06 February 2008

Democracy charade

Human Rights Watch has recently published their annual World Report, with extensive reviews on human rights practices around the globe

On this issue, and in an essay called "Despots Masquerading as Democrats", Kenneth Roth, executive director of the organization, focuses on the breach and disrespect for Democracy and Human Rights by Autocratic regimes, which are legitimised and supported by Western governments (such as the ones of the US and the EU) because of their interests in "resources, commercial opportunities, and short-sighted visions of security."

According to the report, "democracy has become the sine qua non of legitimacy", which makes that "even overt dictators aspire to the status conferred by the democracy label". These rulers have therefore "mastered the art of democratic rhetoric that bears little relationship to their practice of governing. (...) Electoral fraud, political violence, press censorship, repression of civil society, even military rule have all been used to curtail the prospect that the proclaimed process of democratization might actually lead to a popular say in government."

Kenneth Roth attributes part of the reason why this is possible to the fact that, unlike international human rights law, “democracy” has no legally established definition. "There is no International Convention on Democracy, no widely ratified treaty affirming how a government must behave to earn the democracy label. The meaning of democracy lies too much in the eye of the beholder." This allows tyrants to be ("with a bit of maneuvering") labelled as "democrats", without having the need to comply with international human rights laws.

"The problem is compounded by inconsistency in promoting democracy—a long-standing problem. These days, for example, the US government’s vigorous criticism of democratic shortcomings tends to be reserved mainly for long-time adversaries or pariahs, such as Syria, Burma or Cuba. Washington has largely exempted such allies as Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, or Ethiopia, while its short-lived pressure on others, such as Egypt or Jordan, has waned. (...) This obvious double standard makes the promotion of democracy seem like an act of political convenience rather than a commitment of principle, weakening the pressure for real democratic change."

The report also promotes the recapture of the ideal of Democracy, central to the Human Rights cause, yet so susceptible of being manipulated. This thus requires " heightened attention to the clever subterfuges of its detractors."

"It is time to stop selling democracy on the cheap and to start substituting a broader and more meaningful vision of the concept that incorporates all human rights."

World Report 2008, Human Rights Watch
Despots Masquerading as Democrats, Human Rights Watch

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