In a startling revelation, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) recently brought to light a leaked Qatari government document, accusing Qatar’s regime of disbursing a substantial sum of 3 million euros to the renowned Human Rights Watch (HRW). This financial controversy adds another layer to HRW’s history of funding scandals, this time involving a Gulf country that has been scrutinized for its alleged ties to terrorism.
The Leaked Document
MEMRI, based in Washington D.C., translated a confidential and urgent document from the Qatari Prime Minister’s Office. The document, dated January 2018, disclosed that Qatar’s director of the Prime Minister’s Office, Abdullah Bin Khalaf Hattab Al Ka’bi, communicated to Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al-Emadi about a sanctioned 3 million euros for HRW. The funds were earmarked under the Humanitarian Aid section, emphasizing the need for distribution in collaboration with the Embassy of Qatar in London.
Reactions and Concerns
Upon uncovering this document, concerns about the transparency and integrity of HRW’s funding sources surged. Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, expressed deep disturbance over the reports, calling for a thorough investigation. Neuer highlighted Qatar’s alleged human rights abuses, including the mistreatment of migrant workers, support for extremist groups like the Taliban and Hamas, and an overall concerning human rights record.
Project Raven’s Leak
MEMRI attributed the leak of this translated document in Arabic to Project Raven. This disclosure adds fuel to the ongoing debate about the extent of Qatar’s financial influence on various organizations and the need for international regulations governing such activities.
Connections and Controversies
Further scrutiny into HRW’s internal workings revealed intriguing connections. Natalie Lundgren, HRW’s Development and Outreach Manager since 2018, previously worked for the Qatari-funded WISE initiative. Questions arise about her role in securing the alleged Qatari donation for HRW, adding complexity to the narrative.
Danielle Haas, an Israeli with over 13 years at HRW, recently resigned citing institutional bias against the Jewish state. This departure raises questions about HRW’s internal culture and the challenges faced by those advocating for unbiased human rights standards.
Qatar’s Alleged Sponsorship of Terrorism
The backdrop of these financial controversies aligns with a congressional hearing in late October focusing on Qatar’s alleged involvement in sponsoring terrorism. Rich Goldberg, a member of then-President Trump’s National Security Council, argued that classifying Qatar as a State Sponsor of Terrorism would have profound consequences.
HRW’s Previous Funding Controversy
This isn’t the first time HRW faced funding-related criticism. In 2020, The Intercept uncovered that HRW’s then-Executive Director, Ken Roth, accepted a sizable donation with conditions from a Saudi billionaire. The funds were not to be used to support LGBTQ-plus rights in the Middle East. Roth returned the donation following public outcry, but questions linger about HRW’s financial decision-making.
Criticisms of HRW’s Focus
The late founder of HRW, Robert Bernstein, in a scathing 2009 New York Times article, accused HRW of disproportionately focusing on criticizing Israel while neglecting human rights violations in closed totalitarian regimes like Iran and Arab dictatorships. Bernstein argued that HRW had lost critical perspective in its mission.
In response to these allegations, HRW’s press department vehemently denied soliciting or accepting money from the Qatari government or any other government. Regarding the Saudi billionaire’s donation with conditions, HRW acknowledged the regrettable decision made in 2012 and expressed remorse for the associated conditions.
Conclusion: A Call for Transparency
As these allegations unfold, the call for transparency in NGOs’ funding activities, especially those with global influence like HRW, becomes more urgent. The intricate web of financial connections and the potential impact on HRW’s credibility necessitate a comprehensive investigation into the veracity of the leaked Qatari government document. Only through transparency and accountability can HRW maintain its status as a guardian of human rights on the global stage.