Thursday, January 31, 2008

HRW Report: 'Truth, Justice' and 'American Way' Mutually Exclusive


The US government supports making the world safe for democracy as long as democracies make the world safe for American imperialism.

In the newly released World Report 2008, Human Rights Watch has found that established Western democracies (mostly the US and EU) have been "accepting flawed and unfair elections for political expediency," explaining that, "by allowing autocrats to pose as democrats, without demanding they uphold the civil and political rights that make democracy meaningful, the United States, the European Union and other influential democracies risk undermining human rights worldwide."

An introduction on the HRW website continues:

States claiming the mantle of democracy, including Kenya and Pakistan, should guarantee the human rights that are central to it, including the rights to free expression, assembly and association, as well as free and fair elections. But in 2007 too many governments, including Bahrain, Jordan, Nigeria, Russia and Thailand, acted as if simply holding a vote is enough to prove a nation “democratic,” and Washington, Brussels and European capitals played along, Human Rights Watch said. The Bush administration has spoken of its commitment to democracy abroad but often kept silent about the need for all governments to respect human rights.

“It’s now too easy for autocrats to get away with mounting a sham democracy,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “That’s because too many Western governments insist on elections and leave it at that. They don’t press governments on the key human rights issues that make democracy function – a free press, peaceful assembly, and a functioning civil society that can really challenge power.”

In its World Report 2008, Human Rights Watch surveys the human rights situation in more than 75 countries. Human Rights Watch identified many human rights challenges in need of attention, including atrocities in Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia’s Ogaden region, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Sudan’s Darfur region, as well as closed societies or severe repression in Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. Abuses in the “war on terror” featured in France, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, among others.

Grave human rights abuses are fueling the worsening humanitarian crisis in Somalia and the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia. “The situation in Somalia and Ethiopia’s Ogaden region, where millions are suffering, is a forgotten tragedy,” said Roth.

Sudan’s government bears principal responsibility for five years of the Darfur crisis, Human Rights Watch said. Some 2.4 million people are displaced, and 4 million people survive on humanitarian aid. In the last weeks, villages in West Darfur have been attacked, and civilians are at great risk as all sides ignore international humanitarian law.

Burma’s military government, notorious for decades of abuse, used deadly force in August and September in response to peaceful protests by monks, pro-democracy activists, and ordinary civilians. Hundreds of people remain arbitrarily detained.

In Sri Lanka, heavy fighting between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and government forces led to deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Hundreds of people have “disappeared,” and more than 20,000 have been displaced.

Israel’s blockade of Gaza denies 1.4 million residents the food, fuel and medicine they need to survive, a collective punishment that violates international law. Palestinian armed groups continue to launch indiscriminate rocket attacks on populated areas of Israel in violation of international law.

Human Rights Watch said sustained international pressure around the 2008 Olympic Games could push Chinese leaders to better respect human rights in China. But Human Rights Watch warned that the staging of the Olympics is exacerbating problems of forced evictions, migrant labor rights abuses, and the use of house arrests to silence dissidents. The Chinese government is cracking down on lawyers and human rights activists.

“The 2008 Olympics are an historic opportunity for the Chinese government to show the world that it can make human rights a reality for its 1.3 billion citizens,” said Roth.

US abuses against so-called “war on terror” detainees are a major concern; 275 detainees are still held at Guantanamo Bay without charge. Some of those remain after being cleared by the United States for release, because they cannot be sent home and no country will resettle them.

The United States continues to have the highest incarceration rate in the world, with black men incarcerated at more than six times the rate of white men.

Human Rights Watch has documented a number of elections manipulated through: outright fraud (Chad, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Uzbekistan); control of electoral machinery (Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Malaysia, Thailand, Zimbabwe); blocking or discouraging opposition candidates (Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Libya, Turkmenistan, Uganda); political violence (Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Lebanon); stifling the media and civil society (Russia, Tunisia); and undermining the rule of law (China, Pakistan).

Many of these tactics are illegal under domestic and international law, but rarely do outside powers call governments to account for it. Human Rights Watch said established democracies are often unwilling to do so for fear of losing access to resources or commercial opportunities, or because of the perceived requirements of fighting terrorism.

Human Rights Watch said the United States and the European Union should insist governments do more than hold a vote, and 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 United States and some allies have made it harder to demand other governments uphold human rights when they are committing abuses in the fight against terrorism. And when autocratic governments deflect criticism for violating human rights by pretending to be democrats, the global defense of rights is jeopardized, Human Rights Watch said.

In Pakistan, where President Pervez Musharraf has tilted the electoral playing field by rewriting the constitution and firing the independent judiciary, parliamentary elections are due in February. But the United States and Britain, Islamabad’s largest aid donors, have refused to condition assistance to the government on improving pre-electoral conditions.

In Kenya, the United States has at least expressed concern about the apparent rigging of December’s presidential poll and the violence that to date has claimed more than 700 lives. But having accepted the results of oil-rich Nigeria’s February 2007 vote, despite widespread and credible accusations of poll-rigging and electoral violence, Washington left the impression in Nairobi that fraud would be tolerated. It has not even threatened to withhold aid to push the government to negotiate with the opposition.

