Saturday, February 02, 2008

Voting alone does not make a country a democracy

The promotion of democracy as a foreign policy goal is nothing new for the United States and neither is the convenient fiction that a particular authoritarian government is democratic when it is not but the existence of that government serves other interests. This was especially true during the Cold War and is a legacy that remains with us today.

It is also a policy that can be short-sighted as was evident in the U.S. support of the Shah of Iran or the present day support of Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan. And the corruption of democratic practices such as elections has very serious repercussions such as the outbreak of violence in Kenya proves.

Human Rights Watch has issued their annual report and calls the United States and the European Union to task for “allowing autocrats to pose as democrats” without guarantees of civil liberties and political rights. This is from their press release:

The established democracies are accepting flawed and unfair elections for political expediency, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2008. 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.

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.”


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.”

1 comment:

Comrade Kevin said...

Right. Thus is the fear we face.

We cannot continue to paradoxically set a policy of Democracy here while doing nothing to promote it in other countries. We are experts at "do as I say, not as I do".