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Smart Power & The Human Rights Industrial Complex

from Zen Gardner:

Human rights in the West: does the reality live up to the rhetoric? On the surface, the cultural narrative seems innocent enough: billionaire philanthropists, political luminaries and transnational corporations, along with legions of staff and volunteers – all working together in the name of social justice, forging a better, fairer and more accountable world.

The story reads well on paper, and well it should. After all, the 20th century saw a string of apparent failures by various governments to curb and halt some of the most horrific exhibitions of genocide and crimes against humanity. As a result, the door has been opened for many high-profile charities and human rights organizations to play a bigger role in moderating international affairs.


Upon more rigorous inspection, however, a number of uncomfortable realities emerge regarding the 21st century international human rights concern. Though many human rights charities still market themselves as ‘neutral’ and ‘nonpartisan’, the reality is something very different. Below, we will detail a number of high-profile cases where these organisations are being used as public relations organs to further western foreign policy objectives. With public skepticism of the charity sector already at an all-time high, the danger is clear: if conflicts of interest are not addressed in a serious way, they threaten to undermine the credibility of the entire non-governmental organization (NGO) sector internationally.

One difficult aspect in analyzing this battle of ‘perception management’ is that there’s a real risk of wrongly demonising the entire NGO sector. The reality is that most human rights and aid organizations are staffed and run by good, hard-working and extremely well-educated individuals, many of whom carry out their roles with an altruistic heart and with the best of intentions. For the most part, many remain unaware or uninterested in who actually funds their organisations and what those financial strings mean in terms of the what a given organisation’s stance will be on any range of geopolitical issues or military conflicts. It’s certainly true that over the years, sincere and dedicated campaigning by organisations has helped to free individuals who where unjustly imprisoned and achieved due process and justice for the dispossessed. It’s also true that many of these same organizations have helped to raise awareness on many important social and environmental issues.

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