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Increased repression and violence a sign of weakness, says Human Rights Watch

Increasingly repressive and violent crackdowns on civilian protests by autocratic leaders and military regimes around the world are signs of their despair and a weakening grip on power, Human Rights Watch said in its annual assessment of human rights around the world.

in his world report 2022, the human rights group said autocratic leaders faced significant backlash in 2021, with millions of people risking their lives to take to the streets to challenge the authority of regimes and demand democracy.

Human Rights Watch also said the rise of opposition parties willing to put aside their political differences and form alliances to try to remove corrupt or repressive governments or leaders is another sign of a trend toward a weakening of the political system. autocratic rule.

As examples of “unlikely” opposition coalitions, HRW pointed to the Czech Republic, where Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, was defeated, and Israel, where Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership ended in 2021 after 12 years in power. Alliances of opposition parties have also been formed to challenge Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey in future elections.

Protesters protest Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Budapest after another anti-LGBTQ+ law was passed last June. Photo: Márton Monus/Reuters

In an essay introducing the Human Rights Watch report, which analyzes the situation in countries around the world, its director, Kenneth Roth, also argues that increasing repression and “open election scares” in countries like Russia and Nicaragua should be seen. as a sign of weakness, not strength.

“There’s a story that autocrats have the upper hand and democracy is declining, but if you look at the trends in human rights over the past 12 months, things don’t look so rosy for the autocrats,” Roth said.

“There has been an outburst of public support for democracy, with people taking to the streets in China, Uganda, Poland, Myanmar, often risking their own lives to do so, and many other places where repressive regimes are struggling to regain control. to keep.

“While the increasingly violent and regressive actions of repressive regimes around the world may look like they are tensing their muscles, we increasingly see them as acts of desperation,” he said.

While armed groups in Myanmar and Afghanistan seized power in 2021, Roth said they had failed to normalize their rule or subdue the civilian population.

“While we see bloodshed on the streets, we also see millions refusing to accept the denial of their human rights and a failure by autocratic rulers to distract the population with policies that attack LGBTQ communities, abortion or women’s rights.”

He said, however, that democracy would not thrive without stronger leadership from democratic governments, which focused on short-term political gains in 2021 and failed to address the most pressing issues of the climate emergency, inequality, racial injustice and poverty.

Human Rights Watch said that despite its alarming record of human rights violations, the US continued to supply weapons to countries such as: Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It also pointed to continued EU steps to pursue investment agreements with China, despite Beijing’s alleged use of ethnic Uyghurs as forced labor.

“Promoting democracy means championing democratic institutions such as independent courts, free media, robust parliaments and vibrant civil societies, even if that involves unwelcome scrutiny or challenges to executive policy,” Roth said.