Rights and Democracy Initiates Public Smear Campaign - Open letter
The Board of Directors of Rights & Democracy, a not-for-profit organization created by Canada's parliament in 1988 to encourage and support human rights around the world, recently voted, with substantial objection, to repudiate grants given to Al-Haq and the Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights, two well-known Palestinian human rights organizations located respectively in the West Bank and in Gaza.
The chairperson of the Board of Directors of Rights and Democracy, Aurel Braun, was quoted in The Globe and Mail as criticizing both organizations for being two "of the most vitriolic anti-Israeli organizations" and for their accusations against Israel's human rights violations.
Further, the article reports that Braun said that "there is no way to ensure that some of the money given to groups in Gaza does not go to the banned terrorist organization Hamas." He also led a personal attack against Al-Haq's general director – the well-known human rights defender Shawan Jabarin – for allegedly being an activist in the PLO faction. These remarks made by the chairperson of Rights and Democracy are extremely grave as they seem to support the Israeli government's policy of silencing human rights' defenders.
In recent years, Israel's attempts to silence any voice of opposition regarding its human rights violations have reached alarming levels. In addition to arrests of activists and the closing down of organizations, Israel has also denied many human rights defenders the possibility of effectively advocating for human rights by the imposition of travel bans. A new tactic used by Israel, supported by right-wing groups, is to go after the funders of human rights organizations. In this context, it came as a shock to us – Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations – that instead of advocating for and defending human rights defenders, who work to counter Israeli violations of human rights and ensure respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, the board of Rights & Democracy has instead chosen to join the side of the violator.
The undersigned organizations contend that labeling esteemed human rights organizations such as Al-Haq and Al-Mezan as "questionable" under the aforementioned circumstances is to take sides with the violator. It seems that the board's decision to repudiate grants to Al-Haq and Al-Mezan might well be because they have been doing their job too well, in particular their investigations of Israel's human rights violations during last winter's attack on Gaza. Or perhaps, it could be due to Al-Haq's exposure of and litigation against the involvement of Canadian businesses in such human rights violations in the West Bank. Maybe it was this unexpected and apparently unwelcomed exposure that prompted Right & Democracy's recent misguided conduct.
The contention that Al-Haq and Al-Mezan are some "of the most vitriolic anti-Israeli organizations" because they accuse Israel of human rights violations on their websites is a distorted and misleading representation of the facts. Al-Mezan and Al-Haq carry out professional documentation of the human rights violations committed by all of the involved actors in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Their documentation has been deemed reliable and precise by international bodies that apply the strictest relevant standards. Without this proper documentation by them and other human rights NGOs, defending human rights is a mission impossible.
The two organizations receive support from a wide array of donors including governments and non-governmental contributors who are satisfied with their work and their management due to the transparency that each organization exhibits.
The public smear campaign initiated by the Board of Directors of Rights & Democracy is intended to stop NGOs from doing their vital work of human rights monitoring and reporting. It is equal to a call to cease altogether any meaningful promotion of respect and protection of human rights in the oPt, in clear contradiction to Canada's declared interest in furtherance of universal values of human rights and the promotion of democracy.
In November 2009, the UN General Assembly reiterated its commitment to defending human rights defenders, recognizing "the substantial role that human rights defenders can play in supporting efforts to strengthen peace and development, through dialogue, openness, participation and justice, including by monitoring, reporting on and contributing to the promotion and protection of human rights."
Israel, recognizing that same strong role, carries out deliberate policies and practices that directly or indirectly seek to suppress, obstruct and delegitimize human rights organizations in Israel and the oPt. We denounce these policies and practices, and call on fellow human rights defenders around the world to also denounce them. We also denounce Israeli travel bans on human rights activists operating in the oPt and Israel, and especially the blanket travel ban on Gaza human rights defenders. While Israel is violating their rights, Rights & Democracy's board is trying to de-legitimize them, using the same rhetoric.
We demand that we be allowed to meet, to advocate, and to struggle for what we all hold dear: human rights and social justice.
The letter above was signed by a coalition of Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights organizations.
Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Right in Israel
Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association Ramallah
Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights – Gaza
AL-JANA - The Arab Resource Center for Popular Arts – Beirut, Lebanon
Al-Quds Human Rights Clinic
American Jews For A Just Peace
Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA)
Architects & Planners for Justice in Palestine
The Association Swiss-Palestine (ASP)
Association for the Support of Needy Palestinian Children, Switzerland
Association France-Palestine Solidarité (AFPS)
BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights
Boston Coalition For Palestinian Rights (BCPR)
Coalition of Women for Peace – Israel
Defence for Children International – Palestine Section
Ensan Center for Democracy & Human Rights
Flemish Palestine Solidarity Committee
Gaza Community Mental Health Programme
Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement
Group for Justice and Peace in Palestine (JPP) – Switzerland
Habitat International Coalition – Housing and Land Rights Network
The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN)
International Committee of the National Lawyers Guild – United States
Institute for Policy Studies – Washington, DC
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) – France
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network
The Israeli Association for Palestinian Prisoners
Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC)
Jewish Voice for Peace – United States
Labor for Palestine
Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate
Mopat – Movement Palestine for All – Brazil
The Netherlands Palestine Committee
New York City Labor Against the War
Olive Oil Campaign – Switzerland
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) – United Kingdom
Palestinian Center for Rapprochement Between People
Palestine Think Tank
STW (Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign)
Palestinian Workers Union – Greece
The Peace People in Belfast
Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHR – Israel)
Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI)
Right to Education Campaign – Birzeit, Palestine
Tlaxcala Translations Collective
US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
Women's Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC)
Women in Black Union Square in New York City
Women in Black – Vienna
Women in Black – Maastricht, Netherlands
Febr. 3, 2010