Fri, Feb 01, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Rights watchdog slams democracies for lax standards

WHO'S A DESPOT? The war on terror and dodgy elections are helping undermine human rights around the world, HRW claims in a new report


Authoritarian rulers are violating human rights around the world and getting away with it largely because the US, Europe and other established democracies accept their claims that holding elections makes them democratic, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its annual report yesterday.

By failing to demand that offenders honor their people's civil and political rights and other requirements of true democracy, Western democracies risk undermining human rights everywhere, the international rights watchdog said.

Still, Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch's executive director, wrote in a segment of the report called Despots Masquerading as Democrats: "It is a sign of hope that even dictators have come to believe that the route to legitimacy runs by way of democratic credentials."

Among countries named as major violators of their democratic credentials last year are Kenya, Pakistan, Bahrain, Jordan, Nigeria, Russia and Thailand. The report covered the year through November.

The annual report is the 18th compiled by HRW, founded in 1978 as Helsinki Watch's Europe and Central Asia divisions.

The report summarizes human rights shortcomings in more than 75 countries.

Among other countries listed as abusers are Chad, Colombia, Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Libya, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. It spoke of abuses by the US, France and Britain, along with Pakistan, in the name of the "war on terror."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other European leaders were criticized for their reluctance to allow Turkey to join the EU, despite its improved human rights record.

The report said the EU "lost leverage itself and diminished the clout of those in Turkey who have cited the prospect of EU membership as a reason for reform."

The emphasis, however, was the false democracies and the countries that enable them.

"It's now too easy for autocrats to get away with mounting a sham democracy," Roth said in a statement released with the survey. "That's because too many Western governments insist on elections and leave it at that."

Ignored are "the key human rights issues that make democracy function: a free press, peaceful assembly and a functioning civil society that can really challenge power," he said.

In the face of this, HRW said, "The United States and the European Union should ... demand they uphold rights guaranteed by international law, including a free media, freedom of assembly and a secret ballot."

"It seems Washington and European governments will accept even the most dubious election so long as the `victor' is a strategic or commercial ally," Roth said.

The report said some of the Western countries, including the US, have made it difficult to demand that offending governments honor human rights by committing abuses themselves in campaigning against terror.

"It is time to stop selling democracy on the cheap," the report said.

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