What Is the Most Effective Way To Promote Democracy Within Repressive Regimes?

Posted by DipNote Bloggers
May 15, 2009
Aung San Suu Kyi Portrait Held by Man in Tokyo

Aung San Suu Kyi has been under illegitimate house arrest for more than thirteen of the nineteen years since her party was elected by the people of Burma to lead their country. Throughout her arrest, she has served as a symbol of non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights and an inspiration to those seeking a peaceful, democratic Burma.

Her current period of detention is set to expire on May 27. The U.S. Government calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the more than 2,100 political prisoners currently held by the Burmese regime.

What is the most effective way to promote democracy within repressive regimes?

Comments

Comments

Ron
|
New York, USA
May 16, 2009

Ron in New York writes:

Promoting Democracy.....

One way is to provide protection and outlets for Human Rights Defenders (HRD's) in repressive Regimes. HRD's are dedicated to keeping HR issues in the spotlight; and need to know that the world is aware of violations and repression in their respective countries/regions to be included in reports at all HR forums. The best disinfectant for corruption and repression is Sunlight. Support, develop and protect the Human Rights Defenders.

Christine M.
May 16, 2009

Christine in Europe writes:

The most effective way to promote democracy within repressive regimes would necessarily be subtle, by degrees. A 'strong hand' would most likely have the unintended effect of deteriorating conditions rather than improving them.

The concept of democracy produces panic in such regimes. The idea of losing total control over the population is the biggest threat to repressive, totalitarian leaders.

Promoting democracy within repressive regimes is a very difficult task. Perhaps promotion by example is an option. It may be perceived as less intrusive & threatening. Building bridges, setting the foundation for friendly relations, offering assistance where possible, opening the door diplomatically in the hope that the gesture will be reciprocated are just a few steps in the right direction.

Zharkov
|
United States
May 16, 2009

Zharkov in U.S.A. writes:

Oppression under color of law is one of the most common offenses against human rights in every nation and Burma is merely one example; another is Britain.

British citizens have been living a police state for almost 10 years, and the only possible escape for them is to leave the country or abolish the monarchy.

Essentially all British citizens are political prisoners when their entire nation becomes a high security prison complete with listening devices, cameras, and an abundance of police and petty officials having little else to do except annoy the public.

The British police can, without a court hearing or trial, arrest and imprison a citizen for 28 days on mere discretion alone, and without fear of discipline for abuse of discretion.

While British citizens are being constantly photographed, recorded, wiretapped and watched by their own government, the citizens themselves are not allowed to photograph government streets, sidewalks, buildings, bridges, officials or the police, and are subject to arrest "for terrorist activities" merely for loitering in public with a camera.

Not only is freedom of speech restricted in Britain, but their government has attempted to limit free speech in America by placing U.S. citizens on a no entry list because of their exercise of free speech in America.

How do we promote democracy in the United Kingdom?

Obviously, we don't. Our State Department keeps silent and does nothing when it is ourselves or our allies who are destroying our liberty.

At the very least, there should be a State Department traveller's warning against visiting the United Kingdom with a camera.

Greece is another example. Numerous journalists have been stopped and questioned as much as two miles away from the Bilderberg meeting at the Astir Palace Hotel Resort in Athens, Greece. Many journalist arrests have been made. Some journalists were arrested twice merely for trying to cover that story, all without any criminal charges filed.

In the name of "privacy" for a few, the international press have lost their freedom and are currently subject to arbitrary arrest in Greece without legal offense merely for using a camera near the Bilderberg meeting.

Democracy in advanced western nations suffers when bureaucrats, private security firms and local police are given discretionary power of arrest and confinement of journalists merely for writing a story about a newsworthy event.

The fault lies not only in Burma, North Korea, Tibet, or Iran, but in our own political leaders who silently tolerate these outrages in our own countries.

Evelyn
|
Texas, USA
May 16, 2009

Evelyn in Texas writes:

We have to live it. In lands where democracy is foreign, they take one look at us to see what democracy is, not what we say it is. When we are respectful of one another and respect one another's views, we stand a better chance of being heard on the subject of democracy. We don't promote democracy at gunpoint.

