Democratic setbacks in Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia must be met by resolute international demands
At these exceptional times – when authoritarian regimes are falling or are under serious pressure by democratic forces in the Middle East and North Africa – we witness that Europe’s last authoritarian states are successful in retaining control and undermining democratic developments.
On 19 December 2010, riot police brutally dispersed and arrested hundreds of anti-government protesters in Minsk, Belarus. This was just the beginning of a massive campaign of arrests of opposition politicians, including presidential candidates, journalists, and human rights defenders in an attempt to silence and pacify those critical of the current regime, led by President Alexander Lukashenka. In a worrying development, opposition forces and civil society are being targeted in the investigation of the deadly 11 April 2011 bomb attack in Minsk.
In Azerbaijan, democratic forces, journalists and human rights defenders are under severe pressure in order for the regime led by President Ilham Aliyev to retain control. On several occasions in March and April 2011, anti-government rallies in Baku have been met by brutal riot police dispersing the rallies and arresting dozens. The country has recently experienced a wave of arrests of youth activists and bloggers, and defies requests from the Council of Europe to release imprisoned editor Eynullah Fattulayev.
In Russia, the regime’s democratic credentials remain low ahead of Duma elections this year and Presidential elections next year. Russia’s democratic gains after independence in 1991 have effectively been rolled back by a set of measures designed to increase the control of the Kremlin, including over media and other key institutions. At the same time corruption, impunity and endemic human rights problems undermine development and the rule of law in the country.
The international community, and in particular European states and institutions, must face up to these challenges by:
– Speaking out forcefully against recent trends of authoritarianism in Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia, underlining that Europe is committed to democracy and human rights
– Demanding concrete steps to eradicate repression and free political prisoners
– Demanding that the countries abide by commitments and obligations as members of the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the UN. By not reacting to non-compliance, other members states become complicit in undermining respect for democracy and human rights