- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2008

Human Rights Watch, in its annual report released yesterday, accused the United States and other Western powers of allowing autocratic governments to pose as democracies for reasons of political and strategic expediency.

By refusing to speak out about phony elections and restrictions on basic freedoms, the established democracies are undermining human rights around the world, said the report by the world’s largest human rights organization.

“Democracy has come to be seen as the key to legitimacy, and so you find autocrats and tyrants and dictators around the world desperately trying to pose as democrats,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said at a press conference in Washington.

He said in a formal statement released earlier, “It seems Washington and European governments will accept even the most dubious election so long as the ‘victor’ is a strategic or commercial ally.”

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to comment on the report before its release, but discussed the states of democracy in two oil-rich U.S. allies mentioned in the report: Nigeria and Kazakhstan.

“Both of these countries have unique challenges in terms of where they stand along the pathway to a driving, stable, vibrant democracy,” he said.

“In terms of the United States and this administration … putting its effort behind its rhetoric, I do not think there’s any question about where we stand in terms of promotion of democracy, whether it’s in Kazakhstan or Nigeria or anywhere else around the world,” he said.

“We’re matching our values with our power. And we advocate using all elements of our national power for the advancement of freedom and democracy around the world.”

Anthony Smallwood, the spokesman for the EU Commission delegation in Washington, said the European Union has every reason to be proud of its priority to human rights and has never backed away from the human rights dialogue.

He noted that EU actions depend on the situation and said different strategies are used for the political and human rights dialogue, even if not everyone agrees with them.

The Human Rights Watch report examined aspects of the political and social life and human rights in more than 75 countries, including the U.S. and major European powers.

However a major focus was on the growing tendency of governments to claim democratic values while failing to put them into practice.

Some rulers establish autocratic regimes gradually by controlling the press and banning civil organizations, such as in Russia, Venezuela, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates, the report said.

Azerbaijan, Malaysia, Thailand and Russia hold elections but intervene directly to control the process, it said. Belarus, Cuba, Egypt and Turkmenistan prevent opposition parties from competing fairly.

The report said violence had been used to influence the outcomes of elections in Cambodia, Chechnya, Lebanon and Ethiopia, while outright fraud was used in Kazakhstan, Nigeria and Chad.

The United States and Europe, the report said, are often unwilling to call these governments into account because they do not want to lose access to natural resources and commercial opportunities in those countries, or because the countries are helping in the war on terror.

“We find repeatedly that Western governments are much more willing to tolerate on compromised democracy when the autocrat in question has oil to sell, has commercial contracts that are available or putting himself forward as an important partner in fighting terrorism. These other interests always tend to dominate, and democracy is given the back seat,” Mr. Roth said.

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