In its latest report on the Eastern DRC, the star witnesses in its ongoing prosecution of Rwanda — an unspecified number of “former M23 fighters” — claim to be former Rwandan Army soldier who served in a peacekeeping mission in Somalia. Of course, the RDF never deployed in Somalia. It is a glaring error that blows a hole the size of Mogadishu in HRW’s already waning credibility.
But how is it even possible that Human Rights Watch could make such a momentous error?
One answer could be traced back to a story published in the French newspaper Liberation in December last year that revealed an HRW policy of paying witnesses to provide the testimony the advocacy group sought. The full story in French is here, and this is the key quote translated:
..in Goma, survival is hardly conducive to introspection. In the area’s health center, the women say it bluntly: they are hungry. They accept small financial compensation offered by Lane, an American investigator of the NGO Human Rights Watch. “He is looking for evidence against the M23,” says awkwardly Assumpta, the person in charge.
This revelation was explosive since it undermined HRW’s claims of neutrality so their public relations team issued an official response that failed to deny the policy of bribing witnesses but attempted instead to reframe it:
Human Rights Watch does not renum witnesses we interview in order for information provided in order pay preserve the integrity of the entretiens that we carry out. Human Rights Watch sometimes offers to victims or witnesses compensation to refund expenses they may have incurred when they travel specifically to meet with our researchers. Like in any other conflict, HRW investigates abuses committed by all parties in DRC and we seek to collect testimonies of anyone willing to share personal direct experiences.
In other words, it is transportation money. This is a non-denial denial. A confession of guilt, in fact. Because, of course, “transportation money” is one of the oldest and most commonly used euphemisms for bribery you will ever hear.
The reporter from Liberation responded to HRW’s non-denial denial with skepticism, expanding on how she came about to understand the way HRW operates in the region, including through bribery:
The next day I went to Heal Africa, the famous Goma hospital for rape victims: two officials explained to me that they had recently received the Human Rights Watch investigators who were “seeking evidence against the M23,” and preferably “civilian witnesses” rather than military. Have all these witnesses misunderstood? Perhaps, but then that’s a rather embarrassing misunderstanding.
This is shopping for testimony. It is morally reprehensible ambulance chasing.