We, the Harvard Law School Advocates for Human Rights (“HLS Advocates”), express our disappointment and condemn the alleged denial of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy Fellowship at Harvard Kennedy School to the former Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, over criticism of Israel’s human rights abuses. HLS Advocates is a student practice organization dedicated to human rights work and advocacy on Harvard’s campus and beyond.
Kenneth Roth, who served as the Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) Director for nearly 30 years, also known as the “godfather” of human rights, has dedicated his career to exposing human rights abuses throughout the globe. He is recognized for his prominent role in the creation of the International Criminal Court and his courage in challenging authoritarian governments and defending human rights. After retiring from Human Rights Watch, he confirmed his interest in the fellowship offered by the Carr Center as “it’s a natural place to go for leading human rights defenders if they are looking to write a book, or take a sabbatical, or do something that requires more of an academic setting.” As reported by The Nation, and stated by the Carr Center’s Professor Kathryn Sikkink and Director Matthias Risse, the School’s Dean, Douglas Elmendorf, allegedly vetoed the offer over Roth’s previous documenting and reporting of Israel’s human rights abuses.
The denial of the fellowship to Roth by the Harvard Kennedy School is a troubling decision and sets a chilling precedent for other human rights organizations. Human Rights Watch’s advocacy is premised on documenting and publicizing governmental misconduct as it occurs across the world. It has found that Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, and continues to extensively report on the current situation. This finding was confirmed by investigation conducted by Amnesty International, which concluded that Israel imposes a system of oppression and domination against Palestinians across all areas under its control, amounting to apartheid as prohibited in international law. It was also echoed in a Joint Submission by the HLS International Human Rights Clinic and Addameer, a Palestinian NGO that has faced retaliation from Israeli authorities, to the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, which found that Israel’s actions in the occupied West Bank are in breach of the prohibition of apartheid and amount to the crime of apartheid under international law. Multiple other human rights organizations have called out Israel’s human rights abuses. To equate condemnation of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with anti-Israel bias ignores the consensus among leading human rights organizations that Israeli policies of oppression and domination violate international law. The decision of the Dean has a chilling effect on organizations devoted to exposing and analyzing human rights abuses such as HLS Advocates. As a leading public policy institution, Harvard Kennedy School must not take a biased position against particular human rights issues, or censor critical perspectives which have been thoroughly investigated.
We, HLS Advocates, join widespread calls by the ACLU, Pen America, and others in condemning this troubling decision and calling for its immediate reversal. We urge the Dean to follow objective and transparent standards in selecting its fellows. It is imperative that Harvard fosters vigorous and open discussion about human rights and does not silence criticism of abuses.