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Human Rights Watch and Libya, cont.

4:26 PM, Mar 7, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Iain Levine of Human Rights Watch responds to Michael Weiss's piece "Human Rights Watch and Libya":

Michael Weiss devoted five paragraphs to his false claim that Human Rights  Watch had ignored the plight of Fathi al-Jahmi, Libya’s leading political  dissident, and “refrained from drawing attention to his case before his  demise.”  In fact, had the author checked our website, he would have found  more than 20 documents highlighting al-Jahmi’s unfair detention dating back  to 2004, long before his untimely death in May 2009. He would also have noted  that we visited al-Jahmi twice in custody, once with a physician.

For years Human Rights Watch has been the leading source of information on  state repression in Libya, including political prisoners, torture,  disappearances, and the Abu Salim prison massacre.  We welcome anyone  interested in seeing what we really said to visit

Iain Levine
Deputy Executive Director for Program
Human Rights Watch

Michael Weiss responds:

I was clearly referring to Fathi Al-Jahmi's terminal status, which Human Rights Watch knew about yet refrained from commenting on until, as I write, he died. This is the organization's press release on that occasion.

There was no published document from HRW indicating how bad off Al-Jahmi was in the months preceding his death, which is the start of Sarah Leah Whitson and HRW's now much-embarrassed "Tripoli Spring" theme. I clearly date my criticism of the NGO's coverage of Libya from that point on, even crediting Whitson with noticing the obvious about a police state in years prior. When HRW thought Qaddafi (via his son) was on the mend and had grown more accessible to Western institutions, it refrained from assailing him in quite the same spirit it had used before. 

I'm not sure why Levine mentions HRW physicians visiting Al-Jahmi in his final days as proof of their ongoing commitment to his plight. If anything, it scandalizes the NGO further.  

I very clearly indicate this fact in the fourth of my supposedly troublesome five paragraphs by quoting from Mohammed Al-Jahmi's Forbes piece, which cites HRW's attendance at Al-Jahmi's sickbed three weeks before he died. Yet, as Al-Jahmi’s brother Mohammed notes, despite being aware of how frail and deteriorated his brother's condition had become and that he (Al-Jahmi) wanted to return home from a Jordanian hospital, HRW didn't do or say anything about this until it was too late. As ever, HRW’s own materials contain revealing information about what it knew and when. This is from that press release on Al-Jahmi's death, which occurred on May 21, 2009:

"Human Rights Watch researchers visited al-Jahmi in the Tripoli Medical Centre on April 25 and 26. The delegation noted a serious deterioration in his condition since Human Rights Watch last saw him in March 2008: he appeared frail and emaciated, could barely speak, and could not lift his arms or head. When the researchers asked him if he was free to leave, he said, 'No.' When they asked him if he wanted to go home, he said, 'Yes.'"

Why, then, did HRW see fit to withhold this from the public domain for a month when airing it and using it to pressure Western governments to come to Al-Jahmi's last-minute rescue might have made a material difference?  I'm not alone in asking this; the question first belonged to Al-Jahmi's brother, Mohammed.

It would also be nice to hear HRW's response to Mohammed's claim that the Qaddafi Foundation for International Charities and Development, which Whitson credited with having a genuine interest in human rights reform, intimidated and bullied the Al-Jahmi family even unto Al-Jahmi's final days. Again, no mention of this appears in any HRW bulletin or report that I can find on the organization's website. Nor does the fact that, as Whitson conceded in her recent Los Angeles Times editorial, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi gave up on politics a short while ago and that his vaunted "foundation" had foreclosed on its reformist remit. One would think this regression of particular interest to HRW before the Qaddafi clan took to mass murdering their own people.

Michael Weiss

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