Human Rights Watch Urges Clinton Administration to Take a Bold Stand on Human Rights
In December, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the largest U.S.-based human rights organization, published its annual world report, Events of 1992. The report's 402 pages provide an overview of the human rights records of the world communities to which the organization has access. The report's particular value lies not in its exposition of the rampant human rights abuses committed in 1992 but in its bold criticism of Western--especially American--leaders for turning a blind eye on many countries' human rights abuses in the name of political expediency.
Human Rights Watch criticizes the Bush and Reagan administrations for providing moral and financial support to leaders perceived as useful for their anti-communist stances despite their often horrific human rights records. The report blames a "shallow vision of democracy" for the appearance of elected tyrants who masqueraded as "freedom fighters," an appellation that the Reagan and Bush administrations bestowed freely when it suited their political ends. Their one-time designation as "freedom fighters" could not mask their appeal to intolerance and virulent nationalism among their communities, the HRW report said. In addition, HRW criticizes the Bush administration for lacking the foresight to anticipate new threats and the creativity to fashion new ways to combat them.
The report cites the example of Turkey, whose brutal, often sadistic repression of its native Kurdish community includes the rape and torture of Kurdish women and the murder of journalists and intellectuals. Rather than condemning these attacks, following the killing of 91 people during violence that broke out during Kurdish New Year celebrations last spring, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler went so far as to congratulate Turkey on its "use of restraint."
Kurdish refugees interviewed by the Washington Report in November said that there is widespread belief among Kurds that the Bush administration agreed to ignore Turkey's repression of its Kurdish community in return for permission to use Turkish air bases during the Gulf war.
Human Rights Watch also accuses the Bush administration of hiding its unwillingness to criticize lack of democratic institutions in some allied countries behind the guise of cultural sensitivity. For example, the report charges that administration officials cited "cultural differences" in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to explain their unwillingness to press harder for democratic evolution. The HRW report charges that the State Department praised political changes in Saudi Arabia as "very important steps" although they did not diminish royal authority or significantly advance prospects for broader popular participation in government.
HRW also takes the State Department to task for its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1991. It accuses the Department of soft-pedalling continuing abuses by the authorities in Kuwait and Israel and for remaining silent about new evidence of the torture and unjustified killing of Palestinians. The State Department, says HRW, often fails to take any stand on its own findings. For example, the Department's report states that "political and extrajudicial killings are not condoned by Israel. …