By Ben Norton (2022), original post here

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International claim to be independent, but they have a revolving door with the US government, and serve its foreign-policy interests, with funding from CIA-linked foundations and billionaire oligarchs.

The human rights industry often portrays itself as independent from the US government, but in reality the nonprofit-industrial complex is closely tied to Washington.

Even the use of the term “non-governmental organization” (NGO) is misleading, because many so-called NGOs not only collaborate with Western governments, but are often directly funded by them.

Iraq War architect Colin Powell referred to human rights NGOs as “force multipliers” for the US military, calling them “an important part of our combat team.”

As secretary of state for the George W. Bush administration, General Powell gathered leaders of top human rights organizations at the State Department in October 2001 and told them that their work would be crucial in the coming War on Terror.

Powell said he had contacted US ambassadors and “instructed them to make every effort to work with NGOs.” He told the human rights industry’s heavy-hitters, “it is the very fact of your being independent and not an arm of government that makes you so valuable.”

Two decades later, the US government continues employing this same strategy.

This March 16, Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that he had just met with the directors of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International to discuss “human rights challenges, including in Ukraine, Russia, China, and the Middle East.”

HRW and Amnesty are the leading players in the Western human rights industry. They both insist on being independent, but are anything but, with extensive links to the United States and other Western governments.

In his tweet, Blinken linked to a November 2021 report by the State Department titled “U.S. Support for Human Rights Defenders.” The document details how Washington supports so-called “civil society” organizations to advance its foreign-policy interests.

In the report, the State Department writes openly that the “U.S. government provides quick help to human rights defenders around the world with emergency technical and financial assistance.”

The document shows how the State Department uses so-called “human rights defenders,” who are really just pro-US activists, as fifth columns to destabilize countries that Washington has targeted for regime change.

But it is not only “civil society” organizations in the Global South that are instrumentalized by Washington to push its agenda. Mainstream Western groups like HRW and Amnesty are willing accomplices as well.

Kenneth Roth, the longtime executive director of Human Rights Watch, who almost always obediently echoes US foreign-policy orthodoxy, started out his career as a US government attorney. (Roth also retweeted Blinken’s post in approval.)

HRW itself has its origins in Helsinki Watch, an anti-Soviet lobby group that played a key role in US cold war architecture. It existed simply to demonize the socialist bloc and advance Washington’s political objectives.

Under Roth’s leadership, HRW has lobbied Washington for more aggressive sanctions against the leftist governments in Venezuela and Nicaragua – even in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The current secretary general of Amnesty International, Agnes Callamard, previously served for a decade as executive director of ARTICLE 19, an organization that purports to be dedicated to “defending freedom of expression and information,” but in reality serves as a tool of Western foreign-policy interests.

ARTICLE 19 is funded by a who’s who of Western regime-change front groups and CIA cutouts, including the US State Department, National Endowment for Democracy (NED), USAID, Freedom House, British Foreign Office, Canadian government, European Commission, Ford Foundation, and Open Society Foundations.

Article 19 funding US UK NED USAID

For their part, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say they don’t accept funding from any governments. But they don’t need to take money directly from the US government to serve its interests.

HRW is notorious for hiring many former US government officials, CIA operatives, and NATO war criminals. The organization has long been criticized for its revolving door with Washington.

HRW’s top donor is CIA-linked anti-communist billionaire George Soros, who gave the organization a $100 million grant. The oligarch and his Open Society Foundations have collaborated closely with Washington in regime-change operations targeting socialist governments in Eastern Europe.

The Washington Post revealed in 1991 that Soros was part of a group of US government-backed anti-communist “overt operatives” who “have been doing in public what the CIA used to do in private – providing money and moral support for pro-democracy groups, training resistance fighters, working to subvert communist rule.”

Amnesty International and its subsidiaries have also been bankrolled by the CIA-linked Ford FoundationRockefeller Foundation, and Open Society Foundations, which historian Frances Stonor Saunders described as “conscious instruments of covert US foreign policy, with directors and officers who were closely connected to, or even members of American intelligence,” comprising “an integral component of America’s Cold War machinery.”

In fact, as MintPress’ Alan Macleod has reported, one co-founder of Amnesty International, Peter Benenson, “was an avowed anti-communist with deep ties to the British Foreign and Colonial Offices, propping up the Apartheid regime of South Africa at the British government’s request.”

The other co-founder of Amnesty, Luis Kutner, “was an FBI asset who was involved in the government’s assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. Kutner went on to form an organization called ‘Friends of the FBI’, dedicated to countering and combating criticism of the Bureau.”

Macleod reported this in an article detailing how Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth supported a far-right US-backed coup in Bolivia in 2019, subsequently whitewashing a massacre of indigenous pro-democracy activists.

This example was one of many showing how the human rights industry is more than willing to abandon basic human rights when it’s in Washington’s interests.
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