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Does Human Rights Watch Consider Sri Lankan Life Worth Less Than Lebanese?

By Jeremy Sharon
August 2, 2006

During 2006, over 830 people have been killed in Sri Lanka, including a large number of civilians. This surge in violence is part of the ongoing ethnic civil war, waged since 1983 between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil minority, in which over 65,000 people have been killed. In a two week period in June over 110 civilians were killed in land-mine attacks in the country. Just one attack on June 15 claimed the lives of 64 civilians and injured over 80. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has issued a total of two statements specifically addressing the current violence in Sri Lanka this year and did not comment on the June incidents.

As a result of Israel's war against Hezbollah in Lebanon approximately 750 people have died. HRW has published nine reports and statements in twenty days condemning Israeli actions, more than its entire output for Sri Lanka for 2006. (HRW has also released at least eight statements and reports criticising Israel over its policies towards the Palestinians during 2006.)

HRW's rhetoric regarding Israel is much shriller and accusatory then over human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. For example, in a press statement of May 2005, HRW criticised a spate of political killings and abductions by the Tamil Tigers (the principal Tamil military group) of Tamil civilians. However, rhetoric such as "violations of international humanitarian law" is absent from the statement.

During the current fighting in Lebanon however, HRW has accused Israel of "war crimes" an "indiscriminate bombing campaign", deliberately attacking civilians and numerous other allegations, direct or insinuated, that Israel has violated basic tenets of international humanitarian law. For example, on July 31 Peter Bouckaert, HRW's "Emergencies Director" said regarding Lebanese civilian deaths that "Israeli behaviour in southern Lebanon suggests a deliberate policy" and "current Israeli actions are not only wrong, but... also war crimes."

NGO Monitor has documented that over the past three years HRW has consistently focused a disproportionate amount of its resources on Israel in comparison to other Middle East countries, many with poor human rights records. Terms such as "violation of international humanitarian law" and "serious human rights abuses" are also applied more frequently to Israel.

The reason for HRW's intensive scrutiny of Israel in its ongoing counter-terrorist war and its tendency to allege human rights violations is unclear. However, this extreme focus negatively impacts HRW's ability to highlight human rights issues in other parts of the globe, as demonstrated by its poor record on Sri Lanka.



Jeremy Sharon is Senior Researcher at NGO Monitor

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