Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dealing with Dictators

This is a section of the Global Index of Human Rights report, pasted here for ease of reference.

Appendix 4 – Dealing effectively with dictators

[Note: this section has not yet been adopted by the Conference of the Green Party in England and Wales]

The Global Index of Human Rights (GloHRI) will provide an annual review of governments’ progress or regress, but what of specific crimes committed by dictators that enter the news and trouble the conscience of the international community? How can these be addressed?

The actions of dictators repeatedly come into the media spotlight, with reports of their abuses of the human rights and welfare of their citizens. Burma, Zimbabwe, and China, Uzbekistan and Sudan have all given cause for concern recently in this role. The world’s media respond with harrowing news stories and pictures of human suffering caused by the regime’s unwillingness to protect the rights and welfare of their people. The world’s leaders respond with speeches condemning the actions of the
dictators, and the case may be referred to the UNSC. There the case is discussed, and effective, timely action is usually delayed or blocked because one or other of the members on the Security Council regards the dictator in question as a useful ally or trading partner.

Even if there is agreement that some action must be taken, it takes a great deal of time to get a sanctions programme in place.

The problem lies in the fact that each case of abuse is addressed on an ad hoc basis, and action in the UN takes place at the end of a long and uncertain political process.

We need therefore to move to a framework of international rules of governance that will help all dictators, indeed all rulers, to learn that certain courses of actions will certainly lead to unwanted effects on their own freedom to act for their own personal advancement. Specified forms of misconduct will be matched with a tariff of penalties which are applied in a measured, stepwise and consistent basis, in order to avoid the protection that they often obtain from allies in the UNSC.

There are a number of identifiable steps on the road to dictatorship. For example:

  •  Banning critical newspapers and media
  •  Banning opposition parties
  •  Ignoring the result of a democratic election (e.g. Burma and Zimbabwe)
  •  Intimidation at the polling booths
  •  Lavish expenditure on palaces for the dictator
  •  Disproportionate spending on arms
  • Using lethal force against unarmed demonstrators

Each of these steps, and others not mentioned here, can be legally defined, and each could have a sanction attached to it. For instance,

• Banning critical newspapers and media could be countered by sanctions on the
import of the materials the Government itself needs to print its newspapers.

• Banning opposition parties could lead to financial support to opposition
parties whose aims are judged to be helpful to the welfare of the people of the

• Ignoring the result of a democratic election could result in a ban in foreign
travel for members of the regime.

• Intimidation at the polling booths could result in the regime being denied
eligibility to serve on appropriate UN councils, for example, the Human Rights Council.

• Lavish expenditure on palaces for the dictator could result in freezing of
foreign assets of the regime.

If the regime takes action to retrace its steps, the sanctions will be promptly withdrawn.

This is based on sound psychology. It is well established that the best way to modify unwanted behaviour is to set a consistent and fair framework of punishments for unwanted behaviour and rewards for appropriate behaviour.

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