Western countries are turning a blind eye to flawed and unfair elections, such as those in Kenya, giving autocrats a veneer of acceptability and allowing sham democracies to thrive, Human Rights Watch said in its annual report published yesterday.
"States claiming the mantle of democracy, including Kenya and Pakistan, should guarantee the human rights that are central to it, including the rights to free expression, assembly and association, as well as free and fair elections," it said. "By allowing autocrats to pose as democrats... the United States, the European Union and other influential democracies risk undermining human rights worldwide."
Kenya's presidential election on 27 December that returned the incumbent Mwai Kibaki to power was widely condemned as fraudulent. About 850 people have been killed and almost a quarter of a million others have fled their homes in a wave of ethnic violence, that was originally triggered by the poll but which has now taken momentum of its own.
"Too many Western governments insist on elections and leave it at that," said Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. "It seems Washington and European governments will accept even the most dubious election so long as the 'victor' is a strategic or commercial ally."
The former UN secretary general Kofi Annan is trying to defuse the Kenyan crisis, which threatens to derail the continent. He has suggested that immediate political issues could be resolved within four weeks and the broader issues underlying the crisis within a year.
Human Rights Watch urged Western nations to make start making democracy meaningful. It accused Washington and European capitals of playing along last year when Nigeria held elections, where there were widespread and credible accusations of election violence and vote-rigging. The consequences of that silence from the international community were being felt today, Mr Roth said.
He added: "Nigeria's leader came to power in a violent and fraudulent vote, yet he's been accepted on the international stage. It's no wonder that Kenya's president felt able to rig his re-election."