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

Freedom at Issue:

Insights on the global struggle for democracy

Freedom House auctioned off photos from 17 different countries, including Bahrain, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Sudan, and Syria, at a photo auction hosted in conjunction with the release of its report Worst of the Worst 2012: The World's Most Repressive Societies.  The photos touched on themes including freedom, political participation, human rights, and repression.
 

Mariclaire Acosta, the director of Freedom House–Mexico, is an academic, an activist, a former public servant, and an internationally recognized expert on issues related to the defense and promotion of human rights. She has held a number of prominent posts, including Americas director at the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), special adviser to the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS) on civil society affairs, and deputy secretary for human rights and democracy at the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs under President Vicente Fox.
 

More than three decades ago, Indonesia was widely regarded as a wellspring of moderate Islam. The leading U.S. magazine Newsweek described the country as the home of “the smiling Islam,” insisting that the Indonesian version of the faith was more friendly and tolerant than that found in the Middle East. But history has moved Indonesia into a new religio-political situation.

The past week’s developments in Egypt have been dispiriting to anyone who thought Hosni Mubarak’s ouster last year represented a true revolution. It is now clear that, though unplanned, Mubarak’s downfall presented a golden opportunity for Egypt’s generals to stage a soft military coup, easing him out of power and preventing a handover to his son and heir-apparent Gamal, a businessman with no military experience whom the generals were unwilling to accept. Since then, the world’s focus has been on Egypt’s continuous political turmoil: demonstrations by revolutionary forces in Tahrir Square, parliamentary and presidential elections, the struggle for power between Islamist movements and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and now reports of Mubarak’s incapacitation or death.  But the real story is the relentless campaign by Egypt’s “deep state”—its generals and their military-industrial complex, state security organizations, and elements of the former ruling party, with their well-established patronage networks and allied business interests—to stage a counterrevolution.

“Paradoxical” is how many describe the complexity of India. Astronomical growth coupled with extreme poverty, a vibrant citizenry coexisting with intense corruption, and modernity juxtaposed with antiquity confound and confuse observers.

Paradoxical also describes two simultaneous trends in India’s democracy. As suggested over the last few years, and reinforced in 2012, India is transitioning away from identity-based politics, yet also returning power to identity-based parties.

This week, U.S. officials will once again welcome one of the world’s most kleptocratic living autocrats: president of Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. What possible reason, you might ask, does the administration have for meeting with a man who has amassed an enormous personal fortune by siphoning the lion’s share of his country’s wealth for himself and his cronies while his citizens are literally starving? We are wondering the same thing.

In a speech to America’s diplomats at the State Department on May 19, 2011, President Obama declared the United States’ commitment to pursue policies that promote and protect human rights around the world. These rights, he argued, include “free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders—whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.”

A year has passed since that much-lauded speech gave voice to a commitment that human rights advocates had long been pushing for. In that time, the president and his foreign affairs team have struggled with the difficult task of channeling the rhetoric, which rightfully places human rights and democratic governance at the top of America’s priority list, into meaningful policies.

The current state of media freedom in Latin America was driven home in early May, when three journalists were murdered in Mexico within a week of World Press Freedom Day. This dramatic example underscores a larger trend identified by Freedom House in the recently released Freedom of the Press 2012 report, which noted that a range of negative developments over the past decade have left media freedom on the defensive in much of Central and South America.

Charles Taylor, one of West Africa’s most infamous political figures, was arrested and handed over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2006 to be tried for crimes committed during that country’s brutal civil war. Last month, after a trial that lasted almost five years, featured 115 witness testimonies, and cost approximately $250 million, the court found Taylor guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, sexual slavery, and the conscription of child soldiers. The prosecution requested an 80-year prison sentence. Today, the former Liberian president was sentenced to 50 years, to be served in a British correctional facility. Taylor’s legal team is likely to appeal.

Until recently, it could at least be said that countries with objectionable political systems played host to major global sports competitions only occasionally. Forty-four years elapsed between the Berlin and Moscow Olympics, and it was another 28 years before the games were held in Beijing. Second-tier events in dictatorial states tended to be limited to low-profile sports like weightlifting and wrestling. But all that is changing fast. Some of the most prestigious international athletic competitions have recently been held, or are now set to be held, in countries that regularly make world headlines with their rigged elections, state-dominated media, repression of minorities, or full-bore retreat from democracy to authoritarianism.

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