Nazi scandal engulfs Human Rights Watch





At the headquarters of Human Rights Watch, more than 30 storeys above the noise and bustle of Manhattan, there is so much high-mindedness hanging in the air you can almost taste it. This is the epicentre of a certain type of socially smart, progressive activism — the kind that persuades Hollywood grandees, power lawyers and liberal financiers to dig deeply into their pockets.

When the story broke that one of the organisation’s most prominent and vocal members of staff might be a collector of Nazi-era military memorabilia it felt like some sort of sexual scandal had erupted in the Victorian church. For a lobbying group accustomed to adulatory coverage in the media, it was a public-relations catastrophe....

Unlike Amnesty, HRW, as it is known, gets its money from charitable foundations and wealthy individuals — such as the financier George Soros — rather than a mass membership. And, also unlike Amnesty, it seeks to make an impact, not through extensive letter-writing campaigns, but by talking to governments and the media, urging openness and candour and backing up its advocacy with research reports. It is an association that is all about influence — an influence that depends on a carefully honed image of objectivity, expertise and high moral tone. So it was perhaps a little awkward that a key member of staff was found to have such a treasure trove of Nazi regalia.

By day, Marc Garlasco was HRW’s only military expert, the person that its Emergencies Division would send to conflict zones to investigate alleged war crimes. He wrote reports condemning the dropping of cluster bombs in the Russia-Georgia war, the alleged illegal use of white phosphorus by the Israeli army in Gaza and coalition tactics that he said “unnecessarily” put Iraqi or Afghan civilians at risk. An enthusiastic source of quotes for the media, he was incessantly on the phone to journalists.

But by night, Garlasco was “Flak88”, an obsessive contributor to internet forums on Third Reich memorabilia and an avid collector of badges and medals emblazoned with swastikas and eagles....

An interest in Nazi memorabilia does not necessarily suggest Nazi sympathies — but it is hardly likely to play well in the salons where Garlasco’s employer might solicit donations....


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