The Relationship between Human Rights and Democracy – HRW 2008 Report

9 Feb

Kudos to Human Rights Watch (HRW) for its World Report 2008.

The NGO wrote in the report, ‘the United States, the European Union and other influential democracies risk undermining human rights worldwide’ by ‘accepting flawed and unfair elections for political expediency’. Its executive director, Kenneth Roth was quoted, “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.”

It gave the example of US supporting Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf despite the autocrat’s heavy handed efforts towards repressing civil society growth and firing its independent judiciary. Both the US and Britain have also pledged support to Musharraf without issuing conditions such as improving pre-electoral conditions.

HRW also accused the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for giving the chair to Kazakhstan in 2010. This is despite the fact that the organization, with the aims of promoting democracy, human rights, and security, found that the country’s last parliamentary election was conducted unfairly – censored media, suppressed Opposition and flawed counting.

The report also pointed out the hypocrisy of Western democracies supporting their ‘democrat’ rather than ‘democratic principles’. It cited the example of Georgia where the West continues to endorse President Mikheil Saakashvili even though his government faces allegations of human rights violations which culminated in a violent crackdown on protesters in November last year.

The release of this critical report is crucial and timely for promoting global human rights and democracy for both Western established democracies and authoritarian states in various aspects. Briefly, it can be explained as such:

1. Authoritarian or dictatorial states can no longer argue that human rights NGO such as HRW is biased towards promoting the Western agenda since they are critical towards both authoritarian and the Western democratic countries.

2. By highlighting the fact that Western established democracies share the responsibility of ‘condoning’ certain authoritarian states in their non-democratic efforts and human rights violations, it creates more pressure for the former to act and not just be vocal towards the latter’s human rights violations. Factors such as trade pressures and support towards authoritarian states who are allies in the fight against terror are not justifiable reasons to translating overwhelming support towards these states.

3. Conversely, authoritarian states can no longer claim that the endorsement that they obtain from the West automatically means that they are a member of the democratic league. As HRW pointed out, it is not elections, but free and fair elections which should be the determining factor of democratic credentials. That would include having a free press, functioning civil society and peaceful assembly.

4. More importantly, the report clarifies distinct differences and as well as the intimate relationship between human rights and democracy, terms which have often been mis-understood and mis-used. While it is commonly agreed that the US is an example of a democracy, its war against terrorism waged by the current aggressive administration has meant rollbacks in civil liberties and human rights violations, most obvious, with the illegal detention and torture of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. As such, even established democracies. like their authoritarian counterparts, can commit grave human rights violations.



1. 2008 Report: Democracy Charade Undermines Rights; Human Rights Watch Highlights Abuses in Pakistan, Kenya, China, Somalia,Human Rights Watch, 31 January 2008

2. Human Rights Watch World Report 2008, Human Rights Watch


3 Responses to “The Relationship between Human Rights and Democracy – HRW 2008 Report”

  1. Samuel mwandoro December 12, 2008 at 5:55 pm #

    The information given in this site has helped me understand the relation that democracy share.thank you.

  2. rodgers rewayi November 26, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

    im a student of democracy and human rights class who thinks that such reports should be published helped me.thank you.

  3. Mawazo kimario. January 11, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    Thank you for your article has helped me very much to understand the relationship betweem democracy and humam you may put it more.

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