Letter to Harvard University on vetoing the appointment of the former director of Human Rights Watch

January 10, 2023

Mr. Lawrence Bekov

the president

Harvard University

Massachusetts Hall

Cambridge, MA 02138 USA

By e-mail

Mr. President,

I am writing on behalf of Human Rights Watch to express our dismay at the decision by Douglas Elmendorf, dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, to refuse to hire Kenneth Roth, the former executive director of Human Rights Watch. Carr is a lecturer at the Center for Human Rights Policy Studies. Dean Elmendorf vetoed the appointment because of Mr. Roth and Human Rights Watch’s criticism of human rights abuses by the Israeli government, according to press reports, which neither Dean Elmendorf nor a school spokesman denied.

According to the Associated Press, Kathryn Sikkink, professor emeritus of human rights policy at the Kennedy School, said Dean Elmendorf told her that they “ Human Rights Watch and Kenneth Roth would not approve of this position because of their anti-Israel bias. “. Carr Center Director Mathias Risse said in a statement to the Center community, obtained by The Associated Press, that the school’s decision to veto Kenneth Roth’s tenure “ an episode of deep grief “.

The decision by Harvard University, one of the world’s most respected academic institutions, to block the appointment of a prominent human rights activist to a human rights post because of his criticism of the Israeli government will have a lasting impact among academics and scholars alike. Activists, especially among Palestinians, should not fear professional influence from Harvard University or any other institution if they speak out or criticize the Israeli government. More profoundly, to veto Mr. Roth’s commitment to important work on a particular country is to send a chilling message to all scholars and advocates, regardless of region, that Harvard University can judge them. not because of the quality of their work, but rather according to well-funded critics.

Unfortunately, Dean Elmendorf’s decision undermines Harvard’s Kennedy School’s diversity statement, which reads: The Kennedy School actively promotes and maintains an environment conducive to new ideas, even if they are unpopular and controversial, encouraging effective and robust exchange of ideas in an environment of mutual respect. »

Human Rights Watch investigates and documents human rights violations in more than 100 countries around the world. In situations of armed conflict, we document violations of international humanitarian law by states and non-state armed groups. In Israel and Palestine, as in all other contexts in which we work, we follow a rigorous methodology to investigate the facts on the ground and document serious human rights violations committed by various actors.

In 2021, Human Rights Watch concluded in a 213-page report that Israeli authorities are committing crimes against humanity, such as apartheid and persecution, as defined by international law against millions of Palestinians. , including prominent Israeli human rights organizations B’Tselem and Yesh Din, as well as Amnesty International, several United Nations mechanisms, and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. Other prominent voices, including former director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Govts South Africa and the foreign ministers of Namibia Luxembourg and France also mentioned apartheid when discussing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

The Kennedy School’s decision to deny access to the Carr Center because of Mr. Roth’s work will undoubtedly affect academic freedom throughout Harvard University. Left unchecked, it has the potential to tarnish Harvard’s prestigious reputation around the world. I urge you to reconsider this decision and take the necessary steps to protect the values ​​of academic freedom.

I am ready to discuss these issues with you.

Mr. President, please accept my highest respect.

Tirana Hasan

Acting Executive Director

cc: Claudine Gay, next president of Harvard University

Douglas Elmendorf, dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government

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