Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth Fires Latest Shot in Debate Over Venezuela Report

The following is the latest exchange of letters between over 100 U.S. and Latin American scholars of regional affairs and the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, concerning HRW’s recent and contentious report on the human rights situation in Venezuela “A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela.” While COHA is hesitant to play a role in perpetuating this back and forth communication, due to the eminence of the people on both sides of the debate, and the worthiness of the issues being framed, it sees it as its responsibility to provide an open forum in which controversial political discussions may flourish. The COHA staff now hopes that this most recent letter of HRW’S Executive Director Mr. Roth will conclude the critiques being received from both parties.

– COHA Staff

January 28, 2009

Miguel Tinker Salas
Professor of History
Pomona College

Gregory Wilpert
Adjunct Professor of Political Science
Brooklyn College

Greg Grandin
Professor of History, Director of Graduate Studies
New York University

Dear Mr. Tinker Salas, Mr. Wilpert, and Mr. Grandin:

I am writing in reply to your January 12 letter, which was a response to our December 29 letter in which we address your December 16 letter and its critique of out report “A Decade Under Chavez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela.”

Once again we have taken the time to review your criticisms to see if they are well-founded, and once again we have concluded they are not. Your latest letter essentially recycles your previous allegations, which I responded to at length in my own letter to you. I see no point in recycling that response here.

One observation in your most recent letter that I do fully agree with is that anyone interested in evaluating your criticisms should read those earlier letters and, above all, the report itself. I have no doubt that reasonable people might have differing views regarding some of the more complex issues we address in the document. But I do not see how scholars who actually read our report can reasonably conclude, as you do, that it “does not meet even the most minimal standards of scholarship, impartiality, accuracy, or credibility.” On the contrary, what they will find is an objective and rigorous analysis of some of the very serious human rights problems that are facing Venezuela today.

Human Rights Watch welcomes and actively seeks out constructive criticisms of our work. We find it helps us to refine our arguments and correct any errors we may have made in our reporting. Less helpful are critics who opt instead to disseminate baseless allegations regarding our findings, our sources, and our motives.

You claim to be interested in fostering a dialogue. Yet you do so by misrepresenting our work and demanding that I order my colleagues to retract their criticisms of the Chavez government. Clearly we have a different notion of what constitutes meaningful dialogue.

It seems to me that there is no purpose in continuing this back and forth any further at this time. However, if in the future you have criticisms that actually reflect the content of our work – or other information and analysis that you believe might enhance our understanding of developments in Venezuela – please do not hesitate to share them with us.


Kenneth Roth

3 thoughts on “Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth Fires Latest Shot in Debate Over Venezuela Report

  • January 29, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    I sincerely hope that this is not the last exchange. The reply makes no attempt to answer any of the criticisms contained in the last letter and sound like an attempt to bow out of an embarrassing situation.
    Dave Watson

  • January 29, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    I cannot find the exchanges with HRW – including the original open letter from the academics – on the HRW website. In contrast I am able to find HRW’s response to the very inept accusations of Michael Spagat – a British academic – who claimed HRW was biased in favour of the FARC.

    I looked up “Spagat” on their search engine an immediately pull up a link to HRW’s exchange with him. I find nothing if I search for “Wilpert” or by going through their Venezuela entries.

    Hopefully that will soon be rectified. However, HRW has good reason to be embarrassed by this debate and to not call attention to it. Hopefully progressives will stop donating to them. Many people are doing much better work.

  • March 9, 2013 at 7:01 am

    A silly organization with a silly director, who has done absolutely NOTHING to improve the world. One only has to look at the deterioration in world affairs and violence in just the last ten years, to see that HRW should close its doors and perhaps go into the business of garbage collecting.

    As for Mr. Roth's screed against Hugo Chavez, it is no doubt first and foremost driven by his own internal ethnic biases.


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