Why Some Human-Rights Groups Have Done So Much Good, While Others Do So Much Harm https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/israel-zionism/2022/06/why-some-human-rights-groups-have-done-so-much-good-while-others-do-so-much-harm/

June 23, 2022 | Elliott Abrams
About the author: Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and is the chairman of the Tikvah Fund.

Known to diplomats as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), philanthropies like the International Campaign for Tibet have done much to provide information about, and call attention to, terrible abuses of human rights in parts of the world that would otherwise be ignored. Such groups, notes Elliott Abrams, can accomplish things that are difficult for governments or the various branches of the UN. But the same independence that accounts for the success of some NGOs also explains the moral corruption of others—particularly two of the world’s largest and most influential, which have become consumed by obsessive and irrational hatred for the Jewish state:

In 2021, Human Rights Watch had $256 million in assets and revenue of $130 million. It employs more than 500 staff members in 105 locations globally and has an annual budget of $97 million. Amnesty International is even larger, raising $436 million in 2020 and spending $376 million. It is critical to examine their size and influence: compared to many NGOs in the field of democracy promotion and human rights, they are behemoths whose staffs and spending dwarf others in the field. Both organizations maintain large public-relations staffs and their reports attract enormous attention.

In theory size can be an advantage. . . . But the very large size of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch raises several problems. . . . When two gigantic NGOs dominate the field, their voices can drown out those of many other, far smaller organizations. What’s more, NGOs and their leadership are not immune from harboring prejudices and political biases.

Moreover, when two such NGOs dominate the field, questions may arise as to their own internal “democratic gap.” Such large and rich organizations report to no one, nor of course are they democratically run internally. Their top officials theoretically report to boards of trustees, but the boards are themselves self-perpetuating and independent from any oversight. The very independence of NGOs, one of their greatest strengths, can become an issue when two organizations so dominate the field.

The ancient question Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? or “Who will guard the guards themselves?” arises here—and is difficult to answer. Others in the field of democracy promotion may be reluctant to criticize such powerful players—in part because anyone in the field may think he or she might one day seek employment as part of their large (and at the top very well-paid) staffs, and in part because they do not wish to tangle with organizations having such influence.

Read more on Council on Foreign Relations: https://www.cfr.org/article/human-rights-ngos-quis-custodiet-ipsos-custodes

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