Freedom House report highlights how Western interests mask human rights abuses

Strategically or economically important countries are frequently evading the opprobrium of the West despite their contempt for democracy

A report released today by democracy watchdog Freedom House highlights the hypocrisy of the democratic world in condemning human rights abuses.

It will be of little surprise to many that Freedom in the World 2015 points out that countries that are resource-rich, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, or are involved in cooperating with the West on security matters, like Egypt and Azerbaijan, receive special treatment and largely escape press attention when they breach the freedoms of their citizens.

The report made special mention of the situation in Azerbaijan, where Ilham Aliyev’s government has recently stepped up its crackdown on human rights activists and journalists. In 2013 Aliyev’s landslide reelection victory was flagged as irregular by Amnesty International, with reports of election monitors and opposition activists being jailed. Furthermore the Central Electoral Commission suggested that the result had been manipulated.

However, Azerbaijan’s proven reserves of crude oil were estimated at 7 billion barrels in January 2014, and it is growing in importance as an exporter of natural gas. Furthermore, the country sided with the US against Russia on a 2012 resolution condemning Syria, making it specially placed for the West:

“Despite year after year of declines in political rights and civil liberties, however, Azerbaijan has avoided the democratic world’s opprobrium due to its energy wealth and cooperation on security matters.”

Ratings for the oil-rich Central Asian region as a whole are the second worst in the world after the Middle East; Kyrgyzstan received a downward trend arrow on the report due to a government crackdown on freedom of assembly and the ability of nongovernmental organizations to operate, and in Tajikistan a ‘sustained offensive against political pluralism’ continued. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are rated ‘worst of the worst’ along with the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.

The ‘worst of the worst’ list has again drawn attention to the US and UK’s controversial relationship with the Saudis. Freedom House also point out that the UAE receives remarkably little attention for its systematic denial of rights for the foreign workers who make up the majority of its population, its incredibly restrictive press laws and its dynastic political system.

In fact on 25 January, the government issued a publication detailing the strength of UAE/UK relations. The Lord Mayor wrote:

“During my three day visit I’ll speak with senior members of the government, investment authorities and business leaders in the UAE, looking to deepen the economic ties between our two countries.

“This traditionally strong trading relationship has only got stronger over the past few years, allowing us to reach our target of £12 billion in bilateral trade – originally set for 2015 – far earlier than expected, in early 2014.”

The report finds that one of the most disturbing trends worldwide is that disdain for democratic standards is being expressed more openly. Until recently, it says, most authoritarian regimes at least paid lip service to international agreements and democratic norms. But leaders such as Vladimir Putin are now open in their contempt for democracy, equating journalism with propaganda and treating human rights activists as enemies of the state.

It is not just resources which can give certain countries an advantage in evading negative international attention. Freedom House points out that Vietnam is favoured by the US and its allies as the underdog facing Chinese aggression, even though Vietnam remains an entrenched one-party state which routinely bans the work of human rights organisations.

The importance of regional alliances at seemingly any cost is also highlighted in the case of President Sisi of Egypt, who is ‘treated as a strong leader and partner in the fight against terrorism despite his enforcement of a level of repression not seen in Egypt in decades’.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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