International Human Rights Day is marked on Dec. 10, with special attention made to honoring the 70-year anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Over the last 70 years, technological innovations have radically changed how human-rights groups engage with the public at large. With the advent of social media, they can amplify their voice at minimal cost. A well-crafted tweet or an eye-catching infographic can enable an organization to reach millions of people in seconds. And while advancing human rights on social media is laudable, it also makes clear that the “universal” aspect is being replaced with more particularistic goals.
Following and analyzing the Twitter accounts of the two largest human-rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, lead to some uncomfortable conclusions regarding the groups’ supposed “promotion of universal human rights.” Sadly, these human-rights groups appear to be utilizing social media to promote just a small portion of the world’s human rights abuses, and not even actual war crimes.
For instance, on Nov. 12-13, Hamas and other terror groups targeted Israeli civilians with more than 450 rockets, amounting to nearly 500 war crimes. Yet HRW, the world’s “leading human-rights group” and its director, Ken Roth, did not take notice.
Not one tweet acknowledging these war crimes and the human-rights atrocities committed against Israelis. Not one post calling for the United Nations to condemn Hamas and the terror groups responsible. Not one article encouraging the world to express support for the children who spent nights in bomb shelters and will surely suffer ongoing psychological harm. One might conclude that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not a priority for the human-rights group.
However, when it came to Palestinian riots on the Gaza border, known as the “March of Return,” conducted with the sole purpose of breaking through the border and entering Israel, HRW and Roth made this a social-media priority. At the height of the riots, on May 13-16, approximately 40 percent of Ken Roth’s tweets focused on condemning Israel for its response to the violent riots.
During the same months as the Gaza riots, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards arrested scores of women who took to the streets of Tehran demanding freedom and democracy. However, HRW devoted four times more social media attention to supporting Hamas’ riots than to defending and praising the brave Iranian women.
HRW is far from the only human-rights group with questionable Twitter priorities.
In March, Ahed Tamimi was arrested for assaulting an Israeli soldier and calling for suicide-bombings, crimes with five- to 10-year sentences in many Western countries. In response, Amnesty International started a widespread social-media campaign demanding she be released despite her role in these internationally recognized crimes. While Amnesty was campaigning on behalf of this one young girl involved in violent crimes, 110 Nigerian girls were kidnapped to be sold as sex slaves. Neither Amnesty International nor HRW wrote even one tweet, article or Facebook post about the kidnapped girls. Yet Ahed Tamimi’s arrest warranted 11 posts on social media from the two organizations.
Similarly, in April, during the week that Tamimi was sentenced to eight months in prison for her crimes, the Assad regime launched chemical-weapons attacks on its citizens in Syria. Shockingly, yet consistently, Amnesty International had four times as many tweets on Ahed Tamimi as they did on the brutal Syria chemical-weapons attacks.
The phenomenon of ignoring violations against some while promoting the causes of others is a consistent approach by the world’s most renowned human-rights groups that cannot be ignored. Yet the question must be asked: Why does an organization that claims to promote universal human rights give more attention to an individual sentenced to less than a year in prison through a democratic process while completely ignoring the disappearance of over a hundred girls? Why too was this same individual given more social media attention than Syrians attacked with chemicals by their own government? And why do 400 war crimes committed by Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups in Gaza not warrant even a single tweet?
While one can infer a multitude of possible answers, one thing is clear: On social media, HRW and Amnesty International are not promoting universal human rights.
Rena Young is Digital Media and Communications Manager at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.