The Arab Spring has once again raised pressing questions about the effectiveness of international human rights organizations. Along with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and Western powers, these organizations are being increasingly castigated for their failure to stop violence in the Middle East-North Africa region generally, and in Syria in particular.
Despite the nobility of their cause, Western human rights organizations are losing legitimacy because they fail to assess the repercussions of their call to Western powers to take immediate action against human rights violations. All too often the response of Western powers is military intervention. This usually results in more of the loss of life and human rights abuses that the organizations were trying to prevent in the first place. Moreover, the goals of the human rights organizations are widely seen as synonymous with the agenda of the Western powers—regime change, securing a supply of oil, maintaining security of Israel and restraining terrorism in the region. This does not bode well for human rights organizations that need credibility to do effective work. The best way for these organizations to avoid being seen as handmaidens to Western governments is to anticipate how their findings will be used and do detailed cost-benefit calculations and to reform the UNSC.