RootsAction.org has 15,000 signatures demanding HRW close its revolving door.

What Bhatt and others advocate is that for five years after leaving government they not be permitted to go work for Human Rights Watch.

“It’s a very straightforward and, in my opinion, unassailable request, even if one is not persuaded that Human Rights Watch’s priorities are influenced by the US government. There should be a cooling off period at the very least, preemptively.”

“Unfortunately,” Bhatt reports, “Human Rights Watch has yet to respond in any official way so I am going to be continuing to raise the pressure through a number of op-eds, through increased signatures at our petition at RootsAction.org and increase publicity.”