Representation of Human Rights Violations by Human Rights NGOs*

Representation of Human Rights Violations by Human Rights NGOs* Changrok Soh ․ Jooyea Lee 󰠐 Korea University 1) Ⅰ. Ⅱ. Ⅲ. Ⅳ. Ⅴ. Reflections on the G...
Author: Cynthia Smith
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Representation of Human Rights Violations by Human Rights NGOs*

Changrok Soh ․ Jooyea Lee 󰠐 Korea University 1)

Ⅰ. Ⅱ. Ⅲ. Ⅳ. Ⅴ.

Reflections on the Genealogy of Human Rights Reporting Three Principal Tactics Utilized by Human Rights NGOs Decontextualization in Human Rights Reporting Analysis of Human Rights Watch Reports Conclusion

Keywords: Human Rights, Activism, NGO, Human Rights Reporting, Monitoring, Advocacy


As the notion of human rights spreads around the globe, various claims are made using the language of human rights. Many venues utilize the notion as they publicize stories of human rights violations. In such circumstances, the modes in which the idea of human rights is constructed become important. Human rights NGO reports are especially crucial, because they shape government policy, media and public opinions. This article argues that human rights reports, in order to achieve their goals of monitoring and advocacy, human rights NGOs faithfully utilize a few principal tactics. After identifying those tactics, it was examined how such tactics have lead to decontextualization, through which the problematic nature of reporting techniques was revealed. The achievements of international human rights activism have been noted, as there are many. However, dilemmas of the current mode of representing human rights violations were explored more thoroughly in an attempt, hopefully, to take one step forward in the field of human rights activism.

* This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea Grant funded by the Korean Government (NRF-2010-330-B00146).

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I. Reflections on the Genealogy of Human Rights Reporting   Criticisms abound on our lack of concern for the sufferings of others, the phenomenon of which is conveniently summarized as a culture of apathy. Nonetheless, human rights norms and standards have been aggressively advocated globally since the 1990s. As a result, our generation is now called ‘the Age of Human Rights,’1) clearly indicating society’s interests in human rights. How do people learn about human rights issues, and through which venues? The venues are diverse as they can include: fact-finding field mission handbooks such as Amnesty International Handbook, human rights commissions, tribunals, testimonies, media, stories and various others.2) These venues ‘interpenetrate’ each other, united within the paradigm of human rights. In addition, each venue tends to attract a different readership. It will be interesting to find out what types of tactics are employed by different venues to introduce people to human rights issues. The particular venue this article focuses on will be NGO reports, specifically on the way NGOs produce human rights reports. Due to the nature of human rights NGOs, which is that they are internally diverse, it must be noted that what is examined in this article represents a few dominant and general characteristics of NGO reports. Therefore, the results of this analysis may not apply to all sub-groups of human rights NGOs. That said, what will be explored here is the methodology and principles adopted by human rights NGOs as measures to report on human rights issues. We will also reflect on the possible implications for monitoring and advocacy of human rights. Only textual reports of 1) Upendra Baxi, “Human Rights: Suffering between Movements and Markets,” in Robin and Shirin Rai (eds.), Global Social Movements (London: Athlone Press, 2000), p. 34. 2) Kay Schaffer and Smith Sidonie, Human Rights and Narrated Lives: The Ethics of Recognition (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004), pp. 35-51.

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major human rights NGOs are subject to analysis, and various modes recently utilized for telling human rights stories — such as films, audiovisual material, etc. — are outside the purview of this research. A careful inquiry into the origin of human rights reporting however, involves the task of tracing the history of human rights discourse. One of the historical moments that incited the human rights concept could be during The French Revolution. The Revolution’s legacy, Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, was richly imbued with Enlightenment principles, which emphasized the necessity for constitutional guarantees of individual liberties and for all human affairs to be guided by reason. Neither the word France nor French appeared in the articles of the declaration — only in the preamble. At least textually, it could be interpreted that the creators aspired to the universal application of Enlightenment principles of the Revolution all over the world, not just in France.3) When it comes to protecting the universal rights of all human beings, current human rights regimes inherited the ideals of the French Revolution and its attempt to universalize its dedication to law and reason. The advent of the Age of Human Rights was a prolonged process, not an overnight event as it passed through various historical moments on the way: World War II, the Holocaust and the collapse of the Cold War. Human rights discourse gradually established its normativity through numerous human rights treaties, declarations, and Conventions.4) Ever since the paradigm shifted towards human rights from the Cold War realpolitik, numerous international human rights documents were ratified, opening up the possibility for human rights norms to infiltrate into national politics. In their dedication to human rights monitoring and to advocacy, many organizations utilized narratives to publicize claims on human

3) Lynn Hunt, The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History (Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s, 1996), pp. 71-77. 4) Kay Schaffer and Smith Sidonie, Human Rights and Narrated Lives: The Ethics of Recognition (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004), p. 15.

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rights abuses. When such narratives are publicized, they become a motif with which advocates hope to generate social change. Human rights advocates usually expect that their narratives will result in a desirable set of actions: acknowledgement of human suffering → mobilization of the public into shock and anger → actions that can put an end the suffering.5) The faith in the Enlightenment principle — that things will change if only people knew — has been the driving force for human rights advocacy. However, had this been true — that things will in fact change if only people knew — human suffering should have ended by now during this Age of Human Rights, in which the stories of human sufferings abound. It is time for human rights activists to question the linear logic that inordinately trusts the power of knowledge, to critically contemplate the current mode of representing human rights violations. Human rights discourses heavily rely on “the international commitment to narratability.”6) Without narratability, stories cannot be published, and they lose any potential they may have for advocacy. This signifies that when a story is published, it is officially retold, whereas when a story remains unpublished, it is officially untold. As Schaffer and Smith stated, the “stories enlisted within and attached to a human rights framework are particular kinds of stories.”7) They are narratable stories. Adhering to imagined narratability essentially constructs certain ideas about human rights violations, to define what human rights violations should be, so that they can be universally recounted. Human rights NGOs, with a distinct set of goals and principles, share a set of motifs when it comes to their principle of reporting and telling stories. One of the most valuable principles is perhaps the principle of objectivity (albeit what the NGOs consider “objective” might be worth exploring as well). They also have the tendency to decontextualize and 5) Schaffer and Sidonie (2004), pp. 3 and 28. 6) Narratability is the basic standard stories and reports must meet, in order for the stories to be properly understood and communicated. 7) Schaffer and Sidonie (2004), p. 4.

