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

Freedom at Issue:

Insights on the global struggle for democracy

The recent outbreak of violence in several Muslim-majority countries, ostensibly in response to a malicious amateur video created by anti-Muslim hatemongers, has prompted calls to formally restrict speech that insults or does not “respect” religions and prophets. Freedom House, along with many other human rights and free expression organizations, has spent years attempting to turn the tide of opinion at the United Nations against this idea, which has reared its head annually in the form of a resolution condemning the so-called “defamation of religions.” In 2011 we succeeded, only to see the progress quickly reversed as a result of the disparaging Innocence of Muslims video clip and the ensuing violence, which has left dozens of people dead around the world.

Last week the world witnessed a wave of violent outrage in various Muslim countries, triggered by a film produced in the United States that defames the prophet Muhammad. While there is speculation on whether the attacks against U.S. embassies were spontaneous or orchestrated, that is not really the most crucial issue in this tragedy. More important is the way the overall phenomenon is being used to draw attention away from pressing political and economic problems in the affected countries.

Corrupt dictators who take bribes and loot their treasuries are rightly condemned by governments and other observers in developed countries. But the extent to which this plundering is aided by lax and weakly enforced money laundering laws in the West has too often escaped notice. It is remarkably easy for these criminals to hide their identities behind anonymous shell companies and bank secrecy in order to bring their dirty money into the United States and Europe.

Meet the oil barons, fashion divas, and ruling families of Central Asia.

This piece originally appeared in Foreign Policy Magazine. To see the original, click here.

For some time, Latin America was identified as one of the success stories from the wave of democratic development that accompanied the waning years of the Cold War. Over the span of a relatively few years, a region notable for violent insurgencies, military juntas, oligarchies, and caudillo rule underwent a historic transformation that left practically every country with a freely elected government and a civic environment in which an array of liberties were respected. After the democratic upsurge, the lone holdout was Cuba, with its inflexible and increasingly anachronistic Communist dictatorship. Over the past decade, however, the commitment of governments in the region to democratic standards has wavered, in some cases considerably.

A Burmese human rights activist told me a story about the last time his office was raided, two years ago. Government security forces kicked down his door and stormed the office, with a mandate to seize the organization’s electronic data. Not exactly savvy in computer hardware, the raiders grabbed only the monitors and marched out. A few days later, the activist was hauled before a judge and accused of deleting all his data. He was convicted and imprisoned.

 

In describing Ron Paul’s attitude toward America’s role in the world, most observers use the term “isolationist,” or even “fiercely isolationist.” Paul has tried to distance himself from the isolationist label, but the identification has stuck, and properly so.

Meeting in Maputo, Mozambique, on August 18, the leaders of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) extended indefinitely their 18-month suspension of the SADC Tribunal. Delivering a major blow to hopes for the rule of law in the region, the 15 SADC member states also determined that a successor court, if ever constituted, would have no authority to hear cases brought against national governments by individuals, businesses, or organizations on human rights or any other matter. Instead, only governments would have access to the tribunal, and only for the purpose of resolving intergovernmental disputes over the terms of the SADC treaty.

Photo Description: Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, assassinated in 2011

The current case of Rimsha Masih displays all that is wrong with Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law.
 

This article originally appeared in the American Interest on August 23, 2012. See the original here.

During a visit to Cairo in late July, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta praised the relationship between newly elected President Mohamed Morsi and Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the longtime Defense Minister who had ruled Egypt after Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power. Ten days ago, Morsi radically changed that relationship, announcing the retirement of Tantawi and several other senior military officials in a move that caught almost all observers, including the Obama Administration, by surprise.

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