Susan
|
South Dakota, USA
May 16, 2009

Susan in South Dakota writes:

Communication. Communication is the only democratic weapon we have in our arsenal. I'm not talking about agreeing or ignoring repressive governments actions; I'm talking dialogue. As long as we are openly engaging the other government in dialogue we are involving their people. It will ultimately be the people that will change their governments pro-democracy as long as they see it is the right choice and is not forced upon them.

Christine L.
May 16, 2009

Christine L. writes:

@ dipnote -- consistent policy of engagement is most effective way. containment & condemnation by U.S. no longer works w/ diminished influence.

Sue
|
California, USA
May 16, 2009

Sue in California writes:

To the extent possible: educate workforce to be skilled in modern technology, create better infrastructure and energy grids, legalize drugs & create supply line to hospitals.

Michael O.
|
California, USA
May 16, 2009

Michael in California writes:

I am inspired by the Virtual Student Foreign Service model.

Could we tap into the same potential to have an open source, like Wikipedia, or government moderated website where people could sign up and report on issues relating to the regime, the suffering of people, where violence is happening, and son on. The goal is to AGGREGATE INFORMATION that can be analyzed! This would not be yet another forum to air personal beliefs but instead could consist of:

Twitter-like updates -- from refugees fleeing the regime (yielding strategic locations), refugee first hand accounts (strategic info such as willingness to fight, conditions, etc), and so on.

Blogs: for opinions, to report human rights violations, and more detailed accounts beyond the Twitter-like space.

This forum could serve as a tool for measuring public sentiment in addition to data collection.

Beyond the online community, information should be analyzed by academic anthropologists (not only the military HTS) in an effort to develop better strategies for change.

In a nutshell: massive data from multiple sources (refugees, student advocates, general public in the US and the regime) presented in an open-source or moderated forum to digest and analyze all the information and develop effective strategies. The power of hundreds of thousands of minds focused on a problem, in real-time.

Thank you for all your efforts and for reaching out to the public; one of the reasons the public feels involved again!

auguste
|
United States
May 16, 2009

Auguste in U.S.A. writes:

Depends on your relationship to the repressive regime. If you are on the inside, its harder than it looks.

If you are on the outside looking in and are a democracy hoping to replicate democracy, Rule number one -- practice what you preach.

Number two -- find the networkers and voices of the people and empower them to communicate with some degree of anonymity. I say give everyone an i-phone and make sure the network works.

Rule number three -- isolate fence sitting despots and bring them to the light side by showing them firsthand the fruits of democracy.

Number four, walk a mile in the moccasins of those whose lives will change before you start throwing your weight around or pontificating. Mind your manners.

Number six, do good works directly with the people.

Number seven, dance in the prepositions (over, under, around, through, with, to, between) to speak the message of democracy directly to the people.

Number eight. Read the Art of War and obey relevant strategies.

Number nine. Get friendly neighbors to weigh in.

Number ten. Pray and continue to practice what you preach.

Peter D.
|
California, USA
May 16, 2009

Peter H. writes:

Do no harm.

Respect Life.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
May 16, 2009

Eric in New Mexico writes:

The methodology depends on the level of repression the regime levels upon the population.

On the extreme end you could conceivably remove a genocidal maniac from power by invoking "responsibility to protect", as defined under UN member states agreement in 2005.

If the political will among nations supported what they signed onto. And they lived up to it.

Or a coalition of the willing said "enough is enough".

On the more benevolent side of the autocratic... Pakistan's former leader acceded to the people's wishes and wisely stepped aside to let democracy have its day.

So I don't think there's a generic answer to this question.

However if I'm not mistaken, no democratic movement has been successful without the sustained support of other nation's influence and friendship with the population in the process of getting there.

Kettil
|
Sweden
May 16, 2009

Kettil in Sweden writes:

I guess the most effective way is to promote tolerance, since that leads to interest in other's opinons. Multilateral international/intersocietal efforts are probably good, to focus not on politics but on mutual trust and education. From enlightened conditions, healthy politics should arise. Every effort of cultural and scientific exchange should be welcomed and promoted. In more free countries, it is important to keep up education about repressed societies and their cultures.

