Commentary Magazine


Human Rights Watch Founder Starts New NGO

Robert Bernstein – the founder of Human Rights Watch who publicly criticized the group last year for its unhealthy obsession with Israel – is forming a new human-rights organization that will focus on authoritarian countries without freedom of speech.

At the Huffington Post, Ben Cohen compares Bernstein’s new group to Helsinki Watch, a Reagan-era NGO, which held that human rights begins “with the individual person, and not a nation, or a social class, or a religious faith.”

“That a significant segment of the human rights community has lost sight of the original purpose of human rights advocacy can be explained, at least in part, by the resurgence of ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric in the years since the 9/11 atrocities,” notes Cohen. In contrast, he writes, Bernstein’s new group Advancing Human Rights “is explicit that its focus will be, in the spirit of Helsinki Watch, upon ‘authoritarian countries without free speech or corrective mechanisms.’”

Many of the most prominent NGOs, like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, spend an excessive amount of time and energy focused on human-rights issues in democratic countries, such as Israel and the United States. In doing so, they ignore or downplay many of the abuses that take place in autocratic, closed societies. The formation of Advancing Human Rights is a welcome development, since it sounds like it will break with the status quo.