Report says democracies are slow to respond to rights abuses nearby

The world’s leading democracies have a poor record of responding to the rise of authoritarianism in their own regions, according to a Freedom House report released Thursday. The United States, Europe, and new democracies of the global South often fail to confront the growing instances of political repression in their areas of influence. The unwillingness to challenge violations of human rights, suppression of civil society, media restrictions, and other anti-democratic actions comes within the context of a mounting challenge to democratic institutions presented by authoritarian powers in Eurasia, the Middle East, China, and elsewhere, the report said.

“Supporting Democracy Abroad: An Assessment of Leading Powers” found that 10 major countries and the European Union neglect human rights abuses in their regions and fail to push back on rising authoritarianism. Among them, the United States was found to provide only moderate support for democracy and human rights.

“Few leading democracies consistently stand up for their values beyond their borders,” said Sarah Repucci, project director of the report. “As dictatorships increase their influence worldwide, democracies must pay more attention to places where democracy and its advocates are most under threat. This is especially true where acts of repression are on the rise in a major democracy’s own neighborhood.”

“On China, democracies should work together to respond to human rights violations and antidemocratic initiatives,” Ms. Repucci added. “Otherwise, individual democracies will continue to defer to their own narrow economic interests and avoid subjects Beijing considers taboo.”

Key Global Findings:

• Brazil, India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Africa are less likely to exert pressure on rights violators in their regions and less inclined to condemn abuses than are the United States, France, Germany, Poland, and Sweden. The disparity is largely due to the emphasis that the former group places on noninterference and respect for sovereignty.

• Nearly all of the countries assessed provide strong support for elections abroad, but they largely fail to promote democracy and human rights through their trade policies and in their responses to coups.

• In relations with China, immediate economic and strategic interests almost always override support for democracy and human rights.

• Although support for democracy and human rights through regional or international bodies can aid legitimacy, democracies sometimes use them as a screen to avoid more direct or decisive action against repression.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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