July 19 was a guest of Radio Liberty, research director of the American human rights organization Freedom House, Christopher Walker. He answered a number of questions about Belarus
Mr. Uoker, according to reports from Freedom House annually Belarus has almost the same and thus extremely low scores. Do you notice any change in this country?
You were right to say that if we talk about the general trend of Belarus — among the worst countries in our recent report, Nations in Transit, as well as in our other studies, including those on freedom of the press and human rights.
In our surveys, Belarus is defined as consolidated authoritarian state. This means that there is very little room for a truly independent activities, if we talk about the electoral process, the media and civil society. In recent reports, we noted a slight improvement, not through actions of the Belarusian government, but because of the civil society that champions the expansion of space.
I would like to emphasize that the small improvement that we have noted in the report, Nations in Transit, much has happened in spite of the efforts of the government, not because of them. I think that it is important to understand that. From our point of view, the civil society of Belarus has always been a sector that gives the country hope. But the Belarusian civil society is faced with enormous obstacles — with a very unfavorable laws, regular pressure and intimidation.
I would also stressed that that tight control over the media that exists in Belarus, creates a huge obstacle for civil society. Indeed, in more open societies, civil society takes precedence, with the ability to get their message across to the people through the media. One can only imagine how hard it is in Belarus, where civil society can not get access to the traditional media.
What sources to assess the situation in a particular country, such as Belarus, are you using?
All of our reports for each country are usually answered by one senior analyst working on the report for months. Usually our analysts initially know the country quite well, they are studying. They use a variety of sources — from other studies, so at the end of each report you can usually see a long list of links, but also our analysts meet with a broad range of people to get the full information on the issues that we are investigating.
There are usually among those people that are your analysts, representatives of the governments of the countries examined?
It happens, but not always. Representatives of the governments are able to provide us with information, but in the end we have to make an independent assessment and based on what we believe an objective description of the situation. The problem is that in countries such as Belarus, where there is strict control over society, it is very difficult to verify the information from the ministries, the official statistics, since the Parliament or the media can not check it. This is clearly a hindrance, and it applies not only to the region but any country in the world where the government is not controlled by the public and non-transparent. Even in some basic information ministries can not be sure, so we're pretty careful about this.
As far as the conclusions of Freedom House to influence the decisions of the U.S. government and the governments of other Western countries?
I think our information is used in various ways. Of course, those who make decisions in the U.S., and, I think, outside the U.S., use our research to see which direction change the behavior of a country, as there are certain institutions in a country. We also hope that our findings will benefit the organization in the countries that are investigated. This does not necessarily agree with them, but we are happy when there is a debate about our reports.
For example, in the report, we examined 29 countries, including the new member states of south-eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. There's quite a lot of our findings reported local media. But the situation is different where the media have less freedom, including in Belarus. It seems that the situation has improved a bit here with a discussion on the Internet, but local television and radio stations do not have enough independence.
Some believe Freedom House tool of U.S. domination, you are accused of is that America's enemies get low scores on the state of human rights, and friends — are high. You do not agree with this criticism? How objective your assessment?
We consider them very objective. First of all, I would say that our findings and evaluation fall under close scrutiny. We get a lot of comments, and most of them are positive and constructive. Of course, those governments that have come under critical analysis, may make such comments as to your question. As for a different approach to different countries, I say this: if you look at the last years of our reports — you can see under what harsh criticism enter countries that are considered strategic allies of the United States. I will give just an example of Saudi Arabia, usually among the countries with the worst in our reports. The same thing with the countries of the former Soviet Union, which is usually referred to as partners and strategic allies of the United States. In my opinion, the level of criticism these countries by Freedom House contrary to the view that we follow someone else's instructions.
In your opinion, the interpretation of human rights — the universal, that is, the western, or other crops can have their own interpretation of the problem, in which position they are not as bad as a consequence of your reports?
Obviously, different countries have their own culture and traditions, as well as specific barriers to create a more democratic, transparent and open system. But it seems to me that this attempt to rationalize their unwillingness to respect the values expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or in the documents of the OSCE or the Council of Europe, which are owned and belong to many of the countries in question.
I would say that this is not Western values — for example, access to information, a fair trial in the judicial or executive authority — the majority of people it supports. If you look at the polls that do not ask, "Are you for democracy?" — It's a great concept that is easy to interpret in different ways — but ask: "Do you want the judges and the courts were able to independently and objectively examine your case?" — The answer will inevitably be "yes." The question then becomes how to get to such a degree of institutional development in your country, for that to occur? And I think that the best way to it — the democratic system, controlled society. Therefore, in my opinion, these arguments against the government's use of human rights, who do not want to give people rights.