Democracy under attack –Violence & Repression

A new generation against the old?

The democratic processes are under attack all around the world. The use of violence, threats of violence, arrests, beating, torture and imprisonment is widespread with the aim of restricting democratic action. On 1 January 2016, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development came into force. The Sustainable Development Goals are not just a renewed international framework to eradicate poverty but also should be a paradigm shift, explicitly and clearly linking development to the respect of human rights.  Without the respect for human rights and democracy there will be no inclusive progress making sure no one is left behind.

Violence

Protest rally against Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus

An upsurge in violence is often the preliminary to an election campaign.  In Belarus this year widespread arrests and beatings were timed to keep political activists locked up during the elections period. Police arbitrarily arrested journalists, bloggers, and political activists ahead of the August presidential election [1] which have been widely condemned as unfair.  Ongoing protest against the rigging of the elections has resulted in widespread arrests, torture and human rights abuses according to Human Rights Watch. Political opponents have fled and an attempt was made to forcibly eject an opposition leader from the country. [2]

In the USA there has been a rise in street violence throughout the current presidential election campaign, with militias carrying weapons in the streets, and  vigilante attacks on demonstrators.[3]  Black Lives matter protests against police brutality in the USA have been met with a wave of police brutality. The use of tear gas, batons, pepper spray, fists, feet and vehicles against unarmed protestors has escalated peaceful protests into violence.[4]  The refusal of those is power to condemn police violence adds to the frustration with the political process.

A scathing UN report has found  Venezuelan President Maduro and his top ministers to be responsible for extra judicial killings and the systemic use of torture against any kind of opposition amounting to crimes against humanity.[5] This all sounds like a throwback to the latter half of the 20th century when a gallery of dictators ruled by such means in South and Central America. Current protests in Venezuela, largely outside the capital against shortages have seen the police and “colectivos” or armed militia to break up demonstrations with tear gas and arresting scores.

A New Generation

Leopoldo López, one of Venezuela’s government most visible opponents

Those engaging in the new democratic struggles are not the one who threw off colonial or dictatorial regimes.  Many have grown up with democracy, are aware of their rights, and are angry to see the squeeze on civic space and their rights being trampled on. Government are afraid of that new voice and responding with violence.  There is a string of examples from across the world where the new generation are no longer keeping quiet.

Nigeria’s younger citizens, using their social media networks to mobilise, are demanding their elected government treat them with dignity and protect their constitutional rights and democratic freedoms of expression, association and assembly. At least 10 protestors have been killed by same brutal police that the young people are protesting about.

Young protestors in Thailand have increasingly defied the Government ban on protest but also used pop culture and other creative ways to make their point[6]. This has still been met by the police using water cannon laced with blue dye and tear gas. In the UK young protestors against the Government’s inaction on the climate crisis defied the police in the Extinction Rebellion protests resulting in almost 700 arrests. The UK Government has threatened to declare Extinction rebellion a criminal organisation that promotes an extreme even terrorist view.

The so called Umbrella Revolution and other peaceful protests in Hong Kong, have been met with force which Amnesty International[7] call a “disturbing pattern of reckless and unlawful tactics against people during the protests. This has included arbitrary arrests and retaliatory violence against arrested persons in custody, some of which has amounted to torture.”  The response has been for young protestors to continue protesting but adopting different tactics.  A spiral of violence, and more human rights abuses, has resulted.

Even for the sake of progress on the SDG’s, will the older generation, who still largely hold the power in governments, continue to respond with violence to the younger generation in the struggle to engage in the political sphere? Democracy is at stake.

Written by Gill Peace, our Operations Manager


[1] Human Rights Watch 30 July 2020 Belarus: Crackdown on Political Activists, Journalists.

Arrests, Criminal Charges, Police Beatings Ahead of August 9 Presidential Vote.

[2] Belarus opposition politician told she would be deported ‘alive or in bits’  BBC News 10 Sept 2020.

[3] New York Times 3 September 2020 Farhad Manjoo.

[4] Guardian 6 June 2020.

[5] Venezuela crimes against humanity UN OCHR September 2020.

[6] Why a new generation of Thais are protesting against the government, Yvette Tan BBC News 1 Aug 2020.

[7] How not to police a demonstration. Amnesty International.