Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2005

Political rights and civil liberties have become so restricted in Russia that the country has been downgraded to "Not Free".

The global survey, "Freedom in the World," shows that Russia was the only country to register a negative category change in 2004, moving from Partly Free to Not Free. However, Russia was not the only country in the former Soviet Union that experienced political and civic changes: setbacks took place in Belarus and Armenia, while freedom gained in the aftermath of civic protests in Georgia and Ukraine.

"Russia's step backwards into the Not Free category is the culmination of a growing trend under President Vladimir Putin to concentrate political authority, harass and intimidate the media, and politicize the country's law-enforcement system," said Freedom House Executive Director, Jennifer Windsor. "These moves mark a dangerous and disturbing drift toward authoritarianism in Russia, made more worrisome by President Putin's recent heavy-handed meddling in political developments in neighboring countries such as Ukraine."

The ratings reflect global events from December 1, 2003 through November 30, 2004.

Overall, freedom progressed worldwide in 2004, with 26 countries registering gains against 11 showing setbacks. Most gains and declines did not result in category shifts. Some potentially positive steps forward took place in the Middle East and North Africa, especially in the areas of women's rights and increased civic activism.

"Freedom and democracy have shown demonstrable resilience over the last few years despite tremendous global challenges, not least those posed by international terrorism," said Ms. Windsor.

Russia's status fell from Partly Free to Not Free because of the flawed nature of the country's parliamentary elections in December 2003 and presidential elections in 2004, the further consolidation of state control of the media, and the imposition of official curbs on opposition political parties and groups. Russia's retreat from freedom marks a low point not registered since 1989, when the country was part of the Soviet Union.

Other former Soviet countries registered setbacks in 2004. In Belarus, which already ranked as the least free country in Europe, harassment of opposition political forces ensured the victory of President Aleksander Lukashenka in an election in which he ran virtually unopposed. In Armenia, the government's violent suppression of peaceful civic protestors underscored its increasingly unresponsive and undemocratic rule.

The region was not devoid of positive developments, however. Ukraine's civil liberties rating improved in the wake of pronounced civic activism, greater judicial independence, and the widespread expansion of media freedoms following a flawed presidential election. In Georgia, the January election of Mikhail Saakashvili as president, and a well administered parliamentary election in March, improved the country's political rights score after international monitors deemed voting free and fair.

"The positive experiences in Georgia and Ukraine indicate that democratic ferment and non-violent civic protest are potent forces for political change," said Ms. Windsor. "They also reinforce freedom's gradual global advance."

According to the survey, 89 countries are Free. Their 2.8 billion inhabitants (44 percent of the world's population) enjoy a broad range of rights. Fifty-four countries representing 1.2 billion people (19 percent) are considered Partly Free. Political rights and civil liberties are more limited in these countries, in which corruption, dominant ruling parties, or, in some cases, ethnic or religious strife are often the norm. The survey finds that 49 countries are Not Free.The 2.4 billion inhabitants (37 percent) of these countries, nearly three-fifths of whom live in China, are denied most basic political rights and civil liberties.
 

Stirrings of Change in the Middle East?

The 2004 survey data reveal positive, albeit modest, trends in the Middle East and North Africa. While no countries in the region changed status, small gains were registered in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Qatar. Egypt's civil liberties score improved because of greater civic activism, particularly by women's advocacy groups. Jordan's civil liberties score improved due to improvements in women's rights and press freedom. Morocco's civil liberties score increased after the country passed one of the most liberal family codes in the Arab world. And Qatar's score improved as a result of gains in academic freedom. Notably, there were no gains in political rights registered in the Middle East and North Africa.

Among the study's other findings:

  • Of the world's 192 states, 119 are electoral democracies (89 Free and 30 Partly Free), an increase of 2 since 2003. While these states are not all rated Free, all provide considerable political space and media access for opposition movements and allow for elections that meet minimum international standards of ballot secrecy and vote tabulation.
  • Over the last 15 years, the number of electoral democracies has risen from 69 out of 167 (41 percent) to 119 out of 192 (62 percent). On average during that time frame, an additional 3 states have adopted minimal standards for free and fair elections each year.
  • Freedom further consolidated in Central Europe. Five of the new EU countries-the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia-achieved the highest possible survey rating: 1 for political rights and 1 for civil liberties.
     

Regional Findings

Democracy and freedom remain deeply rooted in Western Europe, with 24 states rated Free. One (Turkey) is rated Partly Free. Turkey's civil liberties rating improved in 2004 due to the passage of another round of major reforms, including an increase in Kurdish language broadcasting.

In the Americas, 24 countries are Free, 9 are Partly Free, and 2 (Haiti and Cuba) are Not Free. Antigua and Barbuda moved from Partly Free to Free after the electoral defeat of the corrupt Lester Bird, whose departure from government created significant opportunities to promote democratic practices and strengthen the rule of law.

In the Asia-Pacific region, 17 countries are Free, 11 are Partly Free, and 11 are Not Free. Malaysia's political rights score improved as a result of more openly contested national elections.

In Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, 12 countries are Free, 7 are Partly Free, and 8 are Not Free. Dramatic progress has been confined mostly to Central and Eastern Europe, where the 12 Free countries reside. Bosnia and Herzegovina's score improved in the wake of the country's first postwar elections organized entirely by Bosnian institutions.

In the Middle East and North Africa, one country (Israel) is Free, 5 countries are Partly Free and 12 are Not Free. The survey continues to rate the Israeli-occupied and Palestinian Authority governed territories as Not Free.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 11 countries are Free, 21 are Partly Free, and 16 are Not Free. Liberia moved from Not Free to Partly Free as a result of greater political freedom that developed through the establishment of a broad-based, transitional government. Zimbabwe's political rights declined further due to increased government repression of the political opposition, and Cote d'Ivoire's civil liberties declined because of an upsurge in violence emanating from an unresolved civil conflict.
 

Worst of the Worst

Of the 49 countries rated Not Free, 19 received the worst possible numerical rating (7) for political rights. The broadest restrictions on political activity take place in Belarus, Burma, Cuba, China, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Haiti, Iraq, Laos, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. Four territories, Chechnya (Russia), Kashmir (Pakistan), Tibet (China), and Western Sahara (Morocco) also received the lowest political rights rating.

The broadest violations of civil liberties-including freedom of speech, rule of law, and personal autonomy-take place in 9 countries: Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan. Chechnya and Tibet are also included in this category.

A total of 8 countries-Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan-receive the lowest possible scores for both political rights and civil liberties, making them the most repressive regimes in the world. Chechnya and Tibet also fall into this category.
 

Terrorism and Democracy

Freedom House survey data also shed some light on the debate about the relationship between the lack of political rights and civil liberties and the growing threat of international terrorism. According to a Freedom House analysis of global terrorist attacks of a five year period from 1999-2003, 70 percent of all attributable deaths by terrorism were perpetrated by terrorists and terrorist movements originating in Not Free countries. By contrast, only 8 percent of global fatalities from terrorism were perpetrated by terrorists and groupings with origins in the free world. "This suggests that the expansion of democracy and freedom is an important component in the international effort to rid the world of the terrorist scourge," said Adrian Karatnycky, principal analyst of Freedom in the World.

Note: Reports with asterisks in the following list are for territories rather than countries.

Americas

Asia-Pacific

Eurasia

Europe

Middle East and North Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa

Free

Not Free

Partly Free