Nobel Peace Laureates to Human Rights Watch: Close Your Revolving Door to U.S. Government

May 12, 2014

The following letter was sent today to Human Rights Watch's Kenneth Roth on behalf of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire; former UN Assistant Secretary General Hans von Sponeck; current UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Richard Falk; and over 100 scholars.

Dear Kenneth Roth,

Human Rights Watch characterizes itself [1] as "one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights." However, HRW's close ties to the U.S. government call into question its independence.

For example, HRW's Washington advocacy director, Tom Malinowski, previously served [2] as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton and as a speechwriter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In 2013, he left HRW after being nominated [3] as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights & Labor under John Kerry.

In her biography, Board of Directors' Vice Chair Susan Manilow describes [4] herself as "a longtime friend to Bill Clinton" who is "highly involved" in his political party, and "has hosted dozens of events" for the Democratic National Committee.

Currently, HRW Americas' advisory committee [5] includes Myles Frechette, a former [6] U.S. ambassador [7] to Colombia, and Michael Shifter, one-time Latin America director [8] for the U.S. government-financed National Endowment for Democracy. Miguel Diaz, a Central Intelligence Agency analyst in the 1990s, sat on HRW Americas' advisory committee from 2003 [9]-11 [10]. Now at the State Department [11], Diaz serves [12] as "an interlocutor between the intelligence community and non-government experts."

In his capacity as an HRW advocacy director, Malinowski contended [13] in 2009 that "under limited circumstances" there was "a legitimate place" for CIA renditions--the illegal [14] practice [15] of kidnapping and transferring terrorism suspects around the planet. Malinowski was quoted paraphrasing the U.S. government's argument that designing an alternative to sending suspects to "foreign dungeons to be tortured" was "going to take some time."

HRW has not extended [16] similar consideration to Venezuela [17]. In a 2012 letter [18] to President Chavez, HRW criticized the country's candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council, alleging that Venezuela had fallen "far short of acceptable standards" and questioning its "ability to serve as a credible voice on human rights." At no point has U.S. membership [19] in the same council merited censure from HRW, despite Washington's secret, global assassination program [20], its preservation of renditions [21], and its illegal detention [22] of individuals at Guantanamo Bay.

Likewise, in February 2013, HRW correctly described as "unlawful [23]" Syria's use of missiles in its civil war. However, HRW remained silent [24] on the clear violation [25] of international law constituted by the U.S. threat of missile strikes on Syria in August.

The few examples above, limited to only recent history, might be forgiven as inconsistencies or oversights that could naturally occur in any large, busy organization. But HRW's close relationships with the U.S. government suffuse such instances with the appearance of a conflict of interest.

We therefore encourage you to institute immediate, concrete measures to strongly assert HRW's independence. Closing what seems to be a revolving door would be a reasonable first step: Bar those who have crafted or executed U.S. foreign policy from serving as HRW staff, advisors or board members. At a bare minimum, mandate lengthy "cooling-off" periods before and after any associate moves between HRW and that arm of the government.

Your largest donor, investor George Soros, argued [26] in 2010 that "to be more effective, I think the organization has to be seen as more international, less an American organization." We concur. We urge you to implement the aforementioned proposal to ensure a reputation for genuine independence.


1. Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate

2. Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize laureate

3. Joel Andreas, Professor of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University

4. Antony Anghie, Professor of Law, S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah

5. John M. Archer, Professor of English, New York University

6. Asma Barlas, Professor of Politics, Director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity, Ithaca College

7. Rosalyn Baxandall, Professor Emeritus of American Studies, State University of New York-Old Westbury

8. Marc Becker, Professor of Latin American History, Truman State University

9. Jason A. Beckett, Professor of Law, American University in Cairo

10. Angelica Bernal, Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

11. Keane Bhatt, activist, writer

12. William Blum, author, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II

13. Audrey Bomse, Co-chair, National Lawyers Guild Palestine Subcommittee

14. Patrick Bond, Professor of Development Studies, Director of the Centre for Civil Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban

