Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2007

The year 2006 saw little change in the global state of freedom in the world and the emergence of a series of worrisome trends that present potentially serious threats to the expansion of freedom in the future, Freedom House said in a major survey of global freedom released today.

Freedom in the World 2007, a survey of worldwide political rights and civil liberties, found that the percentage of countries designated as Free has remained flat for nearly a decade and suggests that a "freedom stagnation" may be developing.

The continued weakness of democratic institutions--even after holding democratic elections--in a number of countries continues to hamper further progress. "Although the past 30 years have seen significant gains for political freedom around the world, the number of Free countries has remained largely unchanged since the high point in 1998. Our assessment points to a freedom stagnation that has developed in the last decade," said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House, "and should lead to renewed policy attention to addressing the obstacles that are preventing further progress."

Regionally, major findings include a setback for freedom in a number of countries in the Asia-Pacific region, a more modest decline in Africa, and a solidification of authoritarian rule in the majority of countries of the former Soviet Union. Three countries experienced positive status changes: Guyana moved from Partly Free to Free, and Haiti and Nepal moved from Not Free to Partly Free. Two countries experienced negative status changes: both Thailand and Congo (Brazzaville) moved from Partly Free to Not Free.

Freedom House also noted that the trends reflected the growing pushback against democracy driven by authoritarian regimes, including Russia, Venezuela, China, Iran, and Zimbabwe, threatening to further erode the gains made in the last thirty years. The pushback is targeted at organizations, movements, and media that advocate for the expansion of democratic freedoms.

On a global scale, the state of freedom in 2006 showed a modest decline from that of 2005. The number of countries that experienced negative changes in freedom without meriting a status change outweighed those that received positive changes: the scores for 33 countries declined, while only 18 improved.

According to the survey, the number of countries judged by Freedom in the World as Free in 2006 stood at 90, representing 47 percent of the global population. Fifty-eight countries qualified as Partly Free, with 30 percent of the world's population. The survey finds that 45 countries are Not Free, representing 23 percent of the world's inhabitants. About one-half of those living in Not Free conditions inhabit one country: China.

Several of the countries that showed declines during the year were already ranked among the world's most repressive states: Burma, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Eritrea and Iran. Yet declines were also noted in a number of countries rated Free or Partly Free, but whose democratic institutions remain unformed or fragile, as well as in societies that had previously demonstrated a strong measure of democratic stability: South Africa, Kenya, Taiwan, Philippines, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Hungary.

"While the past year was not a good year for freedom, the trend over the past decade is even more disturbing," said Arch Puddington, director of research at Freedom House. "Not only have we failed to make significant breakthroughs, but we have seen the emergence of authoritarian regimes--Russia, Venezuela, and Iran are good examples--that are aggressively hostile to democracy, are determined to crush all domestic advocates for freedom, and stand as models for democracy's adversaries everywhere."

The survey detected a number of trends that affected many countries across regions. These included a decline in freedom of expression and freedom of the press, a weakness in the rule of law, and pervasive corruption and a lack of government transparency.

Regionally, Asia experienced the largest proportion of lowered scores in 2006. While the dominant development was the military-led coup that ousted Thailand's democratically elected prime minister, other countries previously considered showcases of Asian freedom, including the Philippines and East Timor, also experienced setbacks. In addition, ethnic and religious divisions were a major problem in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Fiji. The region's most important positive development was Nepal's climb from Not Free to Partly Free due to the end of direct rule by the king and the return of parliament.

After several years of steady gains for democracy, Sub-Saharan Africa also suffered more setbacks than gains during the year. Congo (Brazzaville) saw its status decline from Partly Free to Not Free due principally to a lack of governmental transparency. Other countries, such as Burundi, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Somalia, and South Africa, suffered declines as well. On the positive side, the successful presidential elections in Congo (Kinshasa), the first in the country's history, led to an improved political rights rating. Liberia, which showed progress in fighting corruption and expanding government transparency, also experienced a ratings increase.

There was little significant change in the state of freedom in the former Soviet Union in 2006. As was the case in the previous year, the only relatively bright spots were Ukraine, which enjoys a Free rating, and Georgia, a Partly Free country. On the negative side, Russia continued to serve as a model for authoritarian-minded leaders in the region and elsewhere, and the country experienced a modest decline as a result of its crackdown on non-governmental organizations. Modest declines were also noted in Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan.

The number of electoral democracies in the world in 2006 remained unchanged at 123.
 

Regional Patterns

Of the 35 countries in the Americas, 25 are Free (71 percent), 9 are Partly Free (26 percent), and one--Cuba--is Not Free (3 percent). In Latin America in particular, the past year was marked by an impressive number of competitive and fair elections in relatively new democracies experiencing social turbulence. Haiti, meanwhile, joined the ranks of electoral democracies, and its score improved from Not Free to Partly Free.

At the same time, Freedom in the World noted several problems in the United States, including a series of political corruption cases and weakness in the enforcement of laws allowing workers to engage in collective bargaining. Additionally, counter-terrorism policies of the Bush administration led to continued concerns about the protection of civil liberties.

Of the 18 countries in the Middle East/North Africa region, one country (Israel) is Free (6 percent), 6 are Partly Free (33 percent), and 11 are Not Free (61 percent). The region saw little change over the past year. The civil liberties ratings of both Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates increased as a result of improvements in freedom of assembly, while Syria's rating gained due to a small improvement in greater personal autonomy. Modest declines were registered in Egypt for repression of the political opposition and in Bahrain and Iran for the curtailment of freedom of assembly. Declines were also noted in Iraq and the Palestinian Authority. In Lebanon, the promising achievements of the Cedar Revolution were seriously jeopardized by the conflict with Israel that erupted in the summer of 2006 and by efforts of Hezbollah to bring down the elected government.

In Western Europe, 24 countries are Free (96 percent) and one country, Turkey, is Partly Free. The survey again took note of some European governments' failure to integrate non-white immigrants into the fabric of European economic and cultural life.

Of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, 11 are Free (23 percent), 22 are Partly Free (46 percent), and 15 are Not Free (31 percent).

Sixteen of Asia's 39 countries are Free (41 percent), while 12 are Partly Free (31 percent) and 11 are Not Free (28 percent).

Of the 28 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, 13 are Free (46 percent), 8 are Partly Free (29 percent), and 7 are Not Free (25 percent).

 

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