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Open Versus Closed Societies

This is in reply to the comments of Iain Levine of Human Rights Watch in your March 30 article “HRW Founder Charts Another Way to Probe Human Rights.”

There is no basis for his claim that I urge human rights organizations to refrain from investigating complaints of war crimes. When I chaired HRW, we pioneered the concept of war crime investigations. My criticism is that HRW’s anti-Israel reports in Gaza were seriously flawed because it lacks the expertise to investigate the complexities of asymmetric wars by terrorists who hide among civilian populations. This reality was reinforced by Judge Goldstone’s recent questioning of his own findings against the IDF.

There is also no basis for Levine’s claim that I urge human rights organizations to refrain from examining open democratic societies. In my last year as Chair of HRW (1988), Levine acknowledges the reporting on 50 open or partly open societies versus 30 closed societies. The percentages should be altered with more resources devoted to closed societies where most of the world’s population lives. Those living in closed societies who wish for change need support most of all, as the Arab world is certainly indicating now.

Moreover, we now have the Internet, other new technologies and social networks to obtain information in such societies — information that was not available in the past. Indeed, my new human rights organization has created a special division to distribute information via the Internet from dissidents in closed societies.

Founding Chair
Emeritus Human Rights Watch
New York, N.Y.


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