Global Democracy Continues Forward March | Freedom House

Global Democracy Continues Forward March

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In a major study released today, Freedom House concludes that democracy and human rights made major gains over the past year as inter-ethnic conflict waned. The study, Freedom in the World 2000-2001, finds that a decade-long trend of positive, incremental gains for freedom continued in the year 2000, which saw major gains in Mexico and Yugoslavia.

According to the organization's annual survey, 86 countries representing 2.5 billion people or (40.7 percent of the world's population -- the highest proportion in the survey's history), are rated Free. Their inhabitants enjoy a broad range of rights. Fifty-nine countries, representing 1.4 billion people (23.8 percent), are considered Partly Free. Political rights and civil liberties are more limited in these countries, which are often characterized by corruption, dominant ruling parties, and, in some cases, ethnic or religious strife. The survey finds that 47 countries, representing 2.2 billion people (35.5 percent), fall into the Not Free category. Inhabitants of these countries are denied basic political rights and civil liberties.

Four countries--Croatia, Ghana, Mexico, and Suriname--moved from Partly Free to Free, continuing the steady decade-long move towards greater global freedom. Only one country, the Kyrgyz Republic, dropped from Partly Free to Not Free.

  • "The new U.S. administration will find a world moving towards enhanced political rights and civil liberties," declared Adrian Karatnycky, the president of Freedom House. "We hope that the new leadership will adopt policies to sustain the momentum towards freedom."
  • Significantly, the study found that the economies of Free countries grew at an average annual rate of 2.56 percent over a nine-year period -- a rate 70 percent higher than the average for Not Free states. The difference was more dramatic among poor countries. Among states with a per capita GDP under $5,000, the study found that Free countries grew at an average of 3.23 percent between 1990-1998, well over double the annual growth rate of poor Not Free states, which grew 1.52 percent each year. "Economic growth is accelerated in an environment where the rule of law is respected, property rights are enforced, citizenry is actively engaged in the political process, and investigative media serve to expose, and thus reduce corruption," the survey concludes.
  • Yugoslavia and Mexico registered the most dramatic gains in 2000. After 70 years of dominating rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mexico entered the ranks of the Free with the election of opposition leader Vicente Fox. This ushered in a diversification of the media and a more active civil society. Yugoslavia, the nerve center of Balkan unrest for the last decade, became an electoral democracy despite a failed effort by disgraced former president Slobodan Milosevic to thwart democracy.

Worst of the Worst

There are 47 states that deny a broad range of basic freedoms. Eleven of those countries received the lowest ratings for political rights and civil liberties. They are: Afghanistan, Burma, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan. Two territories, Tibet and Chechnya, were also among the worst of the worst.

Among the study's principal findings

  • Twenty-five countries registered forward momentum towards greater freedom,while 18 countries demonstrated deteriorating freedom.
  • A strong correlation exists between Free countries and those with significant economic prosperity, yet many impoverished countries do feature notable degrees of political rights and civil liberties (i.e. India, Mali).
  • Political rights in Russia eroded due to serious voting irregularities and unequal access to media for some candidates during presidential elections in March. The brutal ongoing war in Chechnya has also contributed significantly to the slide in basic freedoms.
  • There are 120 electoral democracies in the world today, representing 63 percent of the world's states, or 59.6 percent of the globe's population.

Regional Trends

Democracy and freedom remain deeply entrenched in Western Europe, with all 24 states rated Free.

Of the 35 countries in the Americas, 31 are electoral democracies (89 percent), 23 are rated Free (66 percent), 11 Partly Free (31 percent), and one--Cuba--is Not Free (3 percent).

In East-Central Europe and the former Soviet Union, the picture is bleaker. Nineteen of the 27 post-Communist states of East-Central Europe and the former USSR are electoral democracies (70 percent), yet only 11 are considered Free (41 percent). Ten are rated Partly Free (37 percent) and six Not Free (22 percent). Of the 12 non-Baltic former Soviet republics, six countries are Partly Free, six are Not Free and none are rated Free.

Of Africa's 53 nations, only nine are Free (17 percent). Twenty-five are Partly Free (47 percent) and 19 Not Free (36 percent). Twenty-one African nations are electoral democracies (40 percent).

In Asia, 18 of the region's 39 countries are Free (46 percent), 10 are Partly Free (26 percent), and eleven are Not Free (28 percent). Twenty-three of the region's polities are electoral democracies (59 percent).

Democracy and freedom remain the least rooted in the Middle East's 14 countries, with Israel the only country rated Free (7 percent). Three states--Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait--are Partly Free (21 percent) and 10 are Not Free (71 percent). Israel and Turkey are the only electoral democracies (14 percent of the country total) in the region.

The results of the annual Freedom in the World survey add greater momentum to the aims and values of the Community of Democracies, created in June 2000 in Warsaw, Poland, by 107 ministers of democratic and democratizing countries. The Community seeks to assist transitional societies and to create democracy caucuses in world bodies.

Top Five Gains for Freedom

  1. Mexico: The election of President Vicente Fox brought democracy to Mexico after more than seventy years of virtual one-party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party. Early signs suggest that Fox intends to reform and democratize Mexico's political and judicial structures.
  2. Yugoslavia: With the election of President Vojislav Kostunica, the bloody rule of Slobodan Milosevic has come to an end, giving rise to hope for genuine peace in the Balkans and the emergence of the rule of law in Belgrade.
  3. New Asian Values: In the Philippines, impeachment proceedings were brought against an allegedly corrupt president; in Indonesia, charges of corruption and abuse of power were brought against military officers and the son of the former dictator; and in Taiwan, the justice minister launched a crackdown on corruption. All represent crucial gains for the rule of law in formerly authoritarian states and set a new model for democratic Asian values.
  4. Peru: The resignation of President Alberto Fujimori has been followed by important gains for political freedom, human rights, the rule of law, and the prospect of free and fair elections in April 2001.
  5. The Community of Democracies: The convening of a conference of the world's democratic states creates the possibility for a new era of cooperation and concerted policy towards the spread of freedom.

Five Major Setbacks for Freedom

  1. Israel/Palestinian Territories: The upsurge of violence represents a serious setback for peace and stability in the Middle East.
  2. Erosion of political liberties in Russia and Ukraine: Both countries have suffered from growing authoritarianism and continuing rampant corruption.
  3. Venezuela: With a naked power grab against the country's independent trade unions, President Hugo Chavez is attempting to dominate civil society.
  4. Iran: Prospects for reform waned when conservative clerics led a backlash against the press, students, and moderate political figures.
  5. War in Africa: Civil war, ethnic conflict, and war between states engulfed much of Africa, with little relief in sight. Most disturbing is the prospect of a widening of Sierra Leone's civil strife to Guinea and neighboring states.

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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