The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Lebanon-based Palestinian Organization for Human Rights (PHRO) recently submitted an unprecedented joint statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council in advance of its special session on the war in Israel and Lebanon. The statement was notable for condemning not only Israeli attacks on civilians in Lebanon, but also Hezbollah’s targeting of civilians. Human Rights Watch has long made it a priority to combat the pervasive culture of acceptance for attacks against civilians committed by insurgent groups in the Middle East. However, rather than simply denouncing such attacks ourselves (which we have done as well in numerous press releases, reports, and op-eds), we engage in substantive discussions with Palestinian opinion leaders, encouraging them to publicly speak out against the targeting of civilians.
In fact, CIHRS was the site of group meetings that we convened earlier this year, and we met in Beirut with the PHRO just a week before the war started. Our raising the issue may have encouraged these groups to denounce Israeli and Hezbollah attacks alike. A few years ago, this sort of statement would likely have referenced only Israeli crimes and violations. We will continue to push influential community leaders to criticize the targeting of civilians with the hope that insurgent groups will be moved to change their tactics, ultimately resulting in fewer attacks on civilians in the region.