Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been barred from entering Gaza. The two groups, which have been known for braving some of the worst conditions around the globe to shed light on human rights abuses, are being told it’s all a bureaucratic mistake.
According to Israel, both HRW and Amnesty need to register with the Civil Administration before they will be granted access into Gaza. However, to register with the Civil Administration they had to be an approved and registered group at the Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs. Are you still with me? Okay, so Amnesty went to the Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs, but they were told since they were not an ‘aid’ or ‘humanitarian’ organization, they could not register.
This paper-pushing nightmare has created contention between Israel and the two human rights groups. Amnesty has publicly spoken out against their lack of access. Anne FitzGerald, the Director of Research and Crisis Response for Amnesty stated on August 19 that,
“The apparent resumption of Israeli airstrikes and rocket fire today is another reminder that our access to the Gaza Strip cannot wait. Valuable time has already been lost and it is essential that human rights organizations are now able to begin the vital job of examining allegations of war crimes… The Israeli authorities appear to have been playing bureaucratic games with us over access to Gaza, conditioning it on entirely unreasonable criteria even as the death toll in the region has risen.”
However, Yigar Palmor, a spokesman for the Social Affairs Ministry was quoted by Haaretz reporters as saying,
“Entrance to the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing is permitted primarily to humanitarian and aid organizations, journalists, diplomats, and international political officials. This is government policy and the criteria that the government set. I am not aware of any effort to withhold entry permits or registration from Amnesty for any political reason. As noted, the organization, by its own admission, does not meet the criterion set [humanitarian aid].”
The human rights groups were apparently also told the Eretz border crossing was closed, which would hinder their crossing. However, since then investigative reports showed the crossing was in fact open.
There has been a lot of criticism on both sides regarding fair and accurate reporting, and the free exchange of information. HRW, for instance, has been accused of leaning on a heavy anti-Israeli bias. During Operation Cast Lead, Ron Dermer, the director of policy and planning for Israel’s Prime Minister was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying, “We are going to dedicate time and manpower to combating these groups; we are not going to be sitting ducks in a pond for the human rights groups to shoot at us with impunity,”
Other countries have also barred or kicked out HRW and Amnesty staff in the past. During contentious uprisings, Egypt, Venezuela, Uzbekistan and Venezuela have all either detained or evicted researchers in their countries.
The two rights groups still have a few researchers on the ground. According to HRW, they have two researchers who are vastly overwhelmed, trying to document the level of destruction in Gaza. Amnesty, according to their website, has one.
The groups have had shaky access to the region for years, but now, as the world watches the destruction in Gaza, they feel it’s more important than ever to be granted access immediately. One HRW worker lamented that as time goes by, the events and evidence linked to human rights abuses will continue to disappear.