15. Michael Brenner, Professor Emeritus of International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh

16. Jean Bricmont, Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Louvain; author, Humanitarian Imperialism

17. Renate Bridenthal, Professor Emerita of History, Brooklyn College, CUNY

18. Fernando Buen Abad Dominguez, Ph.D., author

19. Paul Buhle, Professor Emeritus of American Civilization, Brown University

20. David Camfield, Professor of Labour Studies, University of Manitoba

21. Leonard L. Cavise, Professor of Law, DePaul College of Law

22. Robert Chernomas, Professor of Economics, University of Manitoba

23. Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History, Salem State University

24. George Ciccariello-Maher, Professor of Political Science, Drexel University

25. Jeff Cohen, Associate Professor of Journalism, Ithaca College

26. Marjorie Cohn, Professor of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

27. Lisa Duggan, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University

28. Carolyn Eisenberg, Professor of History, Hofstra University

29. Matthew Evangelista, Professor of History and Political Science, Cornell University

30. Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law, Princeton University

31. Sujatha Fernandes, Professor of Sociology, Queens College, CUNY Graduate Center

32. Mara Fridell, Professor of Sociology, University of Manitoba

33. Frances Geteles, Professor Emeritus, Department of Special Programs, CUNY City College

34. Lesley Gill, Professor of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University

35. Piero Gleijeses, Professor of American Foreign Policy and Latin American Studies, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

36. Jeff Goodwin, Professor of Sociology, New York University

37. Katherine Gordy, Professor of Political Science, San Francisco State University

38. Manu Goswami, Professor of History, New York University

39. Greg Grandin, Professor of History, New York University

40. Simon Granovsky-Larsen, Professor of Latin American Studies, Centennial College, Toronto

41. James N. Green, Professor of Latin American History, Brown University

42. A. Tom Grunfeld, Professor of History, SUNY Empire State College

43. Julie Guard, Professor of Labor Studies, University of Manitoba

44. Peter Hallward, Professor of Philosophy, Kingston University; author, Damming the Flood

45. John L. Hammond, Professor of Sociology, Hunter College, CUNY Graduate Center

46. Beth Harris, Professor of Politics, Ithaca College

47. Martin Hart-Landsberg, Professor Economics, Lewis and Clark College

48. Chris Hedges, journalist; author, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

49. Doug Henwood, journalist; author, Wall Street

50. Edward Herman, Professor Emeritus of Finance, University of Pennsylvania; co-author, The Political Economy of Human Rights

51. Susan Heuman, Ph.D., independent scholar of history

52. Forrest Hylton, Lecturer in History & Literature, Harvard University

53. Matthew Frye Jacobson, Professor of American Studies and History, Yale University

54. Jennifer Jolly, Co-coordinator of Latin American Studies, Ithaca College

55. Rebecca E. Karl, Professor of History, New York University

56. J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Professor of Anthropology and American Studies, Wesleyan University

