Global freedom on the slide: report
January 12, 2009 – 3:12PM
Freedom was on the march downward in 2008, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union, a private democracy watchdog organisation says.
It was the third year in a row that Freedom House had judged a drop in global freedom, though the pace of the decline slowed, thanks in part to significant improvements in South Asia, including Pakistan.
The group analysed 193 countries and found 89 were free, representing 46 per cent of the global population. That total was one fewer than in 2007; Senegal no longer was a member of the free club.
By comparison, 42 countries earned the “not free” designation.
They account for 34 per cent of the population – with just one “not free” nation, China, accounting for nearly three-fifths of that total.
The report on global freedom has been published annually since 1972.
“The decline in freedom has coincided with the onset of a forceful reaction against democratic reformers, international assistance to the reformers and the very idea of democracy,” said Arch Puddington, director of research for Freedom House.
The non-governmental organisation has promoted the expansion of freedom around the world since 1941.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia, New Zealand, some Pacific island nations, Indonesia, India, Japan, Bhutan and Mongolia were rated as full members of the free club.
Burma and Fiji were among nations which got thumbs down.
With the biggest setbacks in sub-Saharan Africa, declines in freedom were noted in Senegal, Mauritania, Congo, Guinea, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. There were gains in Zambia, Comoros, Angola and Ivory Coast.
Puddington said there was no single, identifiable reason for the decline in Africa.
“We did, however, see a trend whereby countries in which democratic performance was already poor getting even poorer,” he said, citing Zimbabwe, Guinea and Equatorial Guinea.
The former Soviet Union was the only region to show consistent decline during the past decade.
Among the factors, he said, were the presence of a number of “petro-authoritarian” states in the region, such as Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, and the continued authoritarian legacy of the Soviet Union and the strong influence of Russia on its neighbours.
The report said democracy declined significantly in Russia and US-backed Georgia, as well as in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova.
South Asia showed the most progress, the report said, with big improvements in Pakistan, Maldives and Bhutan.
“South Asia was the bright spot in 2008,” Puddington said.
“This is especially important because South Asia has experienced so many years of chaos and upheaval.”
The organisation says the survey ratings and narrative reports are used by policymakers, the media, international corporations, civic activists, and human rights defenders to monitor trends in democracy and track improvements and setbacks in freedom worldwide.
*Free: The number of countries judged by the report as free in 2008 stands at 89, representing 46 per cent of the world’s countries and 46 per cent of the global population. The number of free countries declined by one from 2007.
*Partly Free: The number of partly free countries is 62, or 32 per cent of all countries assessed by the survey and 20 per cent of the world’s total population. The number of partly free countries increased by two.
*Not Free: The report designates 42 countries as not free, representing 22 per cent of the total number of countries and 34 per cent of the world population. Nearly 60 per cent of this number lives in China. The number of not free countries declined by one.
*Electoral Democracies: The number of electoral democracies dropped by two and stands at 119. Developments in Mauritania, Georgia, Venezuela and Central African Republic disqualified them from the electoral democracy list, while Bosnia-Herzegovina and Bangladesh became electoral democracies.
Worst of the worst:
Worst of the Worst: Of the 42 countries designated not free, eight received the survey’s lowest possible ranking for both political rights and civil liberties: North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Libya, Sudan, Burma, Equatorial Guinea and Somalia. Two territories are in the same category: Tibet and Chechnya. Eleven other countries and territories received scores that were slightly better: Belarus, Chad, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Laos, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Zimbabwe, South Ossetia and Western Sahara.
*Sub-Saharan Africa: Twelve countries and one territory – about one-fourth of the regional total – experienced setbacks in 2008. In addition to Senegal and Mauritania, declines were also registered in Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Namibia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Somaliland. The region’s downturn comes after several years of modest improvement. Positive developments include gains in Zambia, Comoros, Angola and Cote d’Ivoire.
*Asia: The most significant progress occurred in South Asia, where several countries saw improvements linked to elections. In addition to significant improvements in Pakistan, Maldives and Bhutan, some progress was also seen in Nepal, Kashmir, Malaysia and Thailand. Declines were registered in Afghanistan, Burma, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Singapore and Tibet. China increased repression instead of delivering human rights reforms pledged in connection to hosting the Summer Olympics.
*Middle East/North Africa: After several years of modest gains earlier in the decade, the Middle East/North Africa is now experiencing stagnation. Iraq is the only country to show improvement because of reductions in violence, political terror and government-sponsored Shia militias, although it retains its Not Free status. Jordan, Bahrain, Iran, the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli-Occupied Territories also declined.
*Western Europe and North America: The region continues to earn the highest scores in Freedom in the World. The election of Barack Obama as US president could lead to reforms of problematic counterterrorism policies. Two European countries experienced declines in 2008: Italy and Greece. The survey also voices concern about potential threats to freedom of expression in Canada and Great Britain.
© 2009 AP