22 JUNE 2002, Page 31

From Mr Steve Crawshaw Sir: Blimey. And there was me

thinking that Human Rights Watch, which I joined recently as London director, could be proud of its record in speaking out against regimes behaving badly all over the world, including many occasions when Western governments have been eager to look the other way. As Neil Clark acknowledges, Vaclav Havel is among those who have offered testimonials to the organisation's work.

Now, however, I discover that this is all part of a cunning plot. If, as Neil Clark suggests, the organisation is a Trojan horse for its alleged paymasters in the US establishment, then perhaps somebody should tell the State Department, CIA or whoever that they are not getting very good value for money, as a glance at HRW's often stinging reports (www.hrw.org) would show.

In fact, HRW — like Amnesty International — never takes government money, precisely in order to feel free to criticise. Neil Clark argues that human rights are a relative matter — an imperialist invention, in effect. It is a curious thesis, best formulated in the comfort of an armchair. Perhaps he can point to the country where victims of torture and political violence regard these things as a quaint local custom which foreigners fail to understand; I have not yet found such a country.

Steve Crawshaw

Human Rights Watch, London Ni