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to destroy subjectivity in their reports. Decontextualization is inherent in any type of storytelling and reporting. Nevertheless, examining human rights NGOs’ particular mode of decontextualization is a part of an endless effort, not only to devise better ways of representing human rights violations, but to incur positive changes. Under the Carter administration from 1977 to 1981, the United States Congress came up with the idea of an annual human rights report8) that attempted to incorporate human rights language into foreign policy. Even though it was one of the early governmental attempts to globally monitor the quality of human rights after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the credibility and thus the quality of the reports published by the Department of State was uneven as Cold War politics were still dominating the direction of foreign policy. Many NGOs, however, criticized the Carter reports’ projected “global”9) aspect, not only because the U.S. government mostly reported human rights violations outside of the United States, but also because the government remained silent toward violations committed by its allies. This is why Martin Ennals questioned the quality of government-produced human rights reports. He advocated for the necessity of an internationally accepted methodology of human rights reports.10) The way human rights NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch produce their reports seems to follow Ennals’ idea of an “internationally accepted methodology.” Let us now examine the trend prevalent in the human rights reports by examining the characteristics of human rights NGOs and its effects on their reports. The core of human rights NGOs’ existence lies in, inter alia, the following: to monitor the implementation of international 8) International Council on Human Rights Policy, Journalism, Media and the Challenges of Human Rights Reporting (Switzerland: International Council on Human Rights Policy, 2002), p. 24. 9) International Council on Human Rights Policy (2002), p. 24. 10) Martin Ennals, “Human Rights Reporting,” Index on Censorship, Vol. 11, No. 6 (1982), p. 6.

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human rights norms; to report violations when they do occur; and finally, to take punitive and/or preventative courses of action regarding the putative violations. One of many crucial tasks human rights NGOs perform is to produce human rights reports. As Cohen11) states, human rights reporting can be ‘a means to an end’ with its customary procedure of collecting information, fact checking and the standardization of gathered information. They are all “part of a wider strategy to prevent violations and implement universal standards.”

II. Three Principal Tactics Utilized by Human Rights NGOs In this section, we examine three elements that human rights NGOs frequently utilize in their attempt to produce reports that are aimed at monitoring and advocacy.

1. Professional Language of Law   Human rights reports must exhibit a degree of professionalism to advocate international human rights norms and to monitor implementation of such norms. Through their reports, human rights NGOs establish the universality of human rights norms, whose legitimacy manifests itself through the “objective language of law.”12) On its face, appealing to the international rule of law in order to rectify human wrongs is, by

11) Stanley Cohen, “Government Responses to Human Rights Reports: Claims, Denials, and Counter Claims,” Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 3 (1996), p. 517. 12) Kirsten Hastrup, “Violence, Suffering and Human Rights: Anthropological Reflections,” Anthropological Theory, Vol. 3, No. 3 (2003), p. 318.

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all means, not a horrendous idea. After all, it was through the legal ratification of the Genocide Convention that Raphael Lemkin aspired to prevent the recurrence of the Holocaust. Lemkin who professed “Only man has law. Law must be built. [․ ․ ․] You must build the law!”13) perceived that villains such as Hitler or Stalin would not desist from committing atrocities simply because of a piece of legislation. However, what Lemkin did believe was that “if the law was in place it would have an effect — sooner or later.”14) This firm belief in the power of law securely insinuated itself into the current human rights discourse, albeit not without a tremendous struggle on Lemkin’s part. For that reason, human rights organizations duly endorse human rights legal norms when publicizing violations of rights. Publicizing human rights violations generally involves the task of rendering complex human atrocities into tangible legal language. Here, it is worth examining Christopher Browning’s insight that the Holocaust was not a legal or philosophical concept but “a set of events that actually occurred” that cannot possibly be translated into the tangibility of language.15) Browning’s observation identified the main problem in representing the Holocaust — to represent what could not be represented. In the Age of Human Rights nonetheless, it is necessary to represent the unrepresentable, and human sufferings must be brought to light. Human rights communities will agree that it is better that human rights activists know about human atrocities and suffering instead of leaving them buried and remaining silent. Accepting these limitations allows us to focus on the consequences of faithfully subscribing to legal language when representing human rights violations. Human rights advocates are firm believers in the 13) Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (New York: Harper Perennial, 2003), p. 55. 14) Abraham Micheal Rosenthal, cited in Power (2003), p. 55. 15) Richard Wilson, “Representing human rights violations: social contexts and subjectivities,” in Richard Wilson (ed.), Human rights, culture and context: anthropological perspectives (London: Pluto Press, 1996), p. 156.

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universality of human rights, consequently believing in the legitimacy of universalizing human rights concepts and practices. By asserting the legality and universality of human rights norms, human rights NGOs pledge that the “global sense of justice rests upon an all-inclusive sense of humanity”16) where differences between people and cultures tend to be undermined for the sake of respecting the equal value of human beings. Such tendency often results in what some experts call “dehistoricization”.17) Wilson states that since rights are experienced, they are pragmatic values rather than ‘universal abstractions.’18) However, human rights discourse advocates a legal rationality above history and experience, displacing values and norms as a result. Considering human rights organizations’ commitment to ethical objectives, the methods employed by the NGOs are devoid of ethics and therefore, “ironically self-defeating.”19) The ultimate purpose of human rights reporting, the promotion of action and changes, demands the advocates to subscribe to the international human rights legal norm, where the universal rights of every human being is asserted. Faithful subscription to legalism that provides a transnational outlet for human rights, however, also dehistoricizes and decontextualizes complex situations regarding human rights violations, the blessing as well as the curse of Raphael Lemkin’s legacy.

