Honoring Those Who Look Out for Human Rights
Today is International Human Rights Day. This brings me to something I’ve been meaning to say. I’ve read a lot of complaints here and there about NGOs like Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and the UNHCR for their criticism of US bombing of Afghanistan, the bombing of the prison revolt at Qala Jangi, and the way we handled airdrops of aid into Afghanistan (among other things).

I feel like most of their criticism was wrongheaded in this case, but I also think it’s insane to write these groups off for that criticism. Unlike me, these guys are on the front lines around the world dealing with the fallout of people expressing the worst aspects of human nature. Are these guys touchy about disruptions of their ability to deliver aid to the starving, or of bombing civilian areas, or of possible mistreatment of prisoners of war? Yeah, they are. But it’s because they’re nearly always the ones left to pick up the pieces when hundreds of thousands of displaced refugees find themselves without food and adequate shelter, when cities get reduced to rubble for no sensible reason, or when we find mass graves in the middle of nowhere that are the only remnant of some atrocity.

So, I’d ask you to cut these groups some slack. Do they lack the distanced perspective that allows us to see that, ugly as it is, bombing might actually save lives in the long run, or that risking the disruption of aid delivery in the short term might insure that the ability to deliver aid properly is established? Perhaps. Most of the time, though, bombing doesn’t save lives or serve any higher purpose, and aid deliveries are disrupted simply out of capriciousness, or greed, or pure malice.

Aid agencies and human rights groups are the world’s janitors. They respond to the horror of war simply by trying to ameliorate its effects to the degree that they can, and the only weapon they have to try to guarantee their own obsolescence in the future is the ability to condemn those who perpetuate those horrors. So cut them some slack. They’ll be in the backwaters of the world treating the sick, feeding the starving, and trying to free political prisoners while you and I are running over to Wal-Mart to buy gardening supplies.