U.S. and Europe Cozy With Despots

WASHINGTON -- Authoritarian rulers are violating human rights around the world and getting away with it largely because the U.S., European and other established democracies accept their claims that holding elections makes them democratic, Human Rights Watch said in its annual report Thursday.

By failing to demand that offenders honor their citizens' civil and political rights and other requirements of true democracy, Western democracies risk undermining human rights everywhere, the international rights watchdog said.

Still, Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch's director, wrote in a segment of the report called "Despots Masquerading as Democrats": "It is a sign of hope that even dictators have come to believe that the route to legitimacy runs by way of democratic credentials."

Among countries named as major violators of their democratic credentials in 2007 were Kenya, Pakistan, Bahrain, Jordan, Nigeria, Russia and Thailand. The report covered the year through November. In December, Thailand's military government allowed elections and was voted out of power by a large majority to end 16 months of rule by the junta.