Freedom in the World 2009: Freedom Retreats for Third Year


Probably the only positive thing we can mention about the Freedom House report published on 12 January is that Ukraine basically gets no attention!  While the report says that the republics of the former Soviet Union saw the most reversals, Ukraine’s is the only non-Baltic republic falling into the category of free. Those deemed Partially Free are: Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova, while the following are considered Not Free:  Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The following is from the press release issued on 12 January.

Freedom retreated in much of the world in 2008, the third year of global decline as measured by Freedom House’s annual survey of political rights and civil liberties which released today. Sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union saw the most reversals, while South Asia showed significant improvement.

"The advance of freedom in South Asia was a rare bright spot in a year that was otherwise marked by setbacks and stagnation," said Freedom House Director of Research Arch Puddington, who pegged the start of the global downturn to the period directly following the "color revolutions" in Europe. "Powerful regimes worldwide have reacted to the ’color revolutions’ with calculated and forceful measures designed to suppress democratic reformers, international assistance to those reformers and ultimately the very idea of democracy itself."

Key global findings include:
•  Free: The number of countries judged by Freedom in the World as Free in 2008 stands at 89, representing 46 percent of the world’s countries and 46 percent 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 percent of all countries assessed by the survey and 20 percent 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 percent of the total number of countries and 34 percent of the world population. Nearly 60 percent 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. 

Key regional findings include:

•  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.
•  Former Soviet Union/Central and Eastern Europe: Non-Baltic countries of the former Soviet Union continued their decade-long decline, now ranking below Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East on several survey indicators. Russia and Georgia, which went to war over South Ossetia, were among the region’s notable declines, as well as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Moldova. Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe remains strong, despite setbacks in Bulgaria and Macedonia.
•  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.
•  Americas: The region managed to maintain its democratic character despite economic concerns, an increase in violent crime in some countries and the rise of populist demagogues. Paraguay and Cuba saw improvements in 2008, although the Castro government continues to be one of the world’s most repressive regimes. Colombia, Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela were among the countries registering declines.
•  Western Europe and North America: The region continues to earn the highest scores in Freedom in the World. The election of Barack Obama as U.S. 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.

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