Freedom in the World
Freedom in the World 2009
Progress in South Asia
The most significant gains for freedom in 2008 occurred in South Asia, a rare bright spot in a year marked by declines in much of the rest of the world, according to a new report released by Freedom House this week.
Freedom in the World 2009 showed that freedom was in its third consecutive year of global retreat, led by declines in the former Soviet Union and Sub-Saharan Africa. Freedom House also decried the lack of progress towards greater democracy in China, which suffered a decline in its treatment of ethnic minority and religious groups during the year in which Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics.
"South Asia was a rare standout in this year's survey because of historic elections in several countries that restored civilian governments and strengthened the political rights of citizens," said Arch Puddington, Freedom House director of research. "Freedom House urges the region's democrats to work to consolidate these gains so that South Asia can move beyond its volatile reputation."
Worldwide, 34 countries registered declines in freedom and 14 registered improvements.
Among the 39 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, 16 were rated Free in 2008, while 15 were rated Partly Free and 8 were rated Not Free. These numbers reflect the incredible diversity in the region which is home to vibrant democracies such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and India as well as some of the world's most repressive regimes including North Korea, Burma, China and Laos.
Competitive elections in Pakistan, Maldives and Bhutan helped move these countries from the Not Free to Partly Free category. Elections also played a role in the progress seen in Nepal and Bangladesh. Opposition parties made gains in both Indian-controlled Kashmir and its Pakistani-controlled counterpart.
Malaysia improved because of expanded opportunities for the political opposition, fewer restrictions on public protest and greater pluralism in the media. Thailand experienced a modest upgrade in its political rights rating, though at year's end the country remained in a state of political turmoil and faced serious threats to the future of its democratic institutions.
In contrast, Afghanistan dropped from the Partly Free to Not Free category because of rising insecurity as well as increasing corruption and inefficiency in government institutions. Declines were also registered in Burma, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Tibet and China.
"China's failure to deliver the human rights reforms it pledged in connection to hosting the Summer Olympics was the year's most disappointing development," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. She pointed out that freedom actually declined in the lead up to the Games as China's military leaders jailed human rights lawyers, democracy activists and journalists and stepped up their persecution of ethnic minorities and religious groups.
"Hopefully, the world has learned from this spectacle and will not award the Games to another repressive regime," she said.
Note: Reports with asterisks in the following list are for territories rather than countries.