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The Voiceless Victims

In Friday’s post, I noted that due to their warped focus, Israeli human-rights organizations are increasingly leaving real victims voiceless. But the damage is incomparably greater when major international organizations do the same. To appreciate just how badly groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have betrayed those who need them most, everyone should read Nicholas Kristof’s devastating recent articles on Congo in the New York Times (see, for instance, here and here).

The civil war in Congo, Kristof writes, has claimed almost seven million lives over the last dozen years. It has also created a whole new vocabulary to describe the other horrific abuses it has generated – such as “autocannibalism,” which is when militiamen cut flesh from living victims and force the victims to eat it, or “re-rape,” which applies to women and girls who are raped anew every time militiamen visit their town.

Yet the world rarely hears about Congo — because groups such as Amnesty and HRW have left the victims largely voiceless, preferring instead to focus on far less serious abuses in developed countries, where gathering information is easier.

Neither Amnesty nor HRW has issued a single press release or report on Congo so far this year, according to their web sites. Yet HRW found time to issue two statements criticizing Israel and 12 criticizing the U.S.; Amnesty issued 11 on Israel and 15 on the U.S. To its credit, HRW did cover Congo fairly extensively in 2009. But Amnesty’s imbalance was egregious: For all of 2009, its web site lists exactly one statement on Congo — even as the group found time and energy to issue 62 statements critical of Israel.

By any objective standard, of course, there is no comparison in the scope of the violations. Even if you accept all the Goldstone Report’s worst slanders against Israel as gospel truth, none of them remotely compares to the kind of atrocities Congo’s victims describe – such as experienced by the young woman who told Kristof that after Hutu militiamen tied up her uncle, “they cut off his hands, gouged out his eyes, cut off his feet, cut off his sex organs and left him like that.” Nor is this exceptional: such stories are routine.

The same holds for the death toll. The highest estimate of Palestinian fatalities in last year’s Gaza war is just over 1,400; for the rest of the year combined, Palestinian fatalities numbered around 115, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs. By contrast, the death toll in Congo is around 45,000 a month — every month.

Human-rights organizations clearly should not ignore genuine violations in developed countries, but they do need to maintain a sense of proportion. Instead, the relative frequency of their press releases paints countries such as Israel and the U.S. as the world’s worst human rights violators. The result is that the real worst abuses, like those in Congo, remain largely below the public’s radar. And so the victims continue to suffer in unheard agony.


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