Freedom at Issue:

Insights on the global struggle for democracy

October 2013

Tyler Roylance

magazine this week ranked Vladimir Putin number one on its list of the world’s most powerful people. Here are a few of the many reasons why this designation is misplaced.

In the days since the United States announced a partial cutoff of military aid to Egypt based on human rights concerns, foreign policy experts and commentators have been asking what it all means. Is it a wrongheaded blunder? Too little, too late? Is the United States losing Egypt?

Arch Puddington

For some time now, democracy promotion has been under concentrated attack from authoritarian sources ranging from Robert Mugabe and Vladimir Putin to the leaders of Venezuela. More recently, criticism has spread to the democratic world, with the United States front and center.

Since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in May 2012, Russia has seen a flurry of restrictive new regulations regarding online freedom of expression, resulting in a score decline for the country in the latest edition of Freedom on the Net. However, even greater deterioration is likely in the coming year as the government continues to enact repressive laws and ramps up its surveillance capabilities ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the southern city of Sochi.

The presidential election in Azerbaijan on October 9 was contorted by rigging, fraud, and other irregularities that blocked any chance for a rotation of power. But it revealed almost nothing new about the former Soviet republic’s hollowed-out governance institutions, as the lack of genuine democracy was well documented before the election. More remarkable is the international community’s mild response to this electoral sham—a disheartening testament to the West’s prioritization of strategic and economic relationships with the oil-rich Caspian Sea state over the protection of human rights and democratic values.

On October 11 and 12, the AU will meet in an extraordinary summit to discuss pulling out of the Rome Statute, the agreement that created the ICC. Such a decision would have major implications both for ICC itself and for accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses in Africa and around the world. The nearly three dozen African countries that are currently party to the Rome Statute must vote against this proposal and reaffirm their commitment to justice for victims, an end to impunity at the highest levels for the gravest crimes, and an international system that supports the rule of law.

Arch Puddington

Many of today’s legislative districts, especially in the House of Representatives, do not encompass communities, as Americans usually think of the term. Instead they aggregate groups of people who have the same skin color, the same level of wealth, the same biases, the same sorts of jobs, and, most importantly, very similar voting habits.

The result of all this can be seen right now in Washington, with the shutdown of the U.S. government, the collapse of bipartisanship even on issues of foreign policy and national security, and increasing dysfunction at the federal level.

Over the past 18 months, Latin America has borne witness to a changing legal landscape that directly impacts internet freedom. Constraints have come in varying forms in different countries, yet each affects the scope and depth of the content that can be found online. High-profile cases of intermediary liability—in which internet service providers (ISPs), website hosts, and search engines are held legally, and at times, criminally responsible for user-generated content—have come to the fore in Brazil and Argentina. In Ecuador, the June passage of the Organic Law on Communications set a legal precedent for holding platforms responsible for content posted by users, placing further legal pressure on an environment already under threat.