Karen
|
Oregon, USA
May 16, 2009

Karen in Oregon writes:

The United Nations does not have the capacity to end wars or oppressive regimes. Its Charter has five main flaws (all nations are not treated equally, power is based on behavior rather than inalienable rights, a nation may not have a voice in matters of grave concern, it also has no recourse to change what is unfair, and a nation does not have to be a signatory of the International Criminal Court so disputes between nations are not resolved. Reforming the UN is not likely because none of the permanent members of the Security Council will agree to give up power.

Therefore, it is time to allow the UN to fade away, and to be replaced by another international body that functions on a higher level. Our organization is working to introduce a plan for an international government that is based on two proven principles: the U.S. Constitution and the cooperation of nature. The U.S. Constitution has keep a land of diverse histories, languages and cultures at peace for over 200 years, and the cooperation of nature has functioned perfectly for billions of years.

Within the proposed international government, a nation's power within the international House of Representatives is based on its population. It will behoove a government to uphold the rights of its people, because if the people feel they have been oppressed, they will leave, and the government will lose power.

Because disputes will be handled in a court system rather than the battlefield, and the balance of trade will be handled in the economic departments, and each nation will find its niche based on its talents and gifts, governments will turn their attentions inside their countries rather than attempting to create an international present at the expense of its people.

Each nation will elect a national president and an international president to represent the nation. Because they will be outside the nation for up to a year, it will be impossible to be in two places at the same time, and impossible to maintain a powerbase in both places.

A thriving population will be the most important asset a nation will have.

hninzi
|
Maryland, USA
May 16, 2009

Hninzi in Maryland writes:

Some repressive regimes ,ie Burma for instance ignorant, paranoid and agrieved. Since independence Burma has always felt justified in considering the west as aggressors and imperialists,REMEMBER THE MEMBERS OF THE REGIME ARE OLD. They cannot understand the younger generations reverence for western style democracy. They are completely out of touch with their countrymen on that. All these generals got to these high rank by fighting rebels in the jungles. To them they are protecting their country from disintegration. They think Aung San Suu Kyi will hasten that disintegration and feel justified in their measures. Condemnation is only going make them worse. Working with them would work better. Sanctions work only if they had known prosperity. What you never had you never miss

John
|
Sweden
May 16, 2009

John in Sweden writes:

First, lead by example. You can never demand of anyone else that they must behave better than you do yourself. Not if you expect to be taken seriously anyway.

Second, build good relations with the people. No matter how bad the regime is, it will not repress anyone if the population as a whole decide to not follow that regime anymore. See for example the end of the cold war for the east bloc.

Third, share culture. By allowing free exchange of culture between groups of people with different cultural backgrounds you build understanding for eachother's points of view and will foster a sense of shared humanity instead of opposed nations/religions/ideologies.

Of course these things only work over a relatively long period of time. For a shorter perspective, in case of emergencies such as genocides or humanitarian disasters caused by the regime in question, unfortunately only violence will work. It does however have to be extremely well founded and used only as an absolute last resort. When it is used it must be quick, massive and with a clearly defined achievable political goal as its only purpose.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
May 16, 2009

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ John in Sweden -- Case in point: America's civil rights movement sent a message to the world that democracy is an evolving institution governed by laws and just constitution that must at all times be vigorously adheared to, and defended.

It's a process of making good on an idea.

U.S. foreign policy has evolved as well, as I think a global mindset has evolved as a natural concequence of real-time communication capability in the latter 20th century.

Dictators no longer exist in isolation with the eyes of the world upon them. Some take the attitude, "Why be famous when I can become infamous?"

Saddam is a fair example of this, and he bought his own ticket to oblivion.

A dictator's vanity in terms of his legacy may be engaged with to alter policies and set the stage for democratic transition in some cases.

In others, the regime itself narrows the options.

For the people, the old saying, "They have the guns, but we have the numbers." is the basis of successful peaceful protest, or a bloodbath.

If it become the latter, nations witness to these crimes against humanity cannot sit idly by, without incurring responsibility for the outcome.

Nations who are witness then must willingly take responsibility from the start that in an interactive world, to act or not to take action by force of arms, the regime itself has a vote in the matter, and a diplomatic way out of office if it so chooses that option.

A framework for peaceful transition in Burma?

Mugabe comes to mind...

