It should be terribly embarrassing that both Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) partnered with al-Karama, a group whose Qatari leader now appears to have been an al-Qaeda financier. National-security reporter Eli Lake, who broke the story, wrote:
On Wednesday [December 18], the Treasury Department issued a designation of [Abdul Rahman Umayr ] al-Naimi that said he oversaw the transfer of hundreds of thousands of dollars to al Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen over the last 11 years. In 2013, the designation says, al-Naimi ordered the transfer of nearly $600,000 to al Qaeda via the group’s representative in Syria. In the same notice, the Treasury Department also designated Abdulwahab Al-Humayqani, al-Karama’s representative in Yemen, as a financier and member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group’s Yemen affiliate.
It’s bad enough that HRW and AI partnered with such groups, for if they cannot accurately assess their own partners, then it raises questions about how well they can assess others. It is possible that the leadership and analysts at HRW and AI were blinded by their own politics. After all, if al-Karama criticized the right targets, then why should HRW or AI criticize its motives?
What is truly reprehensible, however, is that given the questions now surfacing with regard to al-Karama, Human Rights Watch has not rescinded the reports in whose development it had partnered with al-Karama. Take the case of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which last year successfully busted a coup plot by al-Islah, the local affiliation of the Muslim Brotherhood. Human Rights Watch condemned the UAE and accused it of torture in a study that it conducted in conjunction with al-Karama. Now it seems that its partner’s leader was committed not only in rhetoric but also fact to advancing al-Qaeda’s goals. Can HRW really, in hindsight, take seriously the group’s work which castigated a government which has cracked down on al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood? Frankly, it seems plausible that al-Karama’s leadership wanted to use HRW’s mantle to castigate those it saw as ideological enemies.
Now, the UAE isn’t the only target of al-Karama/HRW partnership. And it is possible that human-rights violations did occur in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere. But, if HRW is a professional organization that wants to uphold the highest standards of analysis, it should begin 2014 with a recall of any and all reports to which al-Karama researchers or the organization contributed and, if necessary, apologies to governments like the United Arab Emirates. The sanctity and impartiality of human-rights research should trump political advocacy and the desire to avoid organizational embarrassment. What HRW and Amnesty International should not do, alas, is obfuscate and delay, the very strategy in which they now seek to engage.