2. The Principle of Objectivity The credibility of human rights reports increases when the report

16) Hastrup (2003), p. 320. 17) Dehistoricization is another process similar to decontextualization, where events and/or personalities are understood without the consideration of history that affected them. In this case, Wilson refers to universalisation of diverse histories and cultures as dehistoricization. 18) Wilson (1996), p. 155. 19) Wilson (1996), p. 155.

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in question appears objective and neutral. To that end, researchers employ various tactics, one such technique being the extensive use of footnotes. Anthony Grafton, the author of The Footnote: A Curious History, construes that footnotes have the power to transform the “work of history in question” into “the creation of a professional,” where the use of footnotes implies a degree of confidence about the writing, signifying “critical rationality,” — thus objectivity.20) While addressing the inadequacy of governments’ ability to produce unbiased reports on their own human rights records, Ennals21) found it crucial to establish ‘objective internationally accepted methodology and standards’ to which all human rights reporting could subscribe.22) Ennals’ predominant stance towards the government reporting was cynical, asserting that NGOs, academics, and activists must initiate the process of reporting. He endorsed the Chronicle of Current Events, an underground periodical that reported on the status of human rights from within the former Soviet Union. Ennals especially valued the paper’s objective style of simply reporting facts with no emotive elements.23) Currently, human rights reports published by major NGOs such as the Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch strongly reflect the styles of the Chronicle of Current Events to preserve objectivity. The principle of objectivity is closely linked to NGOs’ assertion of authority, which can increase the credibility and strength of their advocacy. Furthermore, the aforementioned value of legalism directly correlates with the principle of objectivity. So, what are the specific features of the human reports that subscribe to this doctrine of neutrality, besides

20) Ron Dudai, “Advocacy with Footnotes: The Human Rights Report as a Literary Genre,” Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 3 (2006), p. 784. 21) Ennals (1982), p. 6. 22) Ennals (1982), p. 6. 23) Ennals (1982), p. 4. Everything Shii Knows, “Chronicle of Current Events,” knows/Chronicle_of_Current_Events (Accessed July 29, 2009); Peter Reddaway, Uncensored Russia: The Human Rights Movement in the Soviet Union (London: Jonathan Cape, Ltd., 1972), pp. 15-40.

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the use of footnotes observed by Dudai? In order to assert the veracity of the information provided within reports, human rights reporting utilizes numerous short case profiles that include fairly formulaic information — i.e. date, name, the category of victim, etc. These details are intended to appear realistic, rational, and unequivocal as the reports aspire to reach the status where “the fact in the main text of human rights simply speaks for themselves.”24) However, what is important to note is that the strict subscription to the doctrine of objectivity does not necessarily result in the expose of truth. Through the principle of objectivity, human rights organizations present a unified version of truth to the international community, which disregards the heterogeneous nature of truth. Considering the purpose of human rights reporting — to stop the present violence, to prevent the recurrence of violence, and to seek justice for past injustices — the priority of the rights researcher lies in identifying the type of truths that will motivate both national and international communities into action. This tactic can be a very effective mode of advocacy, however, it can be a problem if the reports profess that they represent the whole and ultimate truth of the matter. Wilson’s illustration of Guatemalan local elite member’s murder25) revealed that the death of a local elite member precipitated multiple theories, each representing various social contexts. The dominant narrative published in the local newspaper presented only a fraction of the multi-faceted narratives that existed among the community residents. The moral here is that a human rights researcher may tend to settle on a single conclusion, rather than seeking to “contextualise an event.” When a rights researcher fails to acknowledge the existence of multiple narratives, s/he is bound to silence multiple narratives. If circumstances regarding the production and selection of certain narratives are affected

24) Wilson (1996), p. 143. 25) Wilson (1996), pp. 135-138.

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by a pre-existing unequal power structure that exists within a particular society, the rights researcher, in her/his failure to acknowledge such power imbalances, ends up reproducing the unequal power structure in the selected and unified narrative. Situations that require the attention of human rights organizations are normally those of complex natures — sometimes even requiring judgment beyond neutrality. They are normally not value-free situations, therefore cannot be filtered through methods of objectivity frequently utilized by NGOs. Methodologies that do not allow room for contesting their reports can sacrifice layers of truth existing beyond and behind them. As Irene Khan elucidates, human rights are about values. They are not simply about laws and systems.26) They are also about voices, not only texts. However, through objective subscriptions to the language of law, human rights discourse inadvertently silences some voices. The fact that perceived objectivity — i.e. the truth status — of reports is more or less directly linked to the trustworthiness of human rights organizations, can be one of the reasons why organizations like Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch self-consciously focus on producing reports that will authenticate their legitimacy.27) One must remember however, the principle of objectivity itself is not an absolute value, but a highly debatable concept.

3. Deconstruction of Subjectivity The types of violations subject to investigation by human rights researchers are generally those of an extreme nature. Valentine Daniel assumes the impossibility of sharing pain in that “[t]error hyper-

26) Dudai (2006), p. 790. 27) Wilson (1996), p. 151.