Lost an election, clings to power through repression, and ultimately forced to share power with the opposition or risk being taken out of the picture completely.

To get a military junta to assign its forces to civilian control via democratic elections that bring new leadership is a matter of convincing them that the proper mindset needed is one that is in service to the people, not one opposed to their will.

And that their legacy is inherently connected to this decision.

Patricia S.
|
New York, USA
May 16, 2009

Patricia S. in New York writes:

@ John from Sweden -- A wonderful post. I agree with you 100%.

deborah
|
Georgia
May 16, 2009

Deborah in Georgia writes:

It would help if we were truly a democracy and behaved like one instead of the oppressive police state that this nation has become. We need true democracy ourselves in order to promote it. We are a republic, not a democracy. Our laws are perverted by bad men and women whose aim is too squash out the poor and make the laws as a trap for them. God help our country. But then we left Him out too. Who do we turn to if we make Him an enemy by the way we treat the poor and defenseless in our own country?

Carol
|
Texas, USA
May 16, 2009

Carol in Texas writes:

I believe Aung San Suu Kyi's non-violent approach. We must keep the lines of communication open to repressive regimes, as well as leading by example.

Non-violence is a slow, but effective show of Power. There are numerous successful examples throughout history. Military force, war and other examples of Force do not work except perhaps for the short-term.

Wendy
|
California, USA
May 16, 2009

Wendy in California writes:

The equivalent of EVERY man, woman, and child in the whole states of Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Virginia, and Indiana have NO health care in our United States of America. We will be more effective at promoting democracy when we ourselves don't, for instance, put the profits of insurance companies between a patient and her or his doctor.

We should preach less and practice more. In so far as we do implore collaboration with and extol the strengths of democracies, our new approach of less arrogance and fewer papal declarations of our own variegated virtues is a definite boon and step.

Invitations to Best Practices Forums for the college and high school students of countries we hope to engage would be a wisdom. So many of the old warhorses are calcified in their immensely out-of-date views disguised as off-stone-tablets principles. Engage our young folks with their young folks. And people like SecHillary who are flexible of mind and forward-thinking should do town meetings everywhere.

Syrian P.
|
Syria
May 17, 2009

SNP in Syria writes:

You are asking what is the best way to promote Democracy in repressive regimes, hmm.. Taking into account the brutality nature of these repressive regimes, and considering that you are serious about Democracy, there is one and only way. Give the freedom fighters and revolutionary Democrats all the guns, amo, intel and cash they need and leave your marines enjoying life with family at home in America. You will be thanked later and treated as liberators than occupiers and one that really brought Democracy to repressed nations instead of being called the cunning liars and deceivers who uses false flags and raises Championship flags bragging Democracy while your president bows down and kiss the hand of every oppressive ruler in the world . Get a life will ya, stop brainwashing little naive kids all over the world with your Hollywood produced con games..

Ron
|
New York, USA
May 17, 2009

Ron in New York writes:

Subordinating Repression.....

I just received a disturbing e-mail from a Colleague in Pakistan who is struggling against government repression of Christians and their religious leaders in their quest for a free and democratic Pakistan. Let's be sure not to sanction repression in the name of fighting terrorists.

Benjamin S.
|
New York, USA
May 18, 2009

Benjamin S. in New York writes:

As several commentators have pointed out we need to practice more then we preach. We are a powerful democracy. Yes, the rich are more powerful then the poor here but that is the case everywhere. But we have the mechanisms in place for the poor to be heard and eventually to make a difference. It is possible for the oppressed to be heard in our country even if it is harder then it should be.

Secondly, the road to democracy is not the same for every country. Iran is a powerful ancient land that has traditions and customs that are strong and deserve to be honored. Democracy and Islam are compatible and can share a role in the governance of a population. Zimbabwe is land out of control. An heroic past of throwing off oppression and then watching that triumph become corrupted. That combined with old traditions has created confusion and the brutal treatment of its' citizens.

People the world over want lives of dignity and respect. The path to that is different for us all and it's the role of the U.S. to understand that and provide assistance and aid towards that goal.