Nigeria’s leader came to power in a violent and fraudulent vote, yet he’s been accepted on the international stage,” said Roth. “It’s no wonder Kenya’s president felt able to rig his re-election.”

Bizarrely, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is supposed to promote democracy, human rights, and security, agreed to give its chair in 2010 to Kazakhstan, which has vast oil and gas reserves coveted by both the EU and Russia. The OSCE decision came after the Kazakh ruling party “won” every seat in August parliamentary elections, in which, according to the OSCE’s own monitors, the media was censored, the opposition suppressed, and the counting flawed.

Human Rights Watch noted positive developments in holding abusive leaders to account. Alberto Fujimori and Charles Taylor, the former presidents of Peru and Liberia, are on trial for human rights abuses. The International Criminal Court holds its first trial in May.

The World Report 2008 includes essays on China’s foreign policy; how activists helped create the Yogyakarta Principles for gay rights; the scourge of violence against children at school, in the home, on the streets and in institutions; and the British government’s erosion of the torture ban through “diplomatic assurances” against ill-treatment.

Click here for the full report.


HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth, a BBC News article reports, "said it had become too easy for autocrats to get away with mounting a sham democracy 'because too many Western governments insist on elections and leave it at that.'"
'They don't press governments on 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 added.
The BBC article continues, "HRW said the West was often unwilling to criticise the autocrats for fear of losing access to resources or commercial opportunities, or because of the perceived requirements of fighting terrorism.
'It seems Washington and European governments will accept even the most dubious election so long as the 'victor' is a strategic or commercial ally,' Mr Roth said.

Aid donors

HRW highlighted Pakistan as an example.

It said the US and UK, its largest aid donors, had refused to distance themselves from President Pervez Musharraf, despite his "tilting the electoral playing field" by rewriting the constitution and firing the independent judiciary ahead of February's election.

It also argued that Washington's acceptance of the result of the Nigerian election in February 2007, "despite widespread and credible accusations of poll-rigging and electoral violence", had encouraged the Kenyan government to believe that fraud would be tolerated in December's presidential poll.

And it said the US and some allies like Britain and France had made it harder to demand other countries uphold human rights by committing abuses themselves in the "war on terror".

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

HRW 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".


Among the countries where the watchdog said human rights atrocities had been committed were Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Sudan.

Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam were criticised for severe repression and closed societies.

When asked about the claims made by HRW, US state department spokesman Sean McCormack said he had not seen the report, but insisted his country did not promote false democracy and condone human rights abuses.

"In terms of the United States and this administration speaking up in defence of, and advocating for, and putting its effort behind its rhetoric, I don't think there's any question about where we stand in terms of promotion of democracy," he told reporters.

EU Under Fire Over Human Rights

The EU is neglecting human rights in favour of securing trade deals or co-operation on anti-terror measures, a human rights group has said.
In its annual report, Human Rights Watch said the UK in particular was ignoring abuses in Russia and Saudi Arabia to secure business contracts.

And it accused the US of having a deliberate strategy of abusing terror suspects during interrogation.

The US dismissed the report as "based more on a political agenda than facts".

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the United States did "more than any country in the world to advance freedom and promote human rights".

"We have liberated 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq, people that lived under oppressive, brutal regimes, and now they are living in freedom and they have human rights that previously they were denied," he said.
He said Human Rights Watch (HRW) should focus on countries that violate and deny people their liberties, not on the US.

There has been little public reaction to the report from European governments.

'Hollow denials'

The rights group said before Mr McClellan spoke that White House reassurances that it does not torture should not be believed.

President George W Bush "continues to offer deceptive reassurances that the United States does not 'torture' suspects, but that reassurance rang hollow", the report said.
The country's resulting lack of credibility on human rights issues left "a global leadership void when it came to defending human rights".

The 544-page annual report said 2005 was marked by a "continuing tendency to subordinate human rights to various economic and political interests".

The group said there was an "unseemly competition" between leaders from the UK, France and Germany to proclaim the closeness of their relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite human rights concerns in Chechnya.

The EU also "utterly failed" to tackle the US on its "practice of 'disappearing' terrorist suspects", HRW said.

It singled out France and Germany for pressing to lift the EU arms embargo on China despite a lack of progress on holding accountable those responsible for the crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Meanwhile, the UK has been pressing hard for Saudi Arabia to buy arms from British manufacturers "while remaining silent on the kingdom's abysmal human rights record", the report said.

In its look at other countries, HRW said:
* The situation in Iraq has deteriorated significantly through the actions of anti-US insurgents and US-led international and Iraqi forces. The group said it was particularly concerned about "the absence of basic precautions by the US military to protect civilians"

* Pakistani President Gen Pervez Musharraf has neglected the rights of women and religious minorities since he came to power in 1999, political opponents are arbitrarily detained, and news media are intimidated and harassed

* China has made progress but remains a one-party state that "leads the world in executions... and represses minorities"

* In Nepal, government forces and Maoist rebels "continue to engage in serious violations of international humanitarian law"

* North Korea continues to be one of the most repressive countries in the world, with its citizens lacking even basic civil freedoms

* India drew praise for halting weapons sales to Nepal after a royal seizure of power, and Kyrgyzstan was lauded for rescuing about 400 people from Uzbekistan after a government crackdown in Andjian.

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