Freedom in the World 2009: Freedom Retreats for Third Year

Washington

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."

Freedom in the World 2009 examines the state of freedom in all 193 countries and 16 strategic territories. The survey analyzes developments that occurred in 2008 and assigns each country a freedom status — either Free, Partly Free or Not Free based on a scoring of performance in key freedoms.

The overview includes an analysis of changes during the Bush Administration and suggests priorities for the incoming Obama Administration and the leaders of other established democracies. The survey firmly rejects the premise that engaging with authoritarian leaders means ignoring their policies of domestic repression.

"At a time when democracy's antagonists are increasingly assertive and its supporters are in disarray, the new administration must focus on the need to protect fundamental freedoms and support the frontline defenders and advocates," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director.

The Taiwan Foundation for Democracy will host an event on the survey's findings in Taipei, Taiwan January 13 at 9 a.m. at the Far Eastern Plaza Hotel. Taiwan was chosen as the locale for the release because of its strategic position in Asia, not only geographically and economically, but also as one of its most vibrant democracies.

Although setbacks in 2008 did not represent substantial declines for most countries, setbacks were numerous and affected most regions. Overall, 34 countries registered declines in freedom and 14 registered improvements.

Three countries saw declines in scores that resulted in status changes: Afghanistan, which moved from Partly Free to Not Free; Mauritania, Partly Free to Not Free; and Senegal, Free to Partly Free. Three countries, all from South Asia, moved from Not Free to Partly Free: Pakistan, Maldives and Bhutan.  Two countries in Western Europe—Italy and Greece—experienced modest declines.

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.

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties worldwide since 1972.

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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