By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, December 16 — Amid the controversies of Eastern Congo, the role taken by Human Rights Watch and its director Ken Roth has come to the fore, by their choice and as highlighted, for example, by the Government of Rwanda.
When the French newspaper Liberationreported that a HRW investigator named Lane was offering financial compensation for “testimony against the M23,” many already dubious of HRW’s role fastened on it.
Inner City Press wrote to Roth and HRW’s press office including its UN spokesman Philippe Bolopion with five questions – and, to Bolopion’s credit, got an answer in less than two hours’ time.
But several of the questions are left unanswered. Inner City Press asked: Does HRW have a staff member, investigator or other personnel in the DRC named Lane or anything like it? Did this individual or any other offer compensation of any kind for testimony? If so, what testimony was collected? What has been done with it?
Does Human Rights Watch, anywhere, pay compensation for testimony? If so what safeguards are in place?
Separately, since May 2011 have senior HRW staff met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; if so, what dates, and this is a request again to know the topics. (This last followed a May 2011 meeting between Roth and Ban that HRW declined to summarize, despite being a non-profit and presumably accountable not only to its funders.)
Bolopion responded with this: “Human Rights Watch does not pay witnesses in exchange for information, in order to preserve the integrity of the interviews we conduct. Human Rights Watch occasionally compensates victims or witnesses for incidental costs they may incur when traveling specifically in order to meet with our researchers. As in any other conflict, Human Rights Watch documents abuses committed by all sides in the DRC and therefore seeks information from anyone with first-hand information to give.”
The question about HRW’s meeting with Ban has not been answered. Presumably, the above does confirm that “Lane” exists, and did pay. How much was paid, and to how many people, is not disclosed. Nor what has been done with the information.
There are those who contest that in Eastern Congo of late HRW is documenting and trying to publicize “abuses committed by all sides.” If so, where has HRW been on the Congolese army rapes in Minova, and the UN’s refusal to disclose which units were that, and if the UN work with them?
Where has HRW been on the lack of transparency by UN Peacekeeping and its chief Herve Ladsous, who rather than answer about Minova summoned favored journalists into the hallway for a private briefing, video here?
Bolopion used to be one such favored journalist, for Le Monde. His predecessor was not in such a relation; others also note that under Alison des Forges, may she rest in peace, HRW’s coverage of Eastern Congo was more balanced.
But it is what it is; we appreciate any fast answer, and have published it in full. Rwanda joins the Security Council on January 1, and it is hard to imagine HRW having the access it has had.
HRW may claim this as a result of principle. Others see it differently. But on the questions still unanswered, and on what the UN and Ladsous ultimately do in the wake of the FARDC mass rapes in Minova, time will tell. Watch this site.