57. Ari Kelman, Professor of History, University of California, Davis

58. Arang Keshavarzian, Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, New York University

59. Laleh Khalili, Professor of Middle East Politics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

60. Daniel Kovalik, Professor of International Human Rights, University of Pittsburgh School of Law

61. Rob Kroes, Professor Emeritus of American Studies, University of Amsterdam

62. Peter Kuznick, Professor of History, American University

63. Deborah T. Levenson, Professor of History, Boston College

64. David Ludden, Professor of History, New York University

65. Catherine Lutz, Professor of Anthropology and International Studies, Brown University

66. Arthur MacEwan, Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Massachusetts-Boston

67. Viviana MacManus, Professor of Women's and Gender Studies, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

68. Chase Madar, civil rights attorney; author, The Passion of [Chelsea] Manning

69. Alfred W. McCoy, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison

70. Teresa Meade, Professor of History, Union College

71. Thomas Murphy, Professor of History and Government, University of Maryland, University College Europe

72. Allan Nairn, independent investigative journalist

73. Usha Natarajan, Professor of International Law, American University in Cairo

74. Diane M. Nelson, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University

75. Joseph Nevins, Professor of Geography, Vassar College

76. Mary Nolan, Professor of History, New York University

77. Anthony O'Brien, Professor Emeritus of English, Queens College, CUNY

78. Paul O'Connell, Reader in Law, School of Law, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

79. Christian Parenti, Professor of Sustainable Development, School for International Training Graduate Institute

80. David Peterson, independent writer and researcher

81. Adrienne Pine, Professor of Anthropology, American University

82. Claire Potter, Professor of History, The New School

83. Margaret Power, Professor of History, Illinois Institute of Technology

84. Pablo Pozzi, Professor of History, Universidad de Buenos Aires

85. Gyan Prakash, Professor of History, Princeton University

86. Vijay Prashad, Edward Said Chair of American Studies, American University of Beirut

87. Peter Ranis, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, CUNY Graduate Center

88. Michael Ratner, human rights attorney; author, The Prosecution of Donald Rumsfeld

89. Sanjay Reddy, Professor of Economics, New School for Social Research

90. Adolph Reed, Jr., Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

91. Nazih Richani, Director of Latin American Studies, Kean University

92. Moss Roberts, Professor of Chinese, New York University

93. Corey Robin, Professor of Political Science, Brooklyn College, CUNY Graduate Center

94. William I. Robinson, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara

95. Patricia Rodriguez, Professor of Politics, Ithaca College

96. Andrew Ross, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University

97. Elizabeth Sanders, Professor of Government, Cornell University

98. Dean Saranillio, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University

99. T.M. Scruggs, Professor Emeritus of Music, University of Iowa

100. Ian J. Seda-Irizarry, Professor of Political Economy, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

101. Denise A. Segura, Professor of Sociology; Chair, Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

102. Mark Selden, Senior Research Associate, East Asia Program, Cornell University

103. Falguni A. Sheth, Professor of Philosophy and Political Theory, Hampshire College

104. Naoko Shibusawa, Professor of History, Brown University

105. Dina M. Siddiqi, Professor of Anthropology, BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

106. Francisco Sierra Caballero, Director of the Center for Communication, Politics and Social Change, University of Seville

107. Brad Simpson, Professor of History, University of Connecticut

108. Nikhil Pal Singh, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History, New York University

109. Leslie Sklair, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, London School of Economics

110. Norman Solomon, author, War Made Easy

111. Judy Somberg, Chair, National Lawyers Guild Task Force on the Americas

112. Jeb Sprague, author, Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti

113. Oliver Stone, filmmaker; co-author, The Untold History of the United States

114. Steve Striffler, Professor of Anthropology, Chair of Latin American Studies, University of New Orleans

115. Sinclair Thomson, Professor of History, New York University

116. Miguel Tinker Salas, Professor of History and Latin American Studies, Pomona College

117. James S. Uleman, Professor of Psychology, New York University

118. Alejandro Velasco, Professor of History, New York University

119. Robert Vitalis, Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

120. Hans Christof von Sponeck, former United Nations Assistant Secretary General (1998-2000)

121. Hilbourne Watson, Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Bucknell University

122. Barbara Weinstein, Professor of History, New York University

123. Mark Weisbrot, Ph.D., Co-director, Center for Economic and Policy Research

124. Kirsten Weld, Professor of History, Harvard University

125. Gregory Wilpert, Ph.D, author, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power

126. John Womack, Jr., Professor Emeritus of Latin American History and Economics, Harvard University

127. Michael Yates, Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

128. Kevin Young, Ph.D., Latin American History, State University of New York-Stony Brook

129. Marilyn B. Young, Professor of History, New York University

130. Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar, Professor of History; Co-Director, South Asian Studies, Brown University

131. Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics and Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies, University of San Francisco