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individuates the victim,”28) demonstrating the difficulty of sharing an experience of terror through text, or any other medium. An extreme degree of violence or terror indiscriminately obliterates any possible cultural distinctions. Michael Jackson29) believes that violence can ultimately objectify the subjectivity of a victim “against his or her will.” Therefore, whether a person is objectified to compassion or to violence might not matter. What’s worth contemplating is the possible results of such objectification of a subject. Following Daniel’s logic of the very subjective nature of terror, what’s worth contemplating is the result of objectifying a subject and universally communicating what is ultimately incommunicable. The nature of naming anything is to limit, for the sake of identification or recognition. Any experiences, once named, in this case through language and textual reports, are bound to contain a range of experiences different from what the actual experiences might have been. This is how human rights violations articulated via language “socialize[s] and objectifie[s] what are at bottom individual and unique experiences.”30) According to the specific situation presumed in any human rights reports, violence weakens any individuals involved, thus depriving the already objectified victim of the opportunity to actively engage in a narrative where the victim is able “to speak, to narrate or to bear witness.”31) Human rights reports not only destroy the subjectivity of the victims, but also that of the author due to “[a]uthor evacuated texts.”32) Almost all human rights reports are without the publicized names of author. Though the policy of anonymity is intended partially to protect field researchers, Wilson acknowledges it is a device that “creates an aura

28) Hastrup (2003), p. 312. 29) Michael Jackson, The Politics of Storytelling: Violence, Transgression and Intersubjectivity (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2002), p. 45. 30) Jackson (2002), p. 23. 31) Hastrup (2003), p. 313. 32) Wilson (1996), p. 150.

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of objectivity and neutrality by wiping the stain of subjectivity off the surface of the text.” Wilson himself is acutely aware of the power of the author’s subjectivity in that it has the power to change the narrative itself. Surely, in the context of human rights violations, all field researchers contribute to the narrative. It is indeed conceivable that rights researchers do not think of themselves as such. Whatever the circumstances, they all disappear in their reports. Although it is the requirement by human rights NGOs, it seems fair to assume a certain level of moral conviction for those who commit themselves to documenting human rights violations. However, they seem to disappear in the products of their faithful documenting. What is also absent in human rights reports is the “interpreting gaze of the bystander.”33) Wilson considers a severe lack of eyewitness reports as proof of such a phenomenon, but this view is questionable. The lack of eyewitness reports might be caused by a number of reasons, not necessarily because of the human rights NGOs’ belief in the value of value-free objectivity. Eyewitnesses may fear for their safety. The number of eyewitness accounts per se might not matter as much as the way the accounts are utilized. Although it could be argued that certain level of de-subjectification is inevitable in any type of representation, the way human rights reports objectify their subjects can be problematic. Perhaps the fact that Amnesty International focuses on reporting individual cases is a matter of compensation for the lost subjectivity or individuality. However, critics continue to comment on the effectiveness of such tactics in actually changing the structure that produces violence.

33) Wilson (1996), p. 151.

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III. Decontextualization in Human Rights Reporting The adoption of the aforementioned factors — the use of professional language of law for advocacy, the principle of objectivity and desubjectification — have led to decontextualization in human rights reporting. The discourse obsesses itself with “technocratic consciousness” vernacu- larizing ethical matters through the rational perspectives that are quintessentially “scientific, technological and legal.”34) Human rights discourse is at odds with Fred Inglis’ idea that: Meanings exist in a force field of other meanings. You could not talk about the meaning of an action without connecting it to a narrative (including other actions) if you want to interpret its meanings.35)

Human rights reports, through their “radical acts of exclusion,” deny the existence of other meanings. One can wonder whether it is the very attempt to universalize the discourse of human rights that makes decontextualization in human rights reporting inevitable. During her field research in Tanzania of Burundian Hutu refugees, Malkki36) detected the dehistoricizing nature of universalism. Contemporary humanitarianism through Tanzania’s refugee policy organized refugees into a single category. Refugees understood the idea of “refugeeness” not only as a status of legal technicality, but also as “a matter of becoming” with a degree of historicity. The diverse definitions of the term refugees, as the perception of refugeeness imagined by refugees themselves differed from those of international workers, compromise the solidarity of the term defined in the international refugee law. Could it be that the dilemma lies in the very attempt to reach an

34) Wilson (1996), p. 155. 35) Wilson (1996), p. 145. 36) Lisa Malkki, “Speechless Emissaries: Refugees, Humanitarianism, and Dehistoricization,” Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 11, No. 3 (1996), pp. 378 and 382.

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agreement on matters and concepts that cannot be reduced to a single consensus? In the concept of refugees, the universal definition definitely incurs certain benefits, but at the same time strips them of their multilayered personas, turning them into “pure victims in general”: “universal man, universal woman, universal child, and taken together, universal family.”37) The major consequences of such decontextualization and dehistoricization in human rights reporting are depoliticization and silencing of the victims. Depoliticization occurs when the strict adherence to the legal technicalities becomes the sole basis of understanding violations disregarding the structural process of how violence occurs, e.g. whether it is through class or ethnic power relations. As it was made clear through Wilson’s explanation of a murder case in Guatemala, when one narrative is chosen because of the ease of applying legal technicalities, other narratives that reflect structural process are omitted from the dominant discourse. This means that the diversities of various political and historical circumstances are carved out. Without considering the process — i.e. the historicity — of violations in question, details of human rights violations “remain incomprehensible except as irrational outbursts devoid of meaning”38) especially for those who subscribe to the principles of liberal democracy and rationality that have been created by the North. The irrationalities as they are perceived through narrow perspectives of rationality are destined to result in decontextualization, as actual victims are not offered the chance to narrate their stories. The perceived irrationalities of the victims, in human rights reporting, are rendered as something specific to the locus of violation, which despite being universal, are prevalent and common in the region. In contrast to the universal individual — the bearer of a natural set of rights — a “social persons”39) cannot be separated from his or her 37) Malkki (1996), p. 378. 38) Wilson (1996), p. 148. 39) Social person: as opposed to a universal individual, a social person is an individual with

