European Council on Foreign Relations

Is “Chinese democracy” an oxymoron?

China’s exaggerated protests and rhetoric about the concession of the Nobel Prize to Liu Xiaobo are but a sign of its weakness. The Chinese regime does not seem to make up its mind about how does it want to treat the word “democracy”. Sometimes is seems it hates and despises the word as a Western construction seeking to debilitate China. But in other occasions it takes pride in saying it has its own version of democracy, whether “deliberative”, “confuncian”, “harmonious” etc. Sometimes it even seems to accept democracy as a principle, yet it argues that China is too big and too poor at the moment to be ruled by a democracy.

But rather than looking at Western democracies, the Chinese people should look at India and wonder. India shows that size is not a problem when it comes to democratic rule, or that ethnic diversity can be managed with democratic and federal structures, or even

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Black Coffee Morning: Louise Arbour

Supporters of international justice sometimes take a rather absolutist approach to the place of courts in the international system, as if any compromise with politics would undermine the credibility of the whole enterprise.  But Louise Arbour, the former war crimes prosecutor and High Commissioner for Human Rights, painted a more complex picture when she spoke at ECFR's latest Black Coffee Morning in London this morning.  She said that the absence of a universal system of international justice meant that decisions about prosecuting war crimes inevitably had an intense political streak. 

Why did the Human Rights Council set up a commission to investigate war crimes in the Gaza war but only congratulate the government of Sri Lanka for its victory over the Tamil Tigers, despite the fact that civilian deaths in the latter conflict may have been twenty times as great?  And how

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WikiLeaks: A Spanish political earthquake

Wikileaks is causing a political earthquake in Spain. In a country where Americans are already not very popular due to continued American support for Franco's dictatorship, seeing now (in writing) how American diplomats push and bully Spanish officials to follow up their “national interests” is raising a lot of eyebrows.

In particular, WikiLeaks's revelations are damaging the Spanish public prosecutor, which seems to have been consistently promising the US government that he would act to help Spanish judges get their hands off various cases which could potentially involve American officials. First, the shooting of a Spanish journalist, José Couso, by American troops in Baghdad during the Iraq war - who Spanish judges then wanted to prosecute. Second, the alleged torturing of a Spanish citizen of Moroccan origin in Guantánamo, which Spanish courts were also interested in. And finally,

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Pakistan: being inspired by Asma Jahangir

Following global developments on human rights can sometimes be disheartening and the last few weeks have been no great exception: from the violent attack on Russian journalist Oleg Kashin to Libya’s rejection of all the UN Human Rights Council recommendations, one could be forgiven for believing that the challenges are insurmountable.

That was why I found the ERIS lecture I attended last night, by Asma Jahangir, a human rights activist, and recently elected President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association so encouraging. 

On 10th December Jahangir will receive a UNESCO award for her services to human rights. She has held prestigious positions as UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and also on Extrajudicial Executions, but she has also worked for decades as a lawyer at the grassroots level to promote human rights in Pakistan, serving spells in prison and under house

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Burma’s journey towards ‘normal’ authoritarianism

It is natural to celebrate the release of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, but we should be cautious before hailing this as a breakthrough for human rights in Burma.  After all, thousands of other political prisoners remain in captivity and her release was due to the expiration of her sentence rather than any change of heart by the military junta that runs the country.

But Aung San Suu Kyi’s release does come at a moment of change in Burma and it could in turn contribute to the country’s evolving political dynamics.  Last week there were elections in the country engineered to distance the ruling junta from political power and install a civilian regime, albeit one that the regime controls.  The elections do not mark the beginning of democracy in Burma, but they may mark the evolution of Burma into the kind of “competitive authoritarian” regime that is now a

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