NEW YORK - Western democracies should overcome their aversion to Islamist groups that enjoy popular support in North Africa and the Middle East and encourage them to respect basic rights, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Sunday.
HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said in the group's annual report that the past year's Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings across the region have shown it is vital for the West to end its policy of backing "an array of Arab autocrats" in exchange for supporting Western interests.RELATED:'Arab League should publish Syria monitors' report'Cost of 'Arab Spring' more than $55 billion
The West should also be more consistent in supporting pro-democracy forces in the Arab world and elsewhere, he said in HRW's 690-page report on human rights abuses worldwide.
"The international community must ... come to terms with political Islam when it represents a majority preference," he said. "Islamist parties are genuinely popular in much of the Arab world, in part because many Arabs have come to see political Islam as the antithesis of autocratic rule."
"Wherever Islam-inspired governments emerge, the international community should focus on encouraging, and if need be pressuring, them to respect basic rights - just as the Christian-labeled parties and governments of Europe are expected to do," he said in the introduction to the report.
He added that the international community "should adopt a more principled approach to the region than in the past. That would involve, foremost, clearly siding with democratic reformers even at the expense of abandoning autocratic friends."
Islamist blocs have emerged as major political forces in both Tunisia and Egypt.
HRW praised the United States and European Union for their tough stance on the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's brutal crackdown on protesters, which eventually led to a UN Security Council authorization for military action to protect civilians.
The NATO intervention in Libya's civil war led to Gaddafi's ouster and death
at the hands of rebel forces.
After initially hesitating over Syria, Roth said the United States and
EU imposed sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad's government
for a crackdown on pro-democratic demonstrators that has killed at least
5,000 civilians, according to UN figures.
"Elsewhere, however, the Western approach to the region's uprisings has been more tentative and uncertain," Roth said.