Repressing civil society a recipe for failure, autocrats told


Autocratic regimes which repress civil society and curb human rights are “pursuing policies that will almost certainly fail,” according to Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

“Those governments that persecute as so-called ‘foreign agents’ civil society groups that are so essential to maintaining checks and balances in any democracy are clearly violating the principles of the Helsinki Final Act., he told the OSCE today.

“They are hurting and disrespecting their people, as Russia so clearly has done in cracking down on citizens groups dedicated to such allegedly dangerous pursuits as fighting torture, educating about HIV/AIDS, and even protecting migratory birds,” said Malinowski:

You can cut off activists from foreign funding. You can demonize or persecute those who cooperate with international organizations. Yet in the end people still resist corruption, still protest the destruction of their forests and their lakes, still demand a say in their politics. You cannot stop movements for accountability by blaming foreign interference, because the life force of such movements in all our countries is coming from within, not without. All you will do is to reveal your own insecurity and weakness.

Expressing concern about crackdowns on civil society in Russia, Azerbaijan and countries in central Asia, he said: “They are also pursuing policies that will almost certainly fail.”

Witnesses testifying at a U.S. congressional hearing last week voiced deep concern about rising Russian influence and instability in Azerbaijan, as well as the continued forced closure of RFE/RL’s bureau in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, RFE/RL adds.

The hearing, entitled “Azerbaijan: Do Human Rights Matter?” was organized by the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, chaired by U.S. Representative James McGovern (D-MA), and took place just two weeks before a planned constitutional referendum that panelists and human rights groups have criticized for being held in the absence of independent media, opposing campaigning, and international monitors.

Investigative journalist, former political prisoner, and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova (above left) told the hearing of the harsh conditions faced by journalists like herself who report on high-level corruption, pointing out that “no [Azerbaijani] laws say that journalism is a crime…But where critical journalism is concerned, it is really difficult to enforce the rule of law in Azerbaijan.”

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