Freedom House, a Washington, DC-based NGO, today released its annual assessment of the state of democracy worldwide. The bottom line: freedom is in retreat for the third year in a row, with most reversals having occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union. The study looks at the world’s 193 countries and 16 strategic territories, classifying them as Free, Partly Free, or Not Free. Overall, 34 countries fell in the rankings, while only 14 advanced.
Key findings from the study after the jump…
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.