Human Rights Defenders award for Hanadi Zahlout

HanadiZahloutHanadi Zahlout, a prominent Syrian cyber-dissident, participated in one of the earliest protests against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in 2011, working closely with the Local Coordinating Committees of the opposition.

Ms. Zahlout has fought for freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights in Syria since before the revolution, the U.S. State Department notes:

Ms. Zahlout continues to link grassroots activists inside Syria with prominent members of the opposition in exile, as well as international media outlets, to call for a peaceful democratic transition and make abuses in Syria known to the outside world. She actively mentors and arranges training opportunities for young Syrian journalists, who are critical to the future of Syria. Zahlout, an Alawi, has focused her efforts on reaching out to women and Syrian minorities and stresses the contributions women have made to efforts for a peaceful democratic transition.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns will present the 2012 Human Rights Defenders Award to Ms. Zahlout on Friday, November 15, 2013, at 10 a.m. in the Treaty Room at the U.S. Department of State.

To request an interview with Ms. Zahlout after the event or for more information about the Department’s Human Rights Defenders Award, please contact Aaron Jensen at JensenAW@state.govor (202) 647-0516.

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The Commonwealth: promoting democracy – in Sri Lanka?

Commonwealth_of_Nations“The biggest achievement of the Commonwealth, its admirers say, is the fact of its unlikely existence. That so many former British colonies and dominions should be content to co-exist in a club which has the queen as its head is remarkable,” says The Economist.

“However this is a low bar to set for the success of an organisation nominally committed to promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Quite how nominally will be evident in Colombo this weekend—at a gathering of Commonwealth leaders hosted by a nasty and abusive regime,” it writes:

Be in no doubt of that. The most heinous allegation against Mahinda Rajapaksa’s family-based government—a battlefield slaughter of some 40,000 Tamil civilians—is complicated by the exigencies of the appalling civil war it helped end. It took ruthlessness to defeat the Tamil Tigers, and Sri Lanka is better off as a result. Yet the war was also marked by reprisals against journalists, human-rights activists and opposition politicians, and intimidation continues today. Mr Rajapaksa has meanwhile dug in for the long haul—having used his popularity as a war victor to scrap presidential-term limits.

“This amounts to a textbook transgression of the Commonwealth Charter, which includes a commitment to freedom of expression, the separation of powers and the like, promulgated by the queen in March. The meeting should never have been held in Sri Lanka,” The Economist concludes. RTWT

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Venezuela’s Trilogy of Evil? Dangerous days as regime ‘criminalizes opposition’

Chavez-MaduroVenezuelans have been trying to get used to a President, Nicolás Maduro, whose performance goes beyond the usual standards of astonishment, even for a country that has produced figures as extravagant and charismatic as his late predecessor, Hugo Chávez, analyst Boris Munoz observes.

Maduro’s not Chávez, people on all sides of the political divide say, and the polls prove it,” he writes for The New Yorker:

Popular approval of Chávez remains at around seventy per cent, while Maduro’s rating has plummeted to 40.9 per cent from 55.2 six months ago, according to Datanálisis, one of the most trusted pollsters,

Last month, Maduro branded opposition leaders Henrique Capriles Radonski, Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado as the Trilogy of Evil, Munoz notes:

Then, on October 30th, residents of Caracas woke to find walls in the City Center and other neighborhoods plastered with posters bearing the words “Trilogy of Evil” and pictures of the three politicians, blaming them for the country’s current crisis: “They’re stealing your electricity. They’re stealing your food. They’re stealing your peace. No more violence.” The Communications and Information Minister, appearing on Venezolana de Televisión (VTV), the state TV channel, didn’t deny that the government was behind the posters, but downplayed their importance. She described the opposition leaders as “violent beings, militants of hatred and bitterness …. They are the fascists. Not those posters.”

“By describing the three main opposition figures as thieves and terrorists, the government has crossed the line that separates political confrontation, no matter how aggressive, from the criminalization of dissidence and opposition,” Munoz suggests. “It’s an act of hatred that prepares the ground for dangerous days in Venezuela.”


