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Human Rights Watch vs. The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal posted a small piece — reprinting a Volokh Conspiracy post from last month — attacking Human Rights Watch for raising money in Saudi Arabia. It’s an alarming claim if, as the implication has it, the NGO is taking cash from the very government it purports to monitor. Sarah Leah Whitson, the Human Rights Watch official named in the piece as traveling to Saudi Arabia for the fundraising, said it’s untrue. “We have never raised any money from the Saudi government or any other agency in the world,” she said.

What’s more, five days after ago, Human Rights Watch put out a statement criticizing a Saudi law for insufficiently protecting the rights of domestic workers. At Opinio Juris, Kevin Jon Heller has a post compiling a number of additional criticisms of Saudi Arabia on a variety of human rights fronts. And while in Saudia Arabia in May, Whitson says she spent much of her four day trip researching information the group acquired about women’s rights in the kingdom. Curious positions to take if Human Rights Watch is bought and paid for.

If you read closely, the Journal piece, by David Bernstein, doesn’t actually come out and accuse Human Rights Watch of raising money from the Saudi government — merely raising money from people in Saudi Arabia, as if that is itself problematic. Whitson posted a reply on that point in Bernstein’s comments:

What’s really at the heart of Mr. Bernstein’s gripe is his misconception that efforts to raise support among Saudis are unseemly because, well, if they live in a totalitarian country, they must be bad people too. Human Rights Watch accepts funding from private individuals and foundations the world over, which we never allow to affect the independence of our work. We are proud to have a Saudi on the Middle East Advisory Committee and look forward to building an even stronger support base throughout the region.

Support from citizens of Arab countries for the work of Human Rights Watch – including our vocal, public criticism of rights violations by their governments – is something to be applauded, not denigrated. Believe it or not, some Arabs believe in human rights too.

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