Subject: NPR: Schwartz discusses human rights monitoring agencies

National Public Radio (NPR)

Weekend Edition Sunday 12:00 AM EST NPR

January 16, 2005 Sunday

Schwartz discusses human rights monitoring agencies



The past year was a busy one for organizations that monitor human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch issued public reports on everything from the torture of detained journalists in Iran to the problems of holding legitimate elections in former Soviet states. Other groups conduct their investigations more discreetly. In late November, The New York Times published a story about the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, citing an investigation by the International Committee of the Red Cross, but the ICRC refused to authenticate the very findings that the newspaper published. Eric Schwartz was project director of the task force on postwar Iraq, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. Early in his career he served as Washington director of the human rights organization Asia Watch. He is now a guest lecturer on Iraq politics at Princeton University, where he joins us.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. ERIC SCHWARTZ (Guest Lecturer, Princeton University): Thank you.

HANSEN: Why would the ICRC or a similar group refuse to confirm the results of its own investigations?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: The ICRC, under the Geneva Conventions, has a specific role to play in visiting detainees, in ensuring that their treatment is reasonable and making sure that governments are held to account. Now in 2003, for example, the ICRC visited almost 470,000 detainees around the world. If they had a practice of making their findings public, that access would be completely denied. Now this is not to say that organizations like Human Rights Watch shouldn't exist; they have to exist. But each kind of organization plays a complementary role. If you didn't have an ICRC, you'd have to invent it. If you didn't have a Human Rights Watch, you'd have to invent it, or you should invent it--and organizations like Amnesty International.

HANSEN: Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as you mentioned, and another group, Human Rights First--I mean, they openly look into human rights violations and then they publish. Does this actually have a benefit for the victims of these abuses?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Absolutely. Human rights monitoring organizations are effective to the extent that they can publicly shame, embarrass and pressure governments. And, of course, that isn't only a function of how loud they speak, but it's also a function of how good their product is because it's only through excellent product that their advocacy has credibility. And those organizations do change the behavior of governments.

HANSEN: It seems like we get these abuse reports over and over and over again from varying countries. Is it your experience that things actually do change for prisoners?

Mr. SCHWARTZ: Yeah. I mean, I believe very strongly that not only do conditions improve for prisoners, but also prisoners continue to live. It's harder for a government to disappear--a prisoner--and that's a, I guess, diplomatic way to say `kill them' when the ICRC has visited the prisoner, has recorded the fact that the prisoner is there and has created a situation where the government has to account for that prisoner. So there's no question that the ICRC has played a very important role, not only in improving conditions but basically in safeguarding human lives. Take the work of the human rights monitoring organizations that were so active on East Timor between 1975 and 1999, and 2000, ultimately when Timor achieved its independence.

Now you can complain or bemoan the fact that it took 25 years, but you have to ask the question: If the human rights organizations, non-governmental organizations, were not kicking and screaming for all that period of time, is it as likely that that issue would have stayed and continued to be an issue which the government of Indonesia had to deal with over time? And would independence have been as likely an outcome? I think the answer is clear. It would not have been. So these organizations do deserve a lot of credit.

HANSEN: Eric Schwartz headed the Council on Foreign Relations task force on postwar Iraq, and he joined us from Princeton University where he is a lecturer on Iraq politics. Thank you so much, Eric.

Mr. SCHWARTZ: My pleasure.

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