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historical context. An anthropologist like Wilson himself can be interested in social persons as agents of complex social processes, in which their rights are more experiential than natural. In human rights reports, the likelihood of silencing social persons is far lower than that of silencing universal individuals. When Malkki40) addresses the issue of depoliticization and silencing in conjunction with refugees within contemporary humanitarianism discourse, the question of voice arises in the representation of human rights violations. It is problematic that silencing through the spread of a “universal and ahistorical humanity” manifests itself as progressive politics. Malkki saw this dehistoricization as “a project of depoliticization” where “political activism and refugee status were mutually exclusive,” when in fact, they are closely related to each other. Removal of socio-historical context prevalent in NGO textual reports creates “the process whereby life becomes text becomes genre,”41) which is perhaps one of many processes of how human rights reports became a literary genre.42)

IV. Analysis of Human Rights Watch Reports Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are two of the most reputable organizations amongst many human rights NGOs that have emerged in the global community. In our analysis on the modes utilized by NGOs, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports are important as they affect government policy, media reports, public opinion, and other human rights NGOs. Amongst the two — Amnesty International and the Human Rights history, and cannot be reduced to a single category of identity. 40) Wilson (1996), pp. 378-379. 41) Wilson (1996), p. 146. 42) Dudai (2006), p. 783.

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Watch — this article will focus on analyzing Human Rights Watch reports. Human Rights Watch, despite the importance of the organization, has received considerably little academic attention compared to Amnesty International.43) Originally founded as Helsinki Watch in 1978, Human Rights Watch reports are utilized by governments, the media, human rights activists, and lawyers. The initial mandate of the organization was to monitor the behaviour of signatory countries to the Helsinki accords, and such rights as economic rights were not scrutinized. Even

Human Right Watch Reports: Categories 44) Categories

Number of Reports





Children’s Rights




Disability Rights


Environment ESC Rights

13 13



International Justice


LGBT Rights




Press Freedom








United Nations


Women’s Rights


Source: Human Rights Watch

43) Claude Welch, “Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch: A Comparison,” in Claude Welch (ed.), NGOs and Human Rights: Promise and Performance (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), p. 94. 44) Some reports are cross-listed in different categories.

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today, despite the creation of the category, “Economic Social Cultural (ESC) rights,” the organization still largely focuses on monitoring the status of civil and political rights.45) The shows the 17 categories of Human Rights Watch reports. The focus of this research is not to verify the assertion that human rights NGOs in the North mostly focus on civil and political rights. Nonetheless, it is still helpful to see topics that Human Rights Watch focuses on. An inspection of the Human Rights Watch’s research methodology clearly indicates that the organization’s main focus is on providing accurate information, especially when it comes to interviews, since they elaborate on the techniques utilized to assert the “veracity of a statement.”46)

Reports on Children’s Rights in Nepal Date



Futures stolen: Barriers to education for children with disabilities in Nepal


Discrimination against ethnic Nepali children in Bhutan: Submission from Human Rights Watch to the Committee on the Rights of the Child


Children in the ranks: The Maoists’use of child soldiers in Nepal


Child soldier use 2003: A briefing for the 4th UN Security Council Open Debate


Trapped by inequality: Bhutanese refugees women in Nepal


Rape for profit: Trafficking of Nepali girls and women to India’s brothels

Source: Human Rights Watch

45) Widney Brown, “Human Rights Watch: An Overview,” in Claude Welch (ed.), NGOs and Human Rights: Promise and Performance (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), pp. 76-77. 46) Human Rights Watch, “Our Research Methodology,” (Accessed Nov 13, 2011).

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To discover what can be learned from the report, we analyzed the pattern of Human Rights Watch reports. If one were to conduct research on children’s rights in Nepal on Human Rights Watch’s website, s/he would find the reports shown on . Since all Human Rights Watch reports follow the similar pattern, we use the 76-page Human Rights Report, Children in the Ranks: The Maoists’ Use of Child Soldiers in Nepal47) as an example. This chapter identifies the elements examined earlier, the three principal tactics rights NGOs frequently utilize in their reports.

1. Professional Language of Law   Chapter VII of Children in the Ranks is titled, “International Legal Standards.” Herein the report identifies the following international conventions whose provisions are what the main perpetrators — the Maoists in this case — are violating: • Geneva Convention • ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour • Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child • The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child • The Rome Statute The report also refers to the Capetown Principles and Best Practices that provides a definition for child soldiers. The pertinent text of each convention and principle the perpetrator had violated is quoted in the report. Regarding the assertion that human rights reports identify the type of truths that will call the international community into action,

47) Human Rights Watch, “Children in the Ranks: The Maoists’ Use of Child Soldiers in Nepal,” Human Rights Watch, Vol. 19, No. 2 (2007).

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this connects to the use of legal language and documents. This is due to the way international human rights regimes operate. Law has been the main way to deal with human rights issues, despite an increasing number of voices calling for alternatives. Of course, it is an undeniable fact that law is a powerful tool of advocacy. However, in order to be able to tell and communicate the stories of child soldiers through human rights reports, the researcher must only look for stories that fit the frame of currently existing laws, such as those identified above. Problems arise because it becomes inevitable to simplify the complex nature of human suffering through tangible legal language. Stories are told in the same legal tone, but otherwise they lose their voice. Indeed, Children in the Rank is “vernacularizing ethical matters” through “scientific, technological and legal” perspectives by using legal jargon. The use of child soldiers is wrong because it is against internationally accepted human rights conventions. It does not say that it is morally wrong. This is because of the trend that, although we can morally accuse a perpetrator of being guilty, we cannot morally prosecute them, or hold them accountable. As far as accountability is concerned, the concept of morality is thought to be vague and less objective which is why it is important for human rights advocates to utilize “objective internationally accepted” reporting techniques, faithfully subscribing to the pertinent internationally accepted mechanisms and principles.48)

2. Principle of Objectivity To assert the veracity of the information they provide, Children in the Ranks indeed extensively utilizes footnotes as Dudai mentioned earlier. For the 76-page report, there are 123 footnotes. The footnotes 48) Ennals (1982), p. 6.