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A Dictator’s Guide to Rigging Elections: Lessons from Zimbabwe

ZIMBABMore than 100 days after he stole his latest reelection, it is safe to say that Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe has gotten away with the crime, says Jenai Cox, Freedom House’s Senior Program Officer for Africa. Other leaders in the region may be studying his methods, which makes it all the more important for democracy advocates to do the same, she writes for its Freedom At Issue Blog:

Step one: Begin the rigging process well in advance.

In order to avoid any violence or overt manipulation on election day, Mugabe began his rigging activities well before an official poll date was even confirmed. ….

Step two: Allow superficial democratic reforms, but keep big-ticket items off the negotiating table.

While the stated goals of the 2008 Global Political Agreement were broad, its primary purpose—in the aftermath of the 2008 political violence—was to clearly outline the legal and institutional reforms necessary for the country to hold free, fair, and credible elections. … The absence of such reforms aided Mugabe in his efforts to manipulate the election process.

Step three: Take control of the state media.

Lack of media reforms prior to the elections had a significant impact on news coverage of the process. On election day itself, the media were highly polarized along party lines and generally biased in their reporting. ….…

Step four: Stack the courts with supporters who will uphold your constitutionally questionable decisions.

Manipulation of the judicial system started early in the election process. …

Step five: Seize control of the election machinery and make sure that your rigged triumph is plausible.

Determined to avoid another period of power sharing, Mugabe made a concerted effort to rig a margin of victory that would be plausible (something short of 99 percent), but also large enough to negate the need for a runoff vote. …

Step six: Avoid the use of violence at all costs.

Demonstrating that he had learned the greatest lesson from 2008, Mugabe this time restrained party members and supporters, including youth militias, and prevented a repeat of the 2008 electoral violence. …. Nevertheless, members of civil society and the opposition were subject to intimidation, arrest, and other forms of persecution throughout the election process. …

Step seven: Declare that the people have spoken, and do not look back.

Immediately after his inauguration, Mugabe appointed a new cabinet and began phasing out officials who were brought in by the MDC under the power-sharing government. …

At the regional level, emulation of the Zimbabwean model is a growing concern. Over the next year a total of six countries in SADC will hold elections. Several of the votes are expected to be very contentious, and the incumbents up for reelection may use Mugabe’s playbook in order to secure a win, risking similarly disastrous results for democracy and human rights.


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Qatar losing out amid fading Arab Spring

QATARQatar was until recently considered “the little state that could,” punching above its weight as a principal supporter of the Islamist beneficiaries of the Arab uprisings.


“If 2011 was the tiny state’s year for victory laps — its flag flying high alongside the Libyan rebels, as the revolution there raged with Qatari support; its satellite channel Al Jazeera praised among Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square; and everybody wanting a bag full of Qatari cash — 2013 has been a year for losses,” writes The Washington Post’s Abigail Hauslohner:

Qatar’s mistake, analysts say, was that it was never careful enough about where it put those hands. In its rush to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — and earlier, Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi — Qatar has funneled money and weapons to hard-core Islamist groupsQatar’s critics say that the tiny state’s chaotic rush to provide aid has upended unity efforts in ­post-Gaddafi Libya and that its almost indiscriminate support of radical Islamists in Syria is effectively undermining the more moderate Free Syrian Army.

Al Jazeera has come under fire, too, criticized as becoming a mouthpiece for the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s an allegation that few here — including employees of Al Jazeera who spoke on the condition of anonymity — deny.

“We supported the Islamic states in Egypt and Tunisia because we thought they had a better chance of running the country. And guess what? They won,” said Hamad al-Ibrahim, the head of planning and strategic initiatives at the Qatar Foundation. “Qatar — when they bet, they bet on the right people.”

The kingdom has also provided refuge for exiled members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. While the Islamists attacked Egyptian civil society activists for accepting financial support from democracy assistance groups, it is reported that “foreign funding is propping up the group at home.”

But other observers believe the regime’s ham-fisted efforts to project soft power have backfired.

“Qatar’s name is in the mud,” said David Roberts, a lecturer for King’s College in London who is conducting classes for the Qatari military. Qatar has presided over “just a complete failure of policy” in Egypt, Roberts said. “That must lead to some kind of re-jig or rethink.”

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