My Open Letter to the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch

Bush and Annan toasting

Under the title "Sudan/United Nations: Do Not Meet With Officials Wanted for War Crimes", Kenneth Roth - the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch - published a letter to the UN Secretary General.

He questioned the sanity of UN officials attending the inauguration of Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, who is indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country's western Darfur region.

I have mixed feelings about this stand, and decided to write an open letter to Mr. Kenneth Roth myself. Here are both letters:

Letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
May 24, 2010
Dear Secretary-General:

I was dismayed to learn of your spokesperson's recent announcement that UN representatives Haile Menkerios and Ibrahim Gambari plan to attend the May 27 presidential inauguration of Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum. I urge you to reconsider this decision because it is both wrong and contrary to United Nations (UN) guidelines on this very issue.

UN guidelines limit UN interaction with individuals indicted by international criminal courts such as President al-Bashir to "what is strictly required for carrying out UN mandated activities." Attendance at the inauguration cannot be justified as "strictly required." To the contrary, the UN guidelines state that "[t]he presence of UN representatives in any ceremonial or similar occasion with [persons indicted by international criminal courts] should be avoided." In addition, I understand that further UN guidance specifically concerning President al-Bashir bearing your initials states that "interactions of a ceremonial nature with President Al-Bashir should be avoided, including courtesy calls, receptions, photo opportunities, attendance at national day celebrations and so on."

These guidelines are right. Disregarding them will significantly damage the UN's credibility. Attending the inauguration of an individual subject to an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant for serious atrocity crimes would send a terrible message to victims of such crimes in Darfur and around the world that their suffering is not reason enough to dispense with ceremonial support for their alleged abuser. Attendance also risks signaling that the United Nations is not committed to the ICC's success-a signal that would be particularly unfortunate to send in the week before the first review conference of the ICC's Rome Statute, which takes place in neighboring Kampala, Uganda from May 31 to June 11, 2010. The review conference will be a moment of significant attention to the court's work and an important time to showcase dedication to the cause of international justice. Any short-sighted breach of the UN's own principles will be doing neither the court nor you any favors.

For all of these reasons, I hope you will reconsider the plans for UN officials at any level to attend the al-Bashir inauguration. Should you wish to discuss this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch

My answer reads:

Letter to Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch
May 27th 2010

Dear Mr. Roth,

While I applaud the tenacity in which your organisation pursues injustice and attempts to protect the weak and oppressed, I call upon you for a better balance in your actions, rather than pushing for issues "that suit The West".

You are correctly insisting the UN should be consequent in its actions towards However, so should your organisation.

As an example: Back in 2003, George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf and Tommy Franks were indicted in a Belgian court for crimes against humanity, under the principle of universal jurisdiction. Under the pressure of the US, the Belgian law was changed. Apart from my amazement on the hypocrisy of the Belgian politicians, I would still like to point out that your organisation was one of the six human rights groups calling the loss of the universal jurisdiction component "a step backwards in the global fight against the worst atrocities."

Now I wonder, if you stood that firmly on the principle of universal jurisprudence, and indeed supported the indictment of the Bush gang, did you also write a letter to the UN Secretary General insisting on avoiding any official contact with the Bush administration?

I understand both cases are unsimilar. Bush was unfortunately not indicted by the ICC - even though he should have been. However, I call upon you, to stand by your universal principles. Bashing is singing a tune very popular in the West. Bashing Bush would not have been. Or was that goal too high? Too ambitious? Too costly for your organisation's supporters? Funders?

For all of these reasons, I hope you will admit the error at that time of the Bush administration. I encourage your organisation to pursue objective measures, and not only those suiting The West, or to those popular by demand, and easy hits in Western media.

Should you wish to discuss this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Peter Casier
World Citizen

Let's see what he says.

Picture courtesy AP Photo/Gerald Herbert


A Lady's Life 28 May, 2010 03:09  

I guess we can say keep your friends close and your enemies
The UN in my opinion is supposed to talk to the world and expose World leaders to ideas especially Human Rights .If you don;t talk to an enemey how are you supposed to resolve problems and make friends?
We do not own this planet and this planet doesn't need any one of us. When we visit other peoples homes, we are on our best behavior so why not this planet?
We behave as if it belongs to us but it doesn't.
We are visitors and so must be humble. respectful, diligent, responsible and polite.If more people thought this way, we would have a better place to live full of love instead of hate and animosity.

Anonymous,  28 May, 2010 07:27  

Bravo P! I know that it at times feels like an endless battle of awareness and the line does seem quite thin.. But I find two things completely unacceptable. The first you have rightfully stated in your letter - the double standards when it comes to issuing these very public letters. But only to certain very, very, very, very bad presidents (sarcasm is indeed implied) and then the second issue actually has more to do with the UN officials. How easy it always is to take a good bashing at the UN - it is almost invariable to do so if one can.. Mmmm, just pick on the weakest kid on the block in a way.. And even if that kid hasn't been the brightest, bravest, etc Not ever giving it a chance to redeem itself.. Just food for thought.

Anyways, thanks again for taking such an exemplary stand!

Unknown 28 May, 2010 20:38  

Not enough of these letters are being written...thank you for your honest and forthright words.

Peter 03 June, 2010 19:24  

Still no answer from HRW.

I sent them a reminder today:


Would I be honoured with an answer? I’d assume with Mr. Kenneth Roth sends an open letter to the UN SG, he expects an answer.
So if I send an open letter to Mr. Kenneth Roth, I expect an answer too…



beaver,  07 June, 2010 18:08  

Thanks Peter

It's too bad that people in such positions practice the "deux poids deux mesures" judgement. It is easy to hit on a third world leader BUT no one dares telling a superpower what they think of his actions for fear of what ???
Same thing with what we are seeing wrt Nuclear issue.....

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