Freedom at Issue:

Insights on the global struggle for democracy

March 2013

March 21 marked the end of the New York leg of Cuban blogger and activist Yoani Sánchez’s highly publicized international tour. Since beginning the 80-day, 12-country whirlwind of speaking engagements in February, Sánchez, whose blog Generación Y is now translated into nearly 20 languages, has been met with equal measures of protest and warmth in Brazil, Mexico, Europe, and the United States. Arguably the most influential blogger writing within Cuba, Sánchez was denied an exit visa 21 times over the last five years, but she finally received permission to leave the island last month under a broader government initiative to loosen travel restrictions.


Thomas R. Lansner examines the war in Mali through a series of riveting photos.


Authoritarian regimes around the world are exporting their worst practices and working together to repress their own citizens and undermine human rights standards internationally. They have collaborated extensively to strengthen their grip on power, often in the face of domestic discontent and international criticism. This cooperation, which might be dubbed “authoritarian internationalism,” presents a significant challenge to democracy around the world and has likely contributed to the decline in global freedom registered by Freedom House over the past seven years.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has gone to great lengths to market itself to the world as a cosmopolitan oasis and regional hub for education, culture, and finance. Substantial donations to New York University and the Sorbonne have lured these prestigious institutions to open satellite campuses in Abu Dhabi. The Guggenheim and Louvre have also expanded their collections to satellite museums in the Emirati capital. However, as the UAE authorities escalate their repression of civil society, the cracks in the country’s veneer of relative tolerance are becoming more apparent.


Today, as on March 8 every year since 1911, men and women around the globe celebrate the contributions women make to humankind. Although both egregious abuses and subtle discrimination persist worldwide, real progress toward gender equality, which means progress for humanity as a whole, appears to be gaining momentum.

My husband, Gao Zhisheng, is a lawyer who has always fought for the rights of the vulnerable social groups in China including working pro bono for poor people.  In China, the abused party is usually vulnerable social groups and the abusing party is usually the one with power.  In this context, lawyers defending the abused party come under huge pressure and face threats from the powerful.  Gao Zhisheng doesn’t fear the powerful. He spreads righteousness and human rights by taking advantage of his capacity as a lawyer.  His familiarity with the law and his eloquence have allowed him to win justice for many victims.  Because of his work, he has also won his reputation and the love of the people.  He was even praised by the official media and has won numerous prizes.

Even as Egypt prepares to elect a new People’s Assembly to replace the chamber that was dissolved by court order in early 2012, the Islamist government is ushering crucial new laws on civil society organizations (CSOs) through the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council. Far from easing the already problematic restrictions of the Mubarak era, the proposed measures would expose CSOs to criminal penalties and arbitrary closure for a range of vaguely defined infractions.

Kim G. Davis

The start of President Obama’s second term is an excellent time to reinvigorate and reimagine America’s foreign policy agenda in the area of human rights and economic development. We need a new approach, and we need to do a better job of explaining to the American people the critical importance of an activist and engaged foreign policy.

 

Vukasin Petrovic

Next Monday, Kenyans will go to the polls for what are regarded as the most important general elections in the country’s history. But these voters face a less than inspiring choice. Regardless of whom they elect, it is doubtful that the process will result in a much-needed transformation of the dominant political culture, which is characterized by ethnic favoritism, widespread corruption, and impunity for human rights violations.