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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13 Responses to “Freedom House report highlights how Western interests mask human rights abuses”

  1. Anthony

    It’s not surprising at all that governments fail to denounce countries they rely on for resources or security. But it’s not just our government that is silent on the human rights abuses of our allies, it’s the population as a whole.

    When have we ever seen or heard of significant protests against the abuses by Saudi Arabia for example? Or any other country with poor human rights records that our government supports? Well, we see them all the time against one such country but never against any other. Something is very wrong with that.

  2. robertcp

    I really think that we should stop talking a lot of moralising claptrap. Of course, we should encourage all countries to be reasonably democratic and free. It is true, however, that international relations are usually about power and money rather than morality. A good example is Ukraine. We do not like what Putin is doing but what can we do about it? A good idea might have been not supporting a coup against an elected government last year!

  3. Safar I

    We see what the western democracy brought
    to Libya, Syria and Iraq…. Due to democracy in Egypt Islamists came to the
    power, and the European countries supported them! It will be better, if
    everyone goes about their own business.

  4. Nana Ch

    I beg a pardon, who do you call “democratic world” or “democracy”?

    US? Spying on allies?

    Or Germany which sells weapons to Saudi Arabia?
    Or maybe France which supports chemical weapons in Syria?

    Or, perhaps, the UK which still retains some of its colonies?!

  5. Nigar

    For example,there is a free internet access in Azerbaijan, which is missing in China, but this fact does not prevent all the countries of the European Union and the United States to cooperate closely with this country

  6. Guest

    Don’t dare touch the dictators, blah blah.

  7. Leon Wolfeson

    Ah yes. we should have supported murdering protesters with snipers. We should have ignored the government of the Ukraine when it wanted to talk to the EU. We should bow to your Dear Leader Putin, who is engaged in an offensive war and you want to roll over and not oppose him, again.

    No wonder you think that democracy and freedom are “moralising claptrap”, as you in reality bitterly oppose them! People must not have a say in your world.

    You really have shown your true colours here, sad.

  8. robertcp

    My view is that people in Ukraine should have waited for the next election to remove their government.

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    Yea, “waiting” around to be dragged off by the secret police, while your government breaks it’s laws is such a good idea!

  10. robertcp

    Avoiding a civil war might have been a good idea.

  11. Leon Wolfeson

    Their Dear Leader started the “civil war” when he completely disregarded what the majority of his people wanted, then used violence and snipers against protests.

    You are making excuses for him.

    Also, Russian troops are not Ukrainian, and they’re the ones fighting the Ukrainian Army. It’s called a war, plain and simple.

  12. robertcp

    How do you know what the majority of the Ukrainian people wanted?

  13. Leon Wolfeson

    Polling. Polling which has consistently and strongly supported a relationship with the EU over dominance by Russia. Including in the Crimea Oblast (region).

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