It may be largely absent from the presidential campaign, but the promotion of human rights is central to American foreign policy -- and has been for decades in both Democratic and Republican administrations. The next president, whether a second-term Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, will face critical human rights challenges and must be ready to address them from day one.
The final results of the London Olympics are in, and those who root for democracy in other contexts can take pride in the outcome. Nearly two-thirds of the total medals—and of gold medals—were won by countries that are designated as Free in Freedom in the World. Countries designated as Not Free grabbed slightly more than a quarter of all medals and around 30 percent of gold medals.
The depraved slaughter of civilians in Syria, which began with sniper fire on peaceful demonstrators and later degenerated into bombings of residential areas and execution-style killings of women and children, masks a darker truth. While the violence of the current crackdown distinguishes Syria today, it emerges from decades of brutal dictatorship, and equally brutal dictatorships are alive and well across the globe. They tend to get noticed only when particularly gross abuses take place or they escape attention almost entirely. For close to one-fourth of the world’s population, intense repression has become routine.
With a constitutional referendum and subsequent national elections drawing near, Zimbabwe is poised to enter an exciting and highly uncertain period. However, if left in the hands of the current political elites, the creation of a democratic Zimbabwe remains unlikely at best.
At a recent conference on modern monarchy in London, Princeton University professor David Cannadine observed that monarchy “has not been a growth industry” over the last century, and that most of the monarchies that have disappeared were authoritarian in nature. Data from Freedom in the World support this notion, which should serve as both a warning and a spur to democratic reform for the few authoritarian monarchies that remain, especially in the Middle East. But the transition to democracy need not be a matter of mere survival: monarchies already in the democratic camp seem to excel, scoring disproportionately well among the world’s free countries.
This past Tuesday, the Unesco–Equatorial Guinea International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences was awarded for the first time. The award recognizes the achievements of scientific research that “have contributed … to improving the quality of human life.” Unfortunately, the man who proposed and funded this award, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, is among the most corrupt and repressive dictators in Africa, or indeed anywhere. In other words, he is a political leader who has devoted a long career to worsening the quality of life for the people of Equatorial Guinea.
More than three decades ago, Indonesia was widely regarded as a wellspring of moderate Islam. The leading U.S. magazine Newsweek described the country as the home of “the smiling Islam,” insisting that the Indonesian version of the faith was more friendly and tolerant than that found in the Middle East. But history has moved Indonesia into a new religio-political situation.
Earlier this month, Chinese authorities were forced to temporarily suspend trading of shares in the online unit of the People’s Daily newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party. The price had soared so rapidly since the website’s April debut on the Shanghai Stock Exchange—giving it a greater market value than the New York Times—that it triggered regulatory rules aimed at halting speculative manipulation. This development is just the sort of absurd extreme that comes shortly before an economic bubble bursts.
Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argued in a New York Times opinion piece yesterday that the United States and Europe must learn to share the world with multiple “new forms of governance and capitalism,” and recognize that “the era of Western primacy” is coming to an end. It is certainly correct that “non-Western” developing nations are playing an increasingly important role in world diplomacy and the global economy, but the terms and categories Kupchan uses to describe this phenomenon lead him to provide some rather poor advice.
The release of some 3,000 e-mail messages believed to be from the personal accounts of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and members of his inner circle has shined a light on the cynicism and deceit of the dictatorial regime in Damascus. Assad is revealed to mock his own countrymen as well as the reforms he promised in response to the antigovernment protests that began a year ago. In the e-mails, he refers to these reforms as “rubbish laws of parties, elections, media.” That he offered them at all, of course, would seem to fly in the face of his long-standing assertion that the uprising is an assault by foreign-backed terrorists, as opposed to a legitimate demand for political change by Syrian citizens.