Despots Masquerading as Democrats: Why are they doing so, and why are we letting them?

Ken Roth
13 March, 2008

Why you should listen

Ken Roth

Executive Director of New York-based Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth gives compelling evidence of the way some of the world’s greatest human rights violators are calling themselves democracies. And, he argues, it is the west’s willingness to “close one’s eye” to these regimes that allow more to claim the title of democracy. By allowing autocrats in countries such as Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Uzbekistan to call themselves democratically elected leaders, it become increasingly difficult to “shame” these regimes into acting appropriately. “If these human rights violators can say, ‘But wait a minute, I’m a democracy,’ it tends to undermine our ability to stigmatise them,” Roth told the Sydney Ideas audience. “And this is a consequence of letting tyrants into the club of democracy without forcing them to pay the price of actual respect for human rights. It lets them in on the cheap.” Human Rights Watch is a highly regarded international non-government organisation dedicated to the protection the human rights worldwide. Each year, the organisation releases the World Report, which highlights human rights abuses worldwide. Kenneth Roth has held the post of Human Rights Watch executive director since 1993 and was deputy director from 1987 to 1993. He has written extensively on human rights in publications such as the New York Times and The Washington Post and was the editor of Torture: A Human Rights Perspective (The New Press). He is a former Federal Prosecutor for the US Attorney’s Office and worked on the Iran-Contra investigation in Washington and is a graduate of Yale Law School and Brown University.

“What they get away with is this label of legitimacy and in many ways I guess the question to ask is: why do we let them?”Kenneth Roth at Sydney Ideas