NEW YORK (AFP) — Europe and the United States increasingly tolerate autocrats posing as democrats out of pure self-interest, in countries such as Pakistan, Kenya, Nigeria and Russia, as human right abuses go on, Human Rights Watch charged Thursday.
"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," the rights watchdog warned in a statement on releasing its World Report 2008.
Countries including Kenya and Pakistan must guarantee the human rights central to democracy -- not just profess to be democrats, the group said.
"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 argued, adding that the current US administration has not pushed 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."
Roth also said countries should boost pressure on China around the 2008 Olympic Games to improve respect for human rights. HRW said the Games were "exacerbating problems of forced evictions, migrant labor rights abuses, and the use of house arrests to silence dissidents."
"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 1.4 billion citizens," said Roth.
Separately in its World Report 2008, HRW reviewed rights situations in more than 75 countries, identifying many troubling cases such as atrocities in Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia's Ogaden region, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Sudan's Darfur region.
The report also voiced concern at closed societies or severe repression in Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.
Meanwhile HRW slammed abuses in the "war on terror" in France, Pakistan, Britain and the United States.
HRW deemed US abuses against so-called "war on terror" detainees "a major concern." It said 275 detainees are still held at Guantanamo Bay without charge. "Others remain after being cleared by the United States for release, because they cannot be sent home and no country will resettle them," the HRW statement said.
The United States still has the highest incarceration rate worldwide, with black men incarcerated at more than six times the rate of white men, HRW noted.
The report cited what it called "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)."
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