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September 16, 2014 7:06 am

Human Rights NGOs, Including the UN, Refuse to Adopt Anti-Bias Standards

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The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

There has been a long history of international standards on fact-finding missions dating back to at least 1907.

While nearly all of the standards pay lip service to the idea of impartiality, only recent attempts have been made to ensure that the fact-finders themselves are unbiased.

The most comprehensive set of fact-finding standards written to date are the Lund-London Guidelines.They include these sections:

The mission’s delegation should comprise individuals who are and are seen to be unbiased.

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The NGO should ensure that all members of the delegation are aware that they must, at all times, act in an independent, unbiased, objective, lawful and ethical manner.

The NGO should ensure that all persons associated with a mission [including interpreters – EoZ] and/or a report are aware that they must, at all times, act in an independent, unbiased, objective, lawful and ethical manner.

The NGO should ensure that the members of the delegation understand the need to be unbiased and not pre-judge any issues during the mission.

In order to enhance the overall quality and credibility of the report, it must be accurate, clear and drafted objectively so that the processes of the mission are transparent. It should fairly reflect all the information gathered and must refrain from bias. It is good practice to identify the standards against which the delegation members weigh the information obtained.

It should come as no surprise that these standards have been rejected by every major “human rights” NGO, including the United Nations.

It is obvious that the appointment by the UNHRC of William Schabas as the main investigator of the Gaza war violates these standards. He admits that he is biased but he claims, improbably, that he can set his strong anti-Israel opinions aside for the purposes of the investigation. This is absurd. No judge could claim that he has a strong opinion on a case but then declare that he can set those opinions aside, and a fact-finding mission report is essentially a judgment.

Human Rights Watch has a webpage dedicated to its research methodology. It has no language to ensure that its investigators are unbiased at the outset. In fact, the document doesn’t mention the word “bias” at all. Amnesty’s methodology is similarly prone to abuse by unbiased researchers. Indeed, these organizations hire – and even seek out – employees who are already biased.

By ignoring the basic pre-requisite that researchers are unbiased at the outset all of these organizations are fooling the world into believing that they are objective.

There is a relatively easy way to help ensure objectivity when choosing investigators. Choose human rights experts from other parts of the globe. Instead of choosing people who say they specialize in the Middle East, for the purposes of a fact finding mission they should choose human rights experts that deal with Southeast Asia or South America or former communist regimes.

In fact, NGOs should rotate their entire human rights staff among different areas of the globe. That way they aren’t only using people who went into the field with a pre-existing political agenda and who truly care about global human rights.

Rotating employees to different areas is a well-established practice in many organizations to help them see things from different perspectives and to ultimately improve their work. Why don’t human rights NGOs adopt this very effective practice?

Can you imagine anti-Israel activists like HRW’s Sarah Leah Whitson or Amnesty’s Deborah Hyams being re-assigned to cover China? They would quit in less than an hour. Because they only joined these NGOs to demonize Israel, not because of a love of human rights.

Unfortunately, the real problems of bias in NGOs are not going to be addressed as long as the heads of these NGOs show that they aren’t really interested in an unbiased organization. And their refusal to adopt the Lunn-London Guidelines show that politics is more important than impartiality.

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