Human Rights Watch's Case of Schizophrenia

Human Rights Watch seems to have developed schizophrenia.  On the one hand, it spotlights human rights abuses across almost all the Middle East.  On the other hand, it gives what looks like a pass to two of the worst offending countries in the world: terror-sponsors Qatar and Iran.

Take an August 3 Middle East Eye story by Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Mideast and North Africa division executive director, which comes across as offering, at best, sisterly advice and at worst, constructive criticism to the leaders of Qatar.  For instance:

If Qatar were to ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and establish an asylum procedure, it would allow the government to review asylum claims in a disciplined and orderly fashion, and provide asylum – and rights, not just mercy – to those who are deemed eligible.

In doing so, the article continues, "Qatar would once again also chart a path of progress for the Arab world."

Qatar's relationship with its fellow Persian Gulf countries has always been fractious.  Like most of the peninsula's countries, starting with Saudi Arabia, the big brother, Qatar is guilty of human rights violations and infractions.  And though Whitson has rightly continued her thrust in holding the rest of the Persian Gulf countries accountable for their respective violations, she has rarely, if ever, held Qatar's leadership responsible for their horrific abuses and collaboration with some of the most fanatical radical elements within the Islamist pool.  

Meanwhile, Qatar's flagrant abuse of all workers, especially migrant workers, doesn't get a mention despite the fact that it became an international scandal.  Such employees are also known as the "invisible majority," and some of them worked on the construction of the flagship Al Thumama, Khalifa International, and five other stadiums (going up to the quarter-final stage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup).

"Companies involved in the renovation of Khalifa International Stadium subjected their workers to systematic labour [sic] abuse," states Amnesty International.  Seven tenths of Qatar's population is made up of workers from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Indonesia, and so on.  These are mainly builders and domestic worker who escape poverty and a lack of opportunity in their own countries.  However, what they face in Qatar is equally difficult, according to Amnesty. 

It isn't just Qatar that gets treated with kid gloves.  Iran receives tacit sweetheart coverage as well.  A case in point is the current predicament of Iranian workers.  Iran has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Article 22 (1) states: "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests."  Article 26 of Iran's constitution states: "The formation of parties, societies, political or professional associations ... is permitted provided they do not violate the principles of independence, freedom, national unity, the criteria of Islam, or the basis of the Islamic republic. No one may be prevented from participating in the aforementioned groups, or be compelled to participate in them."

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has devised similar conventions, all of which are actively ignored and rejected by the revolutionary regime.

Independent trade unions are absolutely prohibited by the leadership of the Khomeinist regime, and industry on the whole has suffered due to favoritism among the regime elite, who have taken over once productive factories.  Only regime-sanctioned labor groups are permitted to operate, and in a test of their compliance and allegiance to the state, restrictions are placed on candidates who stand for councils.

Where is HRW in all this?  Unfortunately, nowhere to be seen and nowhere to be heard.

Mansour Osanlou, founder of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company trade union, who spent many years in and out of the regime's prisons and now continues his activities on behalf of his fellow imprisoned labor leaders in Iran, says: "HRW has written a few items here and there over the years, about the harsh lives of laborers and workers in Iran. What they have written is tepid and has never really taken the regime to task, the way they do other countries. They have never reached out to those of us who have and continue to fight for our rights."  Again, activists familiar with the situation in the country say that when it comes to worker rights inside Iran, HRW is conspicuously absent.  Ongoing worker protests from all industries and vocations have received the same lack of interest from HRW.

What is perhaps most fascinating in this whole case is that the actions of HRW are at odds with the stated goals of HRW.  Namely, the organization is supposed to work on investigating and registering the abuse of power of governments against the citizens of various countries and then developing strategies to expose and counteract these abuses.  Unfortunately, the actual focus and influence seem to have been redirected from where they can do the most good.  A politicized stance seems to have eclipsed the erstwhile guiding principles of the organization, corrupting the commitment to defend the rights and dignity of people who most need help.