Representation of Human Rights Violations by Human Rights NGOs


are used when the researcher refers to an international document, statistics and interviews, etc. Basically when there might be any doubts or questions about the statement on the report, there is a footnote. Through such extensive use of footnotes, the quality of objectivity is rightly boosted, and of course, there is no doubt that the report appears to be neutral. Children in the Ranks is in no way a short report, however they do utilize short case profiles when they focus on date of incidence, names of the victims and the category of victim. For example, one of many child soldiers during the civil war was identified as: “Sixteen-yearold Leela, a former child soldier for the Communist Party of Nepal.”49) The name Leela is obviously a pseudonym meant to protect the victim/ survivor, where Leela becomes one of the “pure victims in general” — “universal child” and perhaps “universal woman” in this case.50) A very particular incidence in Leela’s life becomes a universalized version of common phenomenon in Nepal during its civil war. Leela becomes the symbolic representation of all the child soldiers. This particular issue relates to the destruction of the victim’s subjectivity as well.

3. Deconstruction of Subjectivity The universalized character Leela was used to depict an example of deconstruction of subjectivity. Hastrup asserted, just like the refugees in the camp who are stripped of their multi-layered personalities in order to be endowed with the legal status of refugees, the victims in the report (with various stories that are more or less similar) are “children” under the international universal definition, since they were persons under 18 years of old. As for the issue of the author’s subjectivity, the report contradicts

49) Human Rights Watch (2007), p. 2. 50) Malkki (1996), p. 378.

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Wilson’s claim on the anonymity of the author. This particular report not only acknowledges the names of principal researchers, but also those of collaborators.51) The rationale behind such detailed revelation is unclear. It may be that Human Rights Watch firmly believed that their researchers and/or collaborator would be safe during the Peace Process, which is when this report was written. Regarding the assertion that victims are “silent,” victims in this report do speak and are directly quoted from interviews. But this may not be enough to assert that they are not silent. They only provide accounts strictly in terms of the rights that had been violated. There were indeed no eyewitness accounts but in many of the cases, the victims assumed the role of eyewitnesses. Bystander accounts were not included. Bystander accounts refer to those who were eyewitnesses but not victims. As for Wilson’s assertion that human rights reports abstain from “interpreting gaze of the bystander,” it is accurate to the extent that: (1) witness accounts are overshadowed by the victim’s accounts, meaning not many witnesses appear in the report; (2) witness accounts do exist, but there is no room for interpretation. For example, in explaining the Maoists’ propaganda campaign, “Birendra, a universal victim who is a 16-year-old boy who had been working for Argakhanchi district” says:52) The Maoists did programs at my school. In three or four months, they would come two or three times. They would sing, dance, and give speeches. Usually there were six to nine Maoists; some were the same age as me, some were older. In the speeches, they said, “You have to fight for the people, for people’s education, and you have to come with us.” It lasted about one hour. There were 35 students in my class; three (all boys) went. There were five or six from other classes that went also. One girl and the rest were boys.

51) Human Rights Watch (2007), p. 72. 52) Human Rights Watch (2007), p. 29.

Representation of Human Rights Violations by Human Rights NGOs


Considering Birendra’s dual identity as both victim and bystander, Wilson’s theory is legitimate, as there is no pure bystander account in this report.53) Even when we consider the above-statement as that of bystander or witness, it is clear that the speaker does not provide any interpretive comments in this interview. Another possibility is that any comments that are possibly deemed interpretive might have been edited out of the final report.

4. Decontextualization Regarding the elements of decontextualization, as a result of all the principal characteristics utilized by Human Rights Watch, dehistoricization occurs as a result of legal rationality. Of course, the report does provide the background of the child soldier phenomenon in the Nepalese context. If we look at the contents of the Children in the Ranks: Summary and Introduction Background Recruitment and the Use of Child Soldiers Forced Recruitment Treatment of Children in the Ranks The Government’s Detention of Former Child Soldiers and Failure to Provide Rehabilitation Assistance Ⅶ. International Legal Standards Ⅷ. Detailed Recommendations Ⅰ. Ⅱ. Ⅲ. Ⅳ. Ⅴ. Ⅵ.

Chapter I and II are the likely sections for the contextual information on the child soldier issues in Nepal. Chapter I, however, mainly consists

53) Another witness account that appears on page 55 is by Bikram, who is also a victim as well as a witness.

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of key recommendations and methodology, which leaves Chapter II as the only section for contextual information. Chapter II mainly addresses “The civil war’s impact on children” and “The People’s Movement and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement,” which is the only relevant information for the child soldier case in Nepal. Therefore, the contextual information or background information in Human Rights Watch reports is what is directly related to the case in question. In this case, that context is the civil war. Based on the international legal norms, the report identifies the perpetrators and the victims. In Children in the Ranks, historical information is largely omitted. This might sound unreasonable considering the fact that the report provides very detailed information on the incidents that had occurred. By historical information here, we mean the main causes of human rights violations in question. In the report, various rights entitled to children are violated strictly in close connection to conflicts between the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the repressive government of King Gyanendra. Also in the report: Rural Nepali girls are drawn to the CPN (M) because it promises them from a life of servility ․ ․ ․ For example, 17-year-old Kalawoti told Human Rights Watch that the Maoist initially convinced her to join their campaign by explaining that as a woman she would never be able to achieve anything even if she continues her studies.54)

  Even though the Human Rights Watch report asserts that “the conflict aggravated the problems of Nepal’s already impoverished population,” it also makes an accusation that “education, too, suffered because of the conflict.”55) It is definitely true that education suffered because of the conflict, but it does not consider what Nepal’s education situation was like before the conflict.

54) Human Rights Watch (2007), p. 24. 55) Human Rights Watch (2007), pp. 11-12.

