Freedom in the World 2014


Green = free
Yellow = partly free
Blue = Not Free

The pro-democracy and human rights group Freedom House annually publishes what is probably now my most highly-awaited report, ‘Freedom in the World’.  Today they published their 2014 edition, containing reports compiled over 2013.  It’s been unveiled under the gloomy headline, “An Eighth Year of Decline in Political Rights and Civil Liberties,” which certainly is quite depressing.  Having had a quick nose through the report, however, I don’t believe there’s reason for complete despair just yet.  It’s a similar trend to which we saw last year, of progress and regression pushing against each other with little progress either way.  There’s a lot of good news in here too.

Countries which have made significant changes are:

Bhutan has for a while been hovering at the lower end of the ‘partly free’ spectrum as its recent experiment with democracy has continued.  These reforms have been entrenched by the country’s first democratic rotation of power in history, which has in turn improved the state of civil liberties.

Central African Republic
This poor, landlocked African country has more or less collapsed over the last year.  A coalition of rebels overthrew President Bozizé in March which has led to the rapid disintegration of law and order, characterised by horrific sectarian clashes between Christians and Muslims.  France has sent 1,600 troops to help restore order and prevent a decline into civil war, with further pledges of support from other European and African states.

Egypt is a very depressing case right now.  I had so many hopes that it was on a path to democracy, albeit Islamist-tinted, but in July, following mass protests, President Morsi was deposed by the army.  There’s subsequently been heavy repression by the state against political opponents, with the Muslim Brotherhood named once again a terrorist organisation.  A constitutional referendum has recently passed which demands fresh elections to be held later this year but I’m not particularly optimistic about these.

After Mali’s dramatic decline last year, jumping straight from ‘free’ to ‘not free’ as a result of the northern rebellion and military coup, it’s refreshing to see some positive developments once again.  Following a French and African Union-backed campaign to rid the north of Islamist rebels, elections deemed mostly free and fair have been able to occur.  The country has a long way to go to recover it’s previous position but it seems to be on the right track.

I confess to know very little about Nicaragua, but it’s seen improvements both to political rights and civil liberties ratings.  As far as I’m aware this is due to general attempts to create constitutional reforms and reduce corruption.

South Sudan
South Sudan has also been in the news recently due to increased political and ethnic violence.  It’s thought that as many as 500,000 people have been displaced, while several cities and territories have fallen under rebel control.  The government appears to be reasserting itself but there are real fears of a descent into civil war.  This has unsurprisingly caused a decline in the country’s civil liberty ratings (it’s political rating would probably have fallen too had it not already been pretty poor).

Tunisia’s performance is my favourite aspect of this report.  There were fears that hard-fought gains might be lost in a climate of political assassinations and disputes, but political parties and movements seem to have managed to work together to continue the country’s transition to democracy, helping cause an increase to the country’s civil liberties rating.  Tunisia may end up being the Arab Spring’s only success story.

Other Positive Changes
Other countries to see positive changes and trends are Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Iraq,* Italy, Japan, Madagascar, the Maldives, Pakistan, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo, Tonga and Zimbabwe.**

Other Negative Changes
Other countries to see negative changes and trends are Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, the Gambia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Sierra Leone, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tanzania, Uganda, Ukraine, Venezuela, Zambia and the Gaza Strip.

Worst of the Worst
All nine of last year’s worst-performing countries maintain the lowest possible score on political rights and civil liberties – Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.  The Central African Republic has this year been added to the group, while the unrecognised states of Tibet and Western Sahara also remain on it.

This may seem very bleak but there are a significant number of success stories which can serve as further inspiration for the continuingly oppressed peoples around the world.  Each year Freedom House additionally numbers the amount of ‘electoral democracies’ in the world – I’m not entirely sure what their criteria for this is – which actually saw an increase of 5 in this report, bringing the total amount of electoral democracies to 63.1%, the highest since 2007.  Here’s hoping these foundations can bring about an overall increase next year.

For the full report, see here.

*I’m quite surprised by this too, although Iraq is still firmly in the ‘not free’ category.
**I’m also rather surprised by this, but I imagine this is simply because less people died during last year’s elections than in 2008.

Central African Republic Rebellion (March 2013)

The issue of a rebellion in the Central African Republic (CAR), which I blogged about when the story first surfaced in January, seems to have escalated once more.  Al Jazeera is reporting that the Seleka rebel coalition, which seeks to forcible remove President Bozizé, have made it into the capital Bangui and have engaged in battle with the CAR Army.  Apparently this is a response to the President having broken the January ceasefire agreement.

Knowing virtually nothing about the country, region or issues involved, I couldn’t begin to speculate on what will happen.  Will the rebels successfully topple Bozizé, or will his fighters push them back?  Will the CAR’s regional allies step in to save him?  What will happen to him if the rebels succeed?  Will any of this make any difference to the people of the Republic?  For the last question, at least, the cynic in me would say none of this will affect the ‘ordinary person’ at all.

Also, it’s interesting to see varied reactions to this in the news.  Checking various websites, both Al Jazeera and Le Monde have this as breaking news on their front page, yet I can’t find a single mention on The Guardian and BBC News only has the story tucked away at the bottom of the ‘World News’ list.

Central African Republic Update

Just a quick update on yesterday’s post to say that it’s now being reported the Central African Republic rebels have stopped their advance towards the capital Bangui, and will participate in peace talks.  The country and region are so tied up in webs of alliances, loyalties and history that unless you’re an expert it’s near impossible to predict just what will happen.

Central African Republic Rebellion

For those of us who know nothing about the Central African Republic (CAR), which I would imagine shamefully is most people  – myself included – a recent rebellion appears to have sprung up out of nowhere.  The rebels took up their weapons not even a month ago on the 10th December 2012, and since have captured most of the north of the country, in some cases without firing a shot.  They are within reach of the capital Bangui, some reports saying their positions are less than 100 miles away.The background of the rebellion is complex and I know little of it.  It seems to be after a peace deal signed in 2007 after another rebellion – the CAR has faced endless coups and rebellions since gaining independence from France in 1960 – which the rebels claim has not been followed correctly.  The rebels’ aims are to depose President Francois Bozizé, who has ruled since 2003.  They claim to have no interest in entering government themselves, rather they want to kickstart democratic processes.

Bozizé first appealed for international aid, but his cries have gone mostly unheard.  There are around 200 French soldiers in the CAR in a logistical role, helping to train the local army, but President Francois Hollande of France has stated they will not get involved in the conflict.  The CAR’s neighbours also seem reluctant to intervene.  Desperate, Bozizé took the sensible move of offering to let the rebels in to a unity government.  The rebels rejected this offer however, stating that they do not trust his words.

The Central African Republic looks to be on the brink of a crisis.