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 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.