The act of making people disappear.
That is the best way to describe the HRW report on the Gaza beach tragedy of June 9th 2006. And not just any people, but hundreds of Israelis who are victims of suicide bombing and similar attacks on civilians. People whose victimization is a human rights violation and a part the self declared commitment of the human rights community is to remember them along with other victims of human rights abuses.
For decades, leading human rights organizations have dedicated themselves for the protection of human rights by monitoring human rights violations and keeping the subject in the public eye and media. The fact that one of the leading organizations in the field, Human Rights Watch
, committed the sin of governments and forgot the people and values it serves, is alarming:
“The craters are too large to be made by bounding mines, the only type of landmines capable of producing head and torso injuries of the type suffered by the victims on June 9. Additionally, Palestinian armed groups are not known to have, or to have used, bounding mines; the Palestinian government bomb squad said it has never uncovered a bounding mine in any explosive incident.”
What a tragically faulty statement! Are the supposed ‘bounding mines’ the only weapons that can cause upper body injuries to head and torso? – Absolutely not!
One merely has to live in Israel during the last five years to know just how untrue that determination is. For every suicide bombing, and every other bombing attack on civilians has its huge share of upper body injuries to heads, torsos, necks, and backs, caused by massive amounts of shrapnel and debris, added to the explosive, in order to deliberately cause as much as possible and as lethal as possible injuries to the upper parts of the body.
After each such attack hospitals in Israel supply scary x-ray footage of nails and metal fragments inside people skulls, chests, near lungs, and spines. In many of these photos they are so close to the sensitive organs that if there is one slight movement, irreversible damage will occur – including death.
Yet, according to Sarah Leah Whitson, the director of the Middle East and Africa division at Human Rights Watch, these people, these victims, don’t exist. The weapon that harmed them all of a sudden doesn’t exist, so how can they exist?
Once they ceased to be of news interest, largely due to the lack of successful suicide attacks in recent weeks, they faded from memory. This is not an unheard of fault of human psychology, nor that of large bureaucratic organizations. But that does not lessen the severity of the deed, if anything, the more critical and crucial the said organization is to our modern society, the graver the matter is. Just like hospitals and other medical services are not supposed to forget their patients, from the standpoint of professional ethics, so to, human rights organizations are not supposed to forget the victims they swore to protect. And there is no need to state the obvious that the last thing this conflict needs is a human rights organization whose credibility and objectivity is under a cloud.
But unfortunately this is not the only hole in the HRW report on the Gaza beach tragedy, just the one the stands out the most. By relying on Palestinian sources for medical information and bomb disposal expertise, the independence it had rightfully called for is seriously jeopardized.
And there are more questions that arise from that report; such as how effective is a forensic inquiry that was done after the scene was "cleaned up"? And what measurements of the strength of that blast were taken, if any? How come the shrapnel from that blast was able to kill a 1 year old baby in his carriage and yet the blast itself was unable to throw the baby of the carriage. As gruesome as this matter is, it is relevant to the inquiry because one cannot investigate a blast scene without looking into the strength of the blast. It is simple common sense – just how powerful or unpowerful is a 155mm artillery shell?
After all it did throw a shrapnel fragment, which is much heavier then the shrapnel the Palestinians use, 200 meters away, or it is supposed to have done it.
The faults of this report are no small matter. Human rights and values are the cornerstone of modern society, if human rights organizations lose them, for whatever reason, mundane or otherwise, we all do. And without them the fabric of global society, already stretched to its limits by wars, increased poverty, pollution, hunger and plagues will be turn apart.
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Replies: 3 Comments
In response to your comments, I think that it would be useful to establish a standard set of criteria against which "HR" groups could be evaluated, and their credibility as sources of authoritative comment established. The greatest difficulty would be the elimination of subjectivity in such assessments.
It is evident that much of the media relies upon statements from these "HR" groups and assumes that they are ostensibly neutral. As we can see in many news reports there are elements of bias which distort the reports.
Evan at the most basic level there is confusion about defining victims, and the definitions are too often determined by political prejudice. For instance recent reports of Palestinian casualties conflate combatants and non-combatants thus distorting the picture of Israeli and Palestinian military action.
Your thoughts on this are very welcome
Rod Davies, Friday, July 7th
This is very important info Rod – and quite unsettling. Critics like us should get organized in order to review more effectively such reports. But it must be, not for the purpose of bashing of human rights and silencing the issue, but for improving their standards. Only people who care about human rights should handle the criticism of the human rights organizations, and at the same level of severity keep it from been manipulated by those with other interests.
Dvar Dea, Thursday, July 6th
The issue of poor quality reports from human rights groups is not a new one. A few years ago I noted that the Physicians for Human Rights report also contained very serious flaws in relation to injuries and deaths caused by bullets which undermined the entire report. The PHR asserted that as experienced US ER doctors they could analyse ER reports and draw conclusions about the source of the injury. i.e. which side had fired the gun. Despite their presence in the region they failed to notice that both sides use 5.56mm ammunition. Further they failed to differentiate between 7.62 NATO ammo and 7.62 x39 Kalshnikov ammo. PHR assigned all 5.56mm injuries to IDF and all 7.62mm injuries to Palestinian forces. Noting this I did a simple trawl through the internet and found a very detailed US Navy site which provided a wealth of detail about the characteristics of ballistic injuries from military ammunition from around the world. (It's purpose was to provide info to US Navy medics) It soon became apparent that the criteria that PHR used to differentiate between 5.56mm and 7.62mm ammo was flawed as depending on the manufacturer & design of the projectile 7.62mm frequently had the same injury characteristics as 5.56mm. Only by conducting detailed forensics tests on the projectile could any injury be conclusively assigned to one side or the other. The PHR doctors did not examine any actual bullets, they relied exclusively upon the reports of the Palestinian doctors.
I am not medically trained nor do I have that much knowledge of ballistics, yet I spotted the flaws and was able to find the supporting evidience for my beliefs. I submitted my findings to PHR, but they chose not to respond.
However having done some work for a number of HR organisations including UNHCR, ICRC and SCF, I am very aware that it is very naive to imagine that they are apolitical or neutral. My experience was that the management at least were frequently deeply biased in favour of one group or another, and suspectible to uncritically accepting their favoured side's account of events. The only thing that we can do is to constantly challenge these bodies to demonstrate that they are neutral.
Rod Davies, Thursday, July 6th
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