Monday, March 06, 2006

Democracy is like a Box of Chocolates ...

Is democracy an end, a means or just another human right? When you look at Palestine, Venezuela, Iraq, Cuba, Indonesia and Singapore you come to the unmistakable conclusion that more democratic does not necessarily equate to better human rights. All of these countries have systematic human rights abuses to some extent, and none have exceptionally strong democratic traditions.

Cuba routinely represses all dissent, any expression of free speech that is critical of the state and most religious freedoms. Cuban prisons are abysmal, and officials that violate its meagre human rights laws do so with impunity. However Cuba’s health and education level are rated by UNESCO to be the best in entire hemisphere. Youth illiteracy rates are close to zero, infant mortality rates are on par with those in the United States, all Cubans have access to zero cost healthcare, the doctor to patient ratios are among the highest in the world.

Singapore is democratic in structure, but one party has held power since the republic was founded in 1959. Freedom of assembly, speech, the press and religion all have restrictions placed on them. Assembly of more than 5 people requires a police permit. But Singaporeans enjoy a very high standard of living, very low crime, universal healthcare, excellent education, good protections for women, children and some minorities etc.

Venezuela, under Hugo Chavez is democratic, has enacted many land reforms and has universal healthcare, but dissent is repressed, the courts lack independence, prisons are abysmal and police brutality is common place.

Indonesian is democratic in name only. The government is dominated by one party at all levels, and the military is still the most influential political movement in the country. It is believed that only a strong man, with the support of the military can keep the dozens of ethnic minorities in the sprawling archipelago together. Human rights are an inconvenience that only tolerated when the international community is watching.

In Palestine, democracy is on the rise, but it brought the Hamas, essentially a terrorist group bent on the destruction of Israel, to power. Not exactly what most of the western world had hoped for.

So in this light, it is not surprising that the United States’ zealous push for democracy in Iraq has not brought with it an improvement in human rights. American forces picked up the practice of turture where Sadaam left off, and have now passed the bloody torche to the Iraqis. With over 1300 Iraqis killed in the last week, Syria and Jordon lining up to support Sunni factions and Iran supporting Shi’a factions, installation of a weak democracy may have just plunged the whole region into war. While I disagree with the justification for the invasion of Iraq - once you are there you have a moral imperitive to restore order, protect the civilian population and rebuild the infrastructure. It seem however that the American plans focused too much on paper constitutions and elections and not enough on the human suffering in the streets.

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