Bernstein: HRW Should Engage In Moral Relativism

>> Tuesday, October 20, 2009

As with Michael Gerson on torture, Robert Bernstein believes that some countries should be ipso facto exempt from criticism for human rights abuses:

The organization is expressly concerned mainly with how wars are fought, not with motivations. To be sure, even victims of aggression are bound by the laws of war and must do their utmost to minimize civilian casualties. Nevertheless, there is a difference between wrongs committed in self-defense and those perpetrated intentionally.

But how does Human Rights Watch know that these laws have been violated? In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes. Reporting often relies on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers...”

Setting up standards that make it essentially impossible to prove that countries Bernstein likes have ever committed war crimes is convenient, but not very useful for organizations that want to identify human rights abuses regardless of who commits them. The rest if the op-ed is long on pointing out we already know (most middle eastern regimes are highly repressive) and very short on evidence backing up his assertions that Israel has "borne the brunt" of HRW's criticism. Based on the rest of his arguments, one suspects that for Bernstein any criticism of Israel is too much. I certainly don't see Israel being singled out here.


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