Representation of Human Rights Violations by Human Rights NGOs


It is noted in the Human Rights Watch report that “Nepal ranked 124 out of 137 countries listed in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index.”56) After the 10-yearlong civil war, however, the HDI dropped to 136. Perhaps what should be noted is the fact that Nepal’s rank was almost at the bottom even before the conflict. At least in this report, the main problem is that Nepal’s HDI dropped to 136 from 124, not the fact that Nepal’s HDI ranked 124 in the first place. The problem is that it fails to address the structural issue. The report does not consider what happens when the conflict ends, whether the child soldier case and the rights violations during war will be remedied or not. What is interesting is that, although the report provided the rights that had been violated during and after the conflict and even during the peace process, it did not address the structural processes of the conflict itself: why and how it occurred. It is simply that: “Nepal’s 10-year civil war has killed nearly 13,000 people.”57) The main conclusion being, the violation of children’s rights in various contexts was all due to the conflict. The reports do not and will not consider the circumstances before the conflict, when such pre-conflict circumstances actually contributed to the conflict in the first place. If it wasn’t for the conflict, such rights violations might not have been acknowledged. Again, the situations that require the attention of human rights organizations are normally complex. The objective methodology allows no room for contesting their facts and the truth overlooks many layers of truths. Another interesting detail is that Human Rights Watch holds the government accountable. In its title at least, Children in the Ranks: The Maoists’ Use of Child Soldiers in Nepal, the perpetrator is identified as the Maoists instead of the government. As the report makes diversified

56) Human Rights Watch (2007), pp. 11-12. 57) Human Rights Watch (2007), p. 10.

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recommendations to different parties however, the report makes seven recommendations for the Maoist and eleven for the Government of Nepal. This might not mean that Human Rights Watch regards the Maoists as less responsible or guilty. Their recommendations are in awareness of the current international human rights regimes where states hold the key for solutions, ideal solutions being the observance of international human rights law. There is no measure in place to hold the Maoists accountable, because states are the only real acting agents in international human rights regimes. A disturbing question that might be raised here is that: if it had not been for the civil war, rights violations within Nepal might not have attracted any attention. In light of the purpose of human rights reports, which is to monitor state’s compliance with international human rights standard, this is not a simple matter. On Amnesty International’s website, “News and Publications” on Nepal renders the following result: Before the civil war, the average number of news and publications published on Nepal was six, a figure that escalated to about 50 during the war. After the war ended, it is reported at about 13 a year. The

Number of AI News and Publications on Nepal 58) PERIOD

# of News and Publications 59)

Per Year










Source: Amnesty International

58) Search for News and Publications on Nepal, (Accessed Nov. 13, 2011). 59) The news and publications sometimes include stories related to neighbouring countries such as Bhutan, and are therefore not exclusive to Nepal. 60) To be precise, from 2007 to November 9, 2011.

Representation of Human Rights Violations by Human Rights NGOs


Human Rights Watch Reports 61) on Nepal 62) Date



Futures stolen: Barriers to education for children with disabilities in Nepal


Indifference to duty: Impunity for crimes committed in Nepal


Walls at every turn: Abuse of migrant domestic workers through Kuwait’s sponsorship system


Still waiting for justice: No end to impunity in Nepal


Waiting for justice: Unpunished crimes from Nepal’s armed conflict


Appeasing China: Restricting the rights of Tibetans in Nepal


Discrimination against ethnic Nepali children in Bhutan


Last hope: The need for durable solutions for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal and India


Children in the ranks: The Maoists’use of child soldiers in Nepal


Nepal’s civil war: The conflict resumes


Clear culpability:“Disappearances”by security forces in Nepal


Between a rock and a hard place: Civilians struggle to survive in Nepal’s civil war


Discrimination against Dalits in Nepal


Child soldier use 2003: A briefing for the 4th UN Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict


“We don’t want to be refugees again.”


Caste discrimination: A global concern


Rape for profit: Trafficking of Nepali girls and women to India’s brothels

Source: Human Rights Watch

contents of each news and publications are yet to be analyzed but it’s interesting nonetheless. The number of reports after the war was over 61) “Reports” here only include Human Rights Watch’s comprehensive long version of reports, not press releases. 62) Search result for Human Rights Watch Reports on Children’s Rights in Nepal: http://www.®ion=154 (Accessed November 13, 2011).

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is not as high as that of during the war. In a way, crudely put, the civil war put Nepal on the map of human rights reports. The is the list of reports produced by Human Rights Watch on or related to Nepal. This is an interesting result considering the fact that Human Rights Watch started producing reports on Asia — excluding the Middle East — in 1990, and the first report on Nepal was in 1997. This is not to suggest that the conflict in Nepal instigated the very first report but to point out that it is simply an interesting detail to notice.

V. Conclusion Because the main purposes of human rights reports are monitoring and advocacy, rights NGOs strictly subscribe to the professional language of law and principle of objectivity where subjectivity of ‘victim’ is destroyed. Decontextualization occurs as a result of these tactics. The value of objectivity is an important value, especially in human rights reports. The moment reports appear biased in any way, they lose the power of advocacy. The question is how the reports insert interpretation without losing their value of objectivity. Some even say that the value of objectivity does not exist. Researchers assess what constitutes valuable evidence based on the approved principle of objectivity. Since human rights reports presuppose the universality of human rights, what constitutes violation of human rights is also presumed to be universal, leaving no room for interpretation. Wilson’s view is that human rights reports are essentially narratives with plots and yet, human rights NGOs are obsessed with the imaginary distinction between fact and interpretation.63) 63) Wilson (1996), pp. 150-152.

