Billionaire financier and philanthropist, George Soros is to donate $100 million to Human Rights Watch (HRW) over the next ten years. ‘Human rights is a cause that I am deeply committed to and Human Rights Watch is an organisation that I know intimately and have very high regard for. And I support their plans for expansion,’ he told a BBC news programme last week. He wants to help it widen its support beyond the USA, since he believes that it is a disadvantage for the group to be primarily funded by Americans since the US ‘lost the high moral ground during the Bush administration’ in terms of advocacy for human rights. Plans call for Human Rights Watch to draw at least half its income and most of its board members from outside the US within five years. At present, about 70 per cent of its funding and 80 per cent of the board members come from the US.
According to Associated Press, HRW will be able to hire 120 more staffers and set up new offices in emerging powers like India and Brazil. The largest gift he has ever given to an NGO, it is to be paid out in ten $10 million yearly instalments and is conditional on HRW raising a further $100 million. It is apparently also the first in a series of large gifts he plans to make, partly, he says, due to age (he is now 80). ‘At first I wanted to distribute all of the money during my lifetime, but I have abandoned that plan,’ he told the Baltimore Sun (11 September). ‘I have concluded that my foundation should continue, but I still would like to do a lot of giving during my lifetime. Doing it this way, with such size, is a step in that direction.’
Not everyone has unreservedly applauded announcement of the gift, however. Israeli news website Arutz Sheva describes HRW as a ‘controversial’ group, alleging an anti-Israeli bias. It quotes former chairman of HRW Robert Bernstein writing in a New York Times article last October that ‘Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on [the Arab-Israeli] conflict’. Countering this, HRW itself says it looks at Israel through the same lens – and with the same intensity – as it does other countries. Only one of its nearly 300 staffers around the world is dedicated full-time to Israel, Executive Director Kenneth Roth said.