A crackdown on dissent by authoritarian governments last year contributed to a rising tide of human rights abuses that has allowed terrorist groups to flourish, according to the State Department’s annual human rights report released Wednesday.
The 2015 edition of the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices “points to a global governance crisis,” said Secretary of State John F. Kerry.
“In every part of the world, we see an accelerating trend by both state and non-state actors to close the space for civil society, to stifle media and Internet freedom, to marginalize opposition voices, and in the most extreme cases, to kill people or drive them from their homes,” he added. “Some look at these events and fear democracy is in retreat. In fact, they are a reaction to the advance of democratic ideals – to rising demands of people from every culture and region for governments that answer to them.”
The report has drawn attention to the impact of the Obama administration’s policy of reaching out to longtime foes including Cuba, Iran and Myanmar, notes NPR. Some argue that such engagement can encourage authoritarian countries to improve their human rights record, while others say it makes no difference, or may even lead regimes to feel they don’t have to worry about punitive measures for rights violations.
Some governments deployed burdensome administrative and bureaucratic procedures as a means to restrict freedom of association and stifle civil society, the report states:
This year in central Asia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan passed or enacted new NGO legislation or related amendments that could restrict operating space for civil society organizations. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan already had and enforced a restrictive NGO law. In Hungary, international organizations and human rights NGOs continued to voice criticism of the systematic erosion of the rule of law, checks and balances, democratic institutions, transparency, and intimidation of independent civil society voices.
“Civil society has become a growing force around the world, and so if you are trying to steal an election or to stay in office for life or to profit from corruption, then of course you’re going to be threatened by NGOs and by journalists who try to expose those abuses of power,” said Tom Malinowski (right), Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
The Report this year continued to track the weakening of institutions that undergird human rights and democracy, Kerry noted:
In many countries, governments cracked down on the fundamental freedoms of expression and association by jailing reporters for writing critical stories, or sharply restricting or closing non-governmental organizations for promoting supposedly “foreign ideologies” such as universal human rights. Our message to these countries is that, far from threatening the democratic process, a free press and open civil society are the release valve and life blood of a thriving democracy.
“We also note the troubling trend among some elected leaders who undermined existing democratic institutions, such as by taking steps to stifle opposition, circumvent the electoral process, and weaken judiciaries, often in an attempt to perpetuate their continued rule,” Kerry added:
Corruption, often carried out with impunity, had a corrosive effect on democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. Institutions lose credibility when people can no longer expect a fair and impartial judiciary to address their grievances, obtain basic government services without a bribe, or participate in the political process without their franchise being undermined by corruption. People must have faith in their institutions in order for societies to thrive.