Tom
|
Florida, USA
May 18, 2009

Tom in Florida writes:

Each situation is different. Regarding Burma, the U.S. government should set up a special Human Rights office there to keep watch and focus attention on non-violence, non-imprisonment etc. Journalists should also be given protection in covering events so information can get out. Repressive regimes work through fear and intimidation. All that is necessary is to restrain them from violence and arresting people. But this requires a very actively engaged policy of promoting peace and dialogue in the region and countries where this oppression is taking place. If the regimes refuse entry, then international efforts should be organized, among all the bordering countries to isolate and disrupt any military supplies, as well as financial transactions used to finance military operations, such as accounts in Singapore etc.

grant
|
California, USA
May 19, 2009

Grant in California writes:

As other people have mentioned, each situation is different. Nevertheless, there are basic principles that cannot be neglected or abrogated when promoting democracy anywhere. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "democracy" as a "Government by the people -- denoting a social state in which all have equal rights, without hereditary or arbitrary differences of rank or privilege." If this definition can be agreed on, then supporting two concepts "Human Rights and the rule of law" are the most effective way to promote democracy within repressive regimes, including Burma.

Supporting the first concept means that the U.S. and the international community needs to universally support basic Human Rights (e.g. Universal Declaration of Human Rights) first, last and always. The principles of Human Rights are rooted in their daily application, not in just wars that are an anomaly. In other words, the State Department should concern itself with unequivocally promoting Human Rights before concentrating on every possible Human Rights contingency.

The second aspect in promoting democracy is to universally up hold and follow the rule-of-law. By this universality, I mean that the U.S. needs to support the fair application of the rule-of-law, which includes all parties being equally subjected to all laws. This can only been accomplished if international law (e.g. Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Geneva Conventions of 1949) and the promotion of domestic legal systems are widely viewed as legitimate and accessible. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent policies enacted under occupation -- regardless of one's personal opinion -- treated the rule-of-law as a guideline to possibly consider, not as a binding requirement (for example, see Executive Order 13303 of May 2003 and Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 48 of December 2003).

Promoting democracy within repressive regimes is not a conundrum. What individual, even among us, would want democracy when it involves arbitrarily prosecuting Human Rights violators and applying the rule-of-law? Unfortunately, it is not possible to transform oppressive regimes overnight. But in order to effectively promote democracy, individuals within repressive regimes need to broadly see the U.S. as a symbol of hope and fairness. This is unlikely if these two concepts are not the foundation of any policy. The goal is equal rights for all; thus states need to work within the existing framework or propose reforms while still adhering to it. Otherwise, all legitimacy is lost.

joe
|
Tennessee, USA
May 19, 2009

Joe in Tennessee writes:

Russia has done the most wonderful job in reinstituting its power and respect by development from within and respect from the outside to foreign nations.

While their objective may not promote a democratic ideology, the methodology is without doubt the most successful in recent history short of our success in South America.

We have given many of our past manufacturing and service business to countries that now purchase their military hardware, steel, aluminum and nuclear energy plants from Russia. India, China (initially), Iraq, Peru, Bolivia, Italy, France, Germany and now Japan, who have all benefited from the United States of Americas charity as well as industry which exist only because of our freedoms, all render their fiscal loyalty to Russia and China. WHY?

When you answer that, you will have your answer! "You must first adapt to prevail."

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
May 19, 2009

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Some op-ed the other day was asking whether Russia was on the road to "Superpower" status....

I'd say you can be the big kid on the block, but if you feed the neighborhood,..that's being a hero. Does tend to make nations popular, as well.

Power is all in what Russia does with it.

So's freedom.

muthu r.
|
India
May 20, 2009

Muthu in India writes:

by the means of sathya, dharma and ahimsa

Kevin
|
California, USA
June 24, 2009

Kevin in California writes:

Economic sanctions, the more comprehensive the better--as we learned conclusively in the case of South Africa. I understand that the Chevron Corp. is helping to keep the Burmese junta in power with enormous revenues from a natural gas pipeline, though through clever accounting tricks, the relationship is not obvious. Chevron ought to be stopped by sanctions, along with any other companies that profit from this murderous regime.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
May 21, 2009

Eric in New Mexico writes:

In tribute to one of America's most effective good will Ambassadors:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/8060619.stm

The American actor Wayne Allwine, who was the voice of Mickey Mouse for 32 years has died at the age of 62.

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