Human Rights Day celebrations met with repression around the globe

In several places around the world, marches commemorating Human Rights Day Dec. 11 were met with official harassment and repression. In Srinagar, capital of India-administrated Kashmir, police fired teargas and live rounds to disperse protesters, leaving at least 15 injured, including a young boy who sustained a bullet wound. (World Bulletin, Dec. 11) In Cuba, hundreds of government supporters jostled and jeered dissidents who staged two small marches in Havana. A 30-strong group of female relatives of political prisoners—known as “the Ladies in White” (Damas de Blanco)—marched through the capital chanting “liberty,” carrying flowers, Cuban flags and copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A crowd of some 250 surrounded them and shouted “traitors” and “the street belongs to Fidel.” A smaller march of about 10 dissidents in a park in the Vedado district was also surrounded and harassed. (The Guardian, Dec. 11)

Ladies in White leader Laura Pollan told reporters the aim of the Cuban protest was to “ask Raul Castro’s government to ratify human rights pacts and…to unconditionally free the political prisoners.” While the Cuban regime is said to hold some 200 political prisoners, Pollan’s organization arose to represent families of the 75 government opponents rounded up in the “Black Spring” crackdown of March 2003, 53 of whom remain behind bars. (LAHT, Dec. 11)

In Israel, thousands marched in Tel Aviv to protest rights violations against both Palestinians and undocumented immigrants. Prominent participants included Minorities Minister Avishay Braverman and MKs Nitzan Horowitz and Dov Khenin. But conservative commentators—particularly Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor—took the occasion to pontificate about how Israeli human rights groups are the pawns of powerful foreigners with a pro-Arab agenda.

One opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post charged (with no documentation that “Human Rights Watch was caught raising funds from wealthy members of Saudi Arabia’s elite. Instead of leading the campaign against the abuses imposed by the Wahhabi religious police, this “watchdog” hosted a member of the Shura council at a dinner which featured more Israel-bashing and sinister warnings of the power of the ‘pro-Israel lobby.'” (YNet, Dec. 11; JP, Dec. 9)

We haven’t noticed any such rhetoric from HRW, but the group has time and again called out oppression of women and minorities in Saudi Arabia—and responded forthrightly to charges of anti-Israel bias.

Playing a little fast and loose with the facts there, are we Steinberg?

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