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West Taken to Task

DW staff (kjb)January 31, 2008

Human rights are in danger because established democracies are accepting unfair elections in other countries, Human Rights Watch said in its annual report. China, Turkey and the US were also reprimanded by the group.

Russian elections
There's more to democracy than just free elections, said Human Rights WatchImage: AP

In a report released on Thursday, Jan. 31, Human Rights Watch chastised Europe and the US for tolerating unjust elections this past year in places including Russia, Jordan and Nigeria.

"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 New York-based rights group said in its annual report.

Fair elections are not the only essential component to democracy, said HRW, adding that a free press, freedom of assembly and free speech are also crucial.

The European Union's stance on Russia received special condemnation from the human right's group, which said the 27-member bloc put political ties with an important energy supplier ahead of a responsibility to address Moscow's human rights' record.

Soldiers prepare a polling station in Podolsk, outside Moscow, 01 December 2007.
The EU should have taken a much harder line with Russia, the NGO saidImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

"Human rights did not figure prominently in the broader EU-Russia agenda," the report said. "Although the German EU presidency raised human rights issues at the May EU-Russia summit ... this stance was compromised by subsequent statements made by the Portuguese presidency equating the raising of human rights issues with inappropriate 'lecturing.'"

Bad news for EU hopeful

Turkey was taken to task in the report for violating free speech. The country has begun accession talks with the European Union, but human rights remain a key issue in the discussion.

"The criminalization of speech remains a key obstacle to the protection of human rights in Turkey, contributing to an atmosphere of intolerance that assumed violent proportions in 2007," the report said.

HRW recalled the ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was shot dead in Istanbul in January last year after labeling as genocide the World War I massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

Pre-Olympic slip

Demonstrators for free press
China hasn't kept its promise to improve human rights before the OlympicsImage: AP

In the global spotlight ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games, host country China has promised to improve the human rights situation within its borders. Instead, preparations have only led to more violations, said HRW, including evictions of residents for Olympic construction, abysmal work conditions and tighter restrictions on government critics.

"Official efforts to rid Beijing of undesirables ahead of the Olympics have accelerated the eviction of petitioners -- citizens from the countryside who come to the capital seeking redress for grievances ranging from illegal land seizures to official corruption," said the report.

HRW Director Kenneth Roth on Thursday urged the world to put pressure on China to ameliorate the situation before the Games.

"The Olympics are a 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.

The anti-terror campaign

US flag and barbed wire
The US was accused of holding prisoners without trial at Guantanamo BayImage: AP

Not only the US, but also France, Pakistan and Great Britain were criticized by HRW for breaching human rights in the name of the "war on terror." The American prison in Cuba came under fire, in particular.

"There is no evidence of progress concerning the treatment of so-called enemy combatants, including those held at Guantanamo Bay, or the use of secret detention facilities" in foreign countries, the report said.

HRW estimated that 275 people are still imprisoned at the Guantanamo Bay camp and that another 39 are currently being held by in secret US detention facilities.

In all, more than 75 countries were admonished in the report for their human rights situation. Among the countries with the most atrocities were Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Iraq, and the Sudanese region of Darfur.

Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam were named as being closed societies or under severe repression.