Representation of Human Rights Violations by Human Rights NGOs


Wilson does not provide any practical alternative however, and his perspective is also very harsh. We must be aware of the reason why major human rights NGOs adopt strategies such as an obsessive subscription to objectivity. Also the current international human rights regimes operate in a way that major human rights claims must be made legally, in order to hold the alleged perpetrator accountable. The biggest problem may be Raphael Lemkin’s legacy and his urge for the world to respond to violent atrocity through legal means. As monumental as it was in the history of human rights, the legacy also failed to relieve the world of human suffering. The global community is responding to violence. However, the world only responds to visible violence and fails to address the structural violence that ultimately causes the more or less visible violence. The figure in Table 3 clearly demonstrates that during the civil war in Nepal, the number of Amnesty reports on the country saw a sharp increase. The problem with that tendency is that once the violence ends, so does the world’s attention to the problem. We need to find a way to respond to less visible violence, and human rights NGOs must find a way to communicate that as well. Truthful representation of human rights violations to perfection is perhaps an impossible mission in which (1) the politics of human rights seems too frail to protect people across the globe; (2) human rights organizations represent human rights violations under the premise that violence is an abnormality. Recalling our history where “war has been the norm and peace the exception,”64) it is necessary to consider the disturbing reality of seeing violence as normality, in order to adopt a mode that represents violence differently. When violence is accepted as normality, rather than hastily responding to the violence that is happening and stop paying attention to the violence once it becomes more or less “invisible” (meaning, it has been contained, etc.), we will look beyond

64) Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (London: Penguin Books, 2003), p. 66.

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the violence into the systems that reproduce such violence. Zizek’s assertion that almost-obsessive opposition of visible violence such as genocide, racism, etc. “distract our attention from the true locus of trouble”65) closely connects to this idea. Unlike Wilson who strongly advocates for room for interpretation in human rights reports, we suggest that the venues themselves through which human rights stories are told should be diversified. Not only that, the power of each venue should be escalated in a way dictated by a legal paradigm that affects societies beyond the forum of the current international human rights regime.

65) Slavoj Zizek, Violence (New York City: Picador, 2008), pp. 10-11.

Representation of Human Rights Violations by Human Rights NGOs


[ References ] Baxi, Upendra. “Human Rights: Suffering between Movements and Markets.” In Robin and Shirin Rai (eds.). Global Social Movements (London: Athlone Press, 2000). Brown, Widney. “Human Rights Watch: An Overview.” In Claude Emerson Welch (ed.). NGOs and Human Rights: Promise and Performance (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001). Cohen, Stanley. “Government Responses to Human Rights Reports: Claims, Denials, and Counter Claims.” Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 3 (1996). Dudai, Ron. “Advocacy with Footnotes: The Human Rights Report as a Literary Genre.” Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 3 (2006). Ennals, Martin. “Human Rights Reporting.” Index on Censorship, Vol. 11, No. 6 (1982). Everything Shii Knows. “Chronicle of Current Events,” of_Current_Events (Accessed July 29, 2009). Hastrup, Kirsten. “Violence, Suffering and Human Rights: Anthropological Reflections.” Anthropological Theory, Vol. 3, No. 3 (2003). Human Rights Watch. “Children in the Ranks: The Maoists’ Use of Child Soldiers in Nepal.” Human Rights Watch, Vol. 19, No. 2 (2007). . “Our Research Methodology,” (Accessed November 13, 2011). Hunt, Lynn. The French Revolution and Human Rights: A Brief Documentary History (Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s, 1996). International Council on Human Rights Policy. Journalism, Media and the Challenges of Human Rights Reporting (Switzerland: International Council on Human Rights Policy, 2002). Jackson, Michael. The Politics of Storytelling: Violence, Transgression and Intersubjectivity (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2002). Malkki, Lisa. “Speechless Emissaries: Refugees, Humanitarianism, and Dehistoricization.” Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 11, No. 3 (1996). Power, Samantha. A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (New York: Harper Perennial, 2003). Reddaway, Peter. Uncensored Russia. The Human Rights Movement in the Soviet Union (London: Jonathan Cape, Ltd., 1972). Schaffer, Kay, and Smith Sidonie. Human Rights and Narrated Lives: The Ethics of Recognition (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004).

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Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others (London: Penguin Books, 2003). Welch, Claude. “Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch: A Comparison.” In Claude Welch (ed.). NGOs and Human Rights: Promise and Performance (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001). Wilson, Richard. “Representing Human Rights Violations: Social Contexts and Subjectivities.” In Richard Wilson (ed.). Human Rights, Culture and Context: Anthropological Perspectives (London: Pluto Press, 1996). Zizek, Slavoj. Violence (New York City: Picador, 2008).

Representation of Human Rights Violations by Human Rights NGOs


[초 록]

NGO 인권보고서에서 드러나는

인권침해의 실태 및 그 문제점 서창록 ․ 이주애 󰠐 고려대학교

인권의 개념이 전 세계적으로 확산됨에 따라 인권이라는 언어를 이용한 다양 한 요구사항 또한 점점 많아지고 있다. 인권침해 사례가 다양한 출구를 통하여 홍보 ․ 출판되는 상황에서, 인권이 어떻게 정의되며 어떠한 방식으로 표현되는가 에 대한 연구는 더욱더 중요해지고 있다. 인권 NGO에서 출판하는 인권보고서 는 언론, 대중의 의견 형성뿐만 아니라, 정부정책에도 영향을 미치기 때문에 그 중요성이 매우 크다. 이 논문은 인권보고서라는 매체가 인권 NGO들이 성취 해야 할 모니터링(Monitoring)과 애드보커시(Advocacy)라는 목적에 부합하기 위하여 몇 가지 중요한 전술을 충실하게 활용하고 있다고 주장한다. 그 몇 가지 전술이 무엇인지 파악한 후에, 이러한 전술로 인하여 간과되는 인권침해의 실태 및 문제점을 분석하였다. 국제인권운동에는 수많은 성과가 있었지만, 인권운동 현장의 발전을 위해 현재 인권침해의 문제가 보도되고 논의되는 형식의 문제점 을 보다 깊게 다루었다.

주제어: 인권, 인권운동, NGO, 인권보고서, 모니터링, 애드보커시

투고일: 2012년 2월 4일, 심사일: 2012년 2월 13일, 게재확정일: 2012년 2월 29일