Washington weaponizes pseudo-academic ‘human rights’ groups as a foreign policy By Glenn Diesen, Professor at the University of South-Eastern Norway and an editor at the Russia in Global Affairs journal.FILE PHOTO: Security forces take measures as protesters gather to stage protest against ‘transparency of foreign influence’ bill during voting near Georgian Parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia on May 14, 2024. © Davit Kachkachishvili / Anadolu via Getty Images

In the West, and beyond, pressure groups operating under the banner of “human rights non-governmental organizations” (NGOs) have become key actors in disseminating war propaganda, intimidating academics, and corrupting civil society. These outfits act as gatekeepers determining which voices should be elevated and which should be censored and canceled.

Civil society is imperative to balance the power of the state, but governments are increasingly seeking to hijack it through NGOs they fund. They can enable a loud minority to override a silent majority.

In the 1980s, the Reagan doctrine exacerbated the problem as these “human rights NGOs” were financed by the government and staffed by people with ties to intelligence agencies, to ensure civil society won’t deviate significantly from government policies.

The ability of academics to speak openly and honestly is restricted by these gatekeepers. In a case in pointtoday, NGOs limit dissent in academic debates about the great power rivalry in Ukraine. Well-documented and proven facts that are imperative to understanding the conflict are simply not reported in the media, and any efforts to address these facts are confronted with vague accusations of being “controversial” or “pro-Russian,” a transgression that must be punished with intimidation, censorship, and cancellation.

I will outline here first my personal experiences with one of these NGOs, and how they are hijacking civil society.

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My Encounter with the Norwegian Helsinki Committee

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is financed by the US government and CIA-cutout the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). They regularly publish hit pieces about me and rarely miss their weekly tweets that label me a propagandist for Russia. It is always name-calling and smearing, rather than anything that can be considered coherent argument.

The standard formula for cancellation is to shame my university in every article and tweet for allowing academic freedom, with the implicit offer of redemption by terminating my employment as a professor. Peak absurdity occurred with a seven-page article in a newspaper in which it was argued I’d violated international law by spreading war propaganda. They grudgingly had to admit that I have opposed the war from day one, although for a professor in Russian politics to engage with Russian media allegedly made me complicit in spreading war propaganda.

Every single time I am invited to give a speech at any event, this NGO will appear to publicly shame and pressure the organizers to cancel my invitation. The organization also openly attempts to incite academics to rally against me to strengthen their case for censorship in a trial of public opinion. Besides whipping up hatred in the media by labeling me a propagandist for Russia, they incite anonymous online troll armies such as “NAFO” to cancel me online and in the real world. After subsequent intimidations through social media, emails, SMS and phone calls, the police advised me to remove my home address and phone number from public access. One of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee recently posted a sale ad for my house, which included photos of my home with my address for their social media followers.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee also infiltrates and corrupts other institutions. One of the more eager Helsinki Committee employees is also a board member at the Norwegian organization for non-fictional authors and translators (NFFO) and used his position there to cancel the organization’s co-hosting of an event, as I had been invited to speak. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is also overrepresented on the Nobel Committee, to ensure the right candidates are picked.

Why would a humanitarian NGO act like modern Brownshirts by limiting academic freedom? One could similarly ask why a human rights NGO spends more effort on demonizing Julian Assange rather than exploring the human-rights abuses he exposed.

This “human rights NGO” is devoted primarily to addressing abuses in the East. Subsequently, all great power politics is framed as a competition between good values versus bad ones Constructing stereotypes for the in-group versus the out-groups as a conflict between good and evil is a key component of political propaganda. The complexity of security competition between the great powers is dumbed down and propagandized as a mere struggle between liberal democracy versus authoritarianism. Furthermore, they rest on the source credibility of being “non-governmental” and merely devoted to human rights, which increases the effectiveness of their messaging.

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By framing the world as a conflict between good and evil, mutual understanding and compromise are tantamount to appeasement while peace is achieved by defeating enemies. Thus, these “human rights NGOs” call for confrontation and escalation against whoever is the most recent reincarnation of Hitler, while the people calling for diplomacy are denounced and censored as traitors.

NGOs Hijacking Civil Society

After the Second World War, American intelligence agencies took on a profound role in manipulating civil society in Europe. The intelligence agencies were embarrassed when they were caught, and the solution was to hide in plain sight.

The Reagan Doctrine entailed setting up NGOs that would openly interfere in the civil society of other states under the guise of supporting human rights. The well-documented objective was to conceal influence operations by US intelligence. The “non-governmental” aspect of the NGOs is fraudulent as they are almost completely funded by states and staffed with people connected to the intelligence community. Case in point, during Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” in 2004, an anti-corruption protest was transformed into a pro-NATO/anti-Russian government. The head of the influential NGO Freedom House in Ukraine was the former Director of the CIA.

Reagan himself gave the inauguration speech when he established the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in 1983. The Washington Post has called NED the “sugar daddy of overt operations” and “what used to be called ‘propaganda’ and can now simply be called ‘information’.” Documents released reveal that NED cooperated closely with CIA propaganda initiatives. Allen Weinstein, a cofounder of NED, acknowledged: “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” Philip Agee, a CIA whistle-blower, explained that NED was established as a “propaganda and inducement program” to subvert foreign nations and style it as a democracy promotion initiative. NED also finances the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

The NGOs enable a loud Western-backed minority to marginalize a silent majority, and then sell it as “democracy.” Protests can therefore legitimize the overthrow of elected governments. The Guardian referred to the Ukrainian Orange Revolution in 2004 as “an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in Western branding and mass marketing” for the purpose of “winning other people’s elections.” Another article by the Guardian labeled the Orange Revolution as a “postmodern coup d’état” and a “CIA-sponsored third world uprising of cold war days, adapted to post-Soviet conditions.” A similar regime-change operation was repeated in Ukraine in 2014 to mobilize Ukrainian civil society against their government, resulting in overthrowing the democratically elected government against the will of the majority of Ukrainians. The NGOs branded it a “democratic revolution” and was followed by Washington asserting its dominance over key levers of power in Kiev.

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Similar operations were also launched against Georgia. The NGOs staged Georgia’s “Rose Revolution” in 2003 which eventually resulted in war with Russia after the new authorities in Tbilisi attacked South Ossetia. Recently, the Prime Minister of Georgia cautioned that the US was yet again using NGOs in an effort to topple the government to use his country as a second front against Russia. Georgia’s democratically elected parliament passed a law with an overwhelming majority (83 in favor vs 23 against), for greater transparency over their funding. Unsurprisingly, the West decided that transparency over funding of its pressure groups was undemocratic, and it was labeled a “Russian law.” The Western public was fed footage of protests for democratic credibility, and they were reassured that the Georgian Prime Minister was merely a Russian puppet. The US and EU subsequently responded by threatening Georgia with sanctions in the name of “supporting” Georgia’s civil society.

Defending Civil Society

Society rests on three legs – the government, the market and civil society. Initially, the free market was seen as the main instrument to elevate the freedom of the individual from government. Yet, as immense power concentrated in large industries in the late 19th century, some liberals looked to the government as an ally to limit the power of large corporations. The challenge of our time is that government and corporate interests go increasingly hand-in-hand, which only intensifies with the rise of the tech giants. This makes it much more difficult for civil society to operate independently. The universities should therefore remain a bastion of freedom and not be policed by fake NGOs. (RT)