Thursday January 31, 2008
Courtesy Of The Guardian
The US, UK and other western nations are ignoring flawed or rigged elections in some countries for the sake of political convenience, Human Rights Watch charged today in its annual round-up of rights abuses around the world.
While publicly espousing the cause of democracy, Washington, London and others were happy to deal closely with "despots masquerading as democrats" such as Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, Russia's Vladimir Putin and the Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak, the US-based group said.
Separately, HRW singled out the UK government as a concern for its policy of deporting terrorism suspects to countries with repressive regimes if assurances are given the detainees will not be tortured or otherwise mistreated.
This "handy device" had now been borrowed by the US to justify renditions, while Russia and other nations were also happily trying it out, the group said.
The report detailed human rights abuses in more than 75 countries and territories, covering perennial rights pariahs such as North Korea, Burma and China as well as the US and EU.
It additionally criticised Israel for blockading Gaza in response to rocket attacks, describing this as "collective punishment of Gaza's civilian population in violation of international humanitarian law".
But HRW's primary target this year was what it views as the hypocrisy of western nations condemning democratic violations only when expedient.
"Rarely has democracy been so acclaimed yet so breached, so promoted yet so disrespected, so important yet so disappointing," HRW's executive director, Kenneth Roth, said in an introduction to the 569-page document.
This "pseudo democracy" had seen leaders in countries such as Egypt, Nigeria and Ethiopia recognised abroad for their popular mandates despite elections plagued by fraud, intimidation or other flaws.
"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, calling the promotion of democracy "a softer and fuzzier alternative to defending human rights."
President Bush had even praised Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, for placing Pakistan "on the road to democracy", Roth noted.
"If, unlike human rights law, 'the road to democracy' permits locking up political opponents, dismissing independent judges, and silencing the independent press, it is easy to see why tyrants the world over are tempted to believe that they, too, might be eligible," he said.
In Africa, Roth said, the current violence in Kenya prompted by the seemingly rigged election on December 27, which returned President Mwai Kibaki to power, could be traced back to overseas reluctance to challenge a similarly flawed poll in Nigeria 10 months earlier.
"Nigeria's leader came to power in a violent and fraudulent vote, yet he has been accepted on the international stage. It's no wonder Kenya's president felt able to rig his re-election," he said.
In a separate section of the report, HRW castigated the UK for its pioneering policy of allowing terrorism suspects to be transferred to the care of brutal regimes on receipt of what the group termed "empty promises of humane treatment".
"The fact that promises of humane treatment from state torturers are inherently untrustworthy and have not worked in a number of cases does not seem to bother London," it said.
"The goal is to deport terrorism suspects, no matter what - and if brokering unreliable, unenforceable agreements with states that torture is what it takes, then so be it."
The UK had sought such assurances from "a veritable A-list of abusive regimes", among them Algeria, Egypt and Libya, HRW said, with other countries now following its lead.
Russia, the report noted, happily accepted such diplomatic assurances from Uzbekistan, "a notorious practitioner of torture".
Human rights in the UK
Human Rights Act 1998
European court of human rights
Lord Chancellor's office
UN high commissioner for human rights