11th Dec 2023


'Quiet diplomacy' doesn't work, Human Rights Watch chief warns

  • Aid is slowly trickling into the Gaza Strip, following the eruption of war on 7 October after Hamas massacred Israeli civilians (Photo: UNRWA)
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Governments are increasingly trading human rights for short-term political expediency, says Tirana Hassan, the executive director of Human Rights Watch.

Speaking to EUobserver on Tuesday (24 October), Hassan said that it is vital leaders in Europe publicly speak out in defence of human rights, while holding wrong-doers accountable for their crimes.

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  • Tirana Hassan is executive director at Human Rights Watch (Photo: Wikipedia)

"We have seen Europe and other countries try and put peace before justice, or put their economic rights, their economic interests before human rights," she said.

Hassan said such strategies only emboldens repressive regimes in China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia and elsewhere, while enflaming tensions and conflicts.

"If we take a step back, we can see how we found ourselves in these positions," she said. "It's because the world and world leaders didn't respond to particular crises and systemic abuses when they could have," she added.

She said leaders need to stop choosing transactional politics over principled engagement, noting that so-called 'quiet diplomacy' has failed to deliver responses where rights are among the most violated.

"Quiet diplomacy is not a suitable response to crimes against humanity," she said, in a nod to China and the plight of some one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims.

She said unless publicly critiqued, EU human rights dialogues with China and others may end up legitimatising their positions instead.

She made similar comments on India, where a backsliding on human rights continues to mount in the face of attacks against the media, civil society and minorities under the leadership of Narendra Modi.

"It is very important that the EU doesn't just embrace Modi in the public fora but rather challenges the government," she said.

And she faulted European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen in her response to the brutality of the Gaza war, where she failed to publicly reiterate the need to respect international standards among all warring parties, Israel included.

"[It] sends the wrong message. That is not global leadership at its best," she said.

The European Commission has since tripled its humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza.

But Hassan said a meaningful humanitarian response in Gaza requires delivery of aid from the Israeli border side as well, including clean water and fuel.

"This is not a crisis that can be solely resolved from delivery of boxes of humanitarian aid," she said, urging the European Union deliver a political message so that Israel allows in aid from other border crossings aside from Egypt's Rafah.

Her comments follow a meeting of EU foreign ministers that failed to agree to a "humanitarian pause" in order for aid to reach Palestinians in Gaza.

"When rights are violated and when protection of civilians is not at the centre, the repercussions and the fracturing of various regional and global governments will only get worse," she said, in a warning to the wider regional implications of the Gaza war.

Hassan is appealing for EU leaders to keep a "common humanity" and to call out others for dehumanising people, including migrants that risk their lives to reach European shores by crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

This includes signalling out European prime ministers and others for their racist and xenophobic rhetoric, which in turn feeds into discrimination and violence against groups based on their appearance or religion.

"Orban has been the worst. But we've also heard very worrying statements that have come out of the Italian leadership and others over the last several years," she said.

She said such people can only be stopped by holding them to account.

On Thursday, the EU heads of state and government will have that opportunity as they meet in Brussels.

Such summits have often come with conclusions that call for the respect of fundamental rights.

But those statements may also ring increasingly hollow in the face of how the EU has treated asylum seekers and others attempting to claim international protection.

"It is it sends a very dangerous message, when we see the EU choosing to find partners in governments who have questionable human rights records," said Hassan.


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