Rights Groups Divided over Wikileaks Revelations

  • by William Fisher (new york)
  • Inter Press Service

Groups including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Human Rights First (HRF) believe it was a mistake that Wikileaks allegedly published the names of foreign human rights activists and organisations that receive support from the U.S. government.

But Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, has a different view.

He told IPS, 'This claim by some human rights groups, whomever they are, is not supported by the facts. So far as I know, the names of human rights activists have not been disclosed in any of the documents released by Wikileaks, nor have any such activists been put in danger.'

HRF President and CEO Elisa Massimino wrote to WikiLeaks head Julian Assange several days before last Sunday's document release. She said publishing the names of 'individuals or organisations from repressive or authoritarian countries (such as Iran, China, Russia, Cuba etc.) is extremely reckless as it will increase their risk of persecution, imprisonment and violence.'

Her letter continued: 'Human rights advocates in repressive and authoritarian countries face many dangers, as governments in those countries regularly harass, mistreat and imprison them. Not least among these dangers is being charged with receiving foreign support or 'cooperating' with foreign governments, as that can make them even more vulnerable to attack by governments and their agents.'

She said, 'At the same time, many activists in repressive countries have very few options for financial support, as avenues of domestic support are effectively blocked. To protect themselves from the increased risk that comes with foreign support, many activists remain quiet about it.'

Massimino said, 'We support freedom of expression and greater transparency in government. Yet, in releasing the information in the circumstances we describe above, the very real dangers to the health and well-being of human rights activists would outweigh the benefits.'

She urged Assange to remove any identifying information of human rights activists from the documents that Wikileaks will be releasing.

However, Ratner noted that, 'In the recent disclosure, Wikileaks has only posted cables that were reviewed by the news organisations and in some cases redacted.'

'The news organisations showed them to the Pentagon and agreed to some of the government's suggested redactions. The U.S. claimed in the past that the release of the documents could endanger people, but now concedes that they have no knowledge that anyone was killed as a result of the prior releases,' he told IPS.

'Wikileaks asked the U.S. government to show 'specific instances' where people would be put at significant risk. The government responded with a threatening letter about the legal consequences of disclosure,' he said. 'In addition, the government has had these documents for months and could have communicated its precise concerns to Wikileaks. It did not. If there is a problem, and I don't think there is, these human rights groups ought to complain to the government about its failure to take Wikileaks up on its offer.'

'Human rights groups ought to be concerned with the substance of these documents: what they say about torture, killings, illegal wars, our allies support of terrorism, the corruption of governments the U.S. supports and its efforts to interfere with bringing CIA and other officials to justice in Spain and Germany,' he added.

Human rights groups said Tuesday they've asked WikiLeaks to censor secret files on the Afghanistan war to protect civilians who have worked alongside the U.S. and other foreign forces from reprisals.

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and three other groups have sent a series of e-mails to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange calling for the names of Afghan civilians to be removed from the 77,000 classified military documents published by the online whistle-blower last month.

The American Civil Liberties Union told IPS the organisation had not yet adopted a position on the leaks.

Another major human rights group, Amnesty International USA, similarly has not yet gone public regarding the current Wikileaks controversy.

But when Wikileaks released its voluminous files on Afghanistan last summer, the group wrote to Assange 'voicing their concerns, criticising his approach and pushing for a redaction of documents to omit identifying information that could risk the safety of US sympathisers in Afghanistan.'

It was joined by other human rights groups, including the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, the Open Society Institute, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, and the Afghan office of the International Crisis Group.

'We have seen the negative, sometimes deadly ramifications for those Afghans identified as working for or sympathizing with international forces,' they wrote to Assange, according to the Wall Street Journal, which cites an anonymous source.

'We strongly urge your volunteers and staff to analyze all documents to ensure that those containing identifying information are taken down or redacted.'

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service