Freedom at Issue: Insights on the global struggle for democracy | Freedom House

Freedom at Issue:

Insights on the global struggle for democracy


Forbes
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?

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.

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.

Photo Credit: Boston University

Recent legislation in Ecuador and high-profile cases in Brazil and Argentina reveal a broader Latin American trend of increasing restrictions on internet freedom.


The European Union and Ukraine are currently preparing for the Eastern Partnership Summit, which will be held in Vilnius, Lithuania, on November 28–29. Among the most important tasks on the agenda is the signing of an EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and a related Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA). There have been signs of late that Kyiv is leaning toward closer ties with Europe, and away from the domineering embrace of Moscow, but it remains unclear whether the increasingly authoritarian administration of President Viktor Yanukovych is willing or able to enact the democratic reforms necessary for European integration.

Over the past several weeks, the Chinese authorities—urged on by President Xi Jinping—have engaged in an unprecedented crackdown on what they consider “harmful information” disseminated via popular microblogging platforms and other social media. The speed of microblogging and the sheer size of the user base have long allowed these media to serve as a rare venue for comparatively open discussion of political and social matters in China, despite heavy censorship. The new campaign threatens to close off this crucial public forum and drive citizens into greater isolation.

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