Freedom in the World 2000 | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2000

Freedom House’s end‑of‑century Freedom in the World survey finds that 85 of the world’s 192 countries (44 percent) are Free, meaning that these countries maintain a high degree of political and economic freedom and respect basic civil liberties. This figure represented a drop of three from last year. Another 59 countries (31 percent of all states) were rated as Partly Free, enjoying more limited political rights and civil liberties, often in a context of corruption, weak rule of law, ethnic strife, or civil war. This represented an increase of six from the previous year. Finally, 48 countries (25 percent of all states) that deny their citizens basic rights and civil liberties were rated as Not Free, a decrease of two from the previous year. In all, 38.9 percent of the world’s population lives in Free societies, 25.3 percent lives in Partly Free states, and 35.8 percent lives in Not Free countries.

The dramatic gains for freedom registered in the 1980s and earlier in the 1990s did not continue in 1999. Nevertheless, the survey’s findings registered more significant upward than downward change by a margin of 26 to 18, indicating that freedom continues to make incremental gains.

In all, significant gains for freedom resulting in improved scores (on a 1 to 7 scale for political rights and civil liberties) and improved category rating changes (to Free or Partly Free) occurred in 26 countries. In addition to six countries whose category rating improved (Djibouti, East Timor, Fiji, Niger, Togo, and Yugoslavia), 20 countries— Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chile, Congo, Egypt, Grenada, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Nigeria, Panama, Qatar, St. Lucia, Samoa, Slovakia, and Tanzania—registered numerical gains indicating significant positive change. By contrast, six countries saw their freedom category rating drop (Eritrea, Honduras, Malawi, Nicaragua, Pakistan, and Venezuela) and twelve countries registered significant negative trends: Bangladesh, Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Colombia, Comoros, Cote D’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Russia, Swaziland, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

A closer look at the dynamics of political change in 1999 helps to give some definition to the broader trends. Two of the world’s most populous developing countries, Indonesia and Nigeria, both made transitions to electoral democracy and improved their freedom scores (while remaining within the Partly Free category). Fiji entered the ranks of Free countries as a consequence of an improved political environment, which included successful elections within the framework of new, fairer electoral laws. Progress was also registered in Djibouti, which advanced from Not Free to Partly Free as a result of free and fair presidential elections held in April 1999 and the subsequent release of some 40 political prisoners. East Timor, now a UN protectorate in transition to full sovereignty, saw its freedom status improve to Partly Free from Not Free as a result of the end to repression  by the Indonesian military, security forces, and paramilitary groups. In Niger, which also advanced from Not Free to Partly Free status, free and fair presidential elections were held in November 1999, following a referendum that returned the country to democratic rule. Togo advanced from Not Free to Partly Free as a result of more open political discourse signaled by the return from exile of one of the country’s main opposition leaders. With the end of Slobodan Milosevic’s terror campaign in Kosovo and the establishment of a United Nations protectorate in that territory, Yugoslavia saw the resurgence of independent civic life, a vibrant opposition print media, and local television that broadcast opposition views. These factors raised Yugoslavia’s rating from Not Free to Partly Free.

Venezuela exited the ranks of Free countries and is now rated Partly Free, in large measure due to the authoritarian actions of its president Hugo Chavez. He restricted the power of the democratically elected congress, created what amounts to a parallel government of military cronies, and further eroded the country’s system of checks and balances by effectively ending judicial independence. Nicaragua’s rating dropped from Free to Partly Free because what appear to be trumped up charges were filed against the country’s Comptroller General, who was vigorously investigating serious allegations of high level corruption. Honduras declined from Free to Partly Free as the elected civilian government faced serious challenges of military insubordination. Malawi also declined to Partly Free status as a result of political violence accompanying the June presidential elections that targeted Muslims in a stronghold of an opposition candidate.

 Two states declined from Partly Free to Not Free status in 1999. The biggest setback for democracy occurred in Pakistan, where the military toppled an ineffective elected government that had been losing popular legitimacy due to rising political corruption and violence. Eritrea also exited the ranks of Partly Free states and is now Not Free, as a result of the government’s hostile attitude toward independent civil society and its increasing restriction of opposition political parties. This has effectively ended any semblance of a multiparty system. Eritrea’s move toward authoritarianism has been exacerbated by an ongoing war with Ethiopia.

Most significantly, the Islamic world, long resistant to democratic change, is beginning to show signs of liberalization that includes modest democratic reforms and in several cases growing democratic ferment.


At the end of a century that witnessed the emergence of democracy as the preeminent form of government, there remained 48 states that denied their citizens a broad range of basic freedoms. Among these states, 13 have been given the survey’s lowest rating of 7 for political rights and 7 for civil liberties. The 13 “worst-rated” countries represent a narrow range of systems and cultures. Three (Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam) are one‑party Marxist‑Leninist regimes and eight are majority Islamic countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan). Of the latter, Turkmenistan is a post-Communist country; Iraq, Libya, and Syria are led by secular Ba’athist or socialist parties; Afghanistan is a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy; Sudan is led by a government that embraces fundamentalist Islamic rhetoric; and Saudi Arabia has made important concessions to conservative clerics. The remaining “worst-rated” countries are Burma and Equatorial Guinea, two tightly-controlled and brutal military dictatorships. One territory (Tibet) is under the jurisdiction of China’s one‑party Communist rule and the other, Chechnya, is under brutal attack by Russia. More importantly, of the 13 “worst-rated” countries and territories, all but two (Saudi Arabia and Equatorial Guinea) have experienced a significant period of one‑party socialist rule in the last 15 years.


In a year in which freedom did not make dramatic strides in the world, it is important to remember that—despite fits and starts—human liberty has been on an upward trajectory throughout the twentieth century. When viewed from the perspective of the century as a whole, democracy and civil liberties have made important and dramatic progress.

A look at the political maps of the world in 1900, 1950, and 2000 reveals monumental shifts in the number and nature of sovereign polities. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were 55 sovereign polities, another 55 entities that were governed by colonial and imperial systems, and 20 protectorates under the sway or protection of foreign powers. No polity enjoyed competitive multiparty politics with universal suffrage, essential characteristics of an electoral democracy. A mere 12.4 percent of mankind lived under a form of government that could be deemed somewhat democratic, although suffrage was generally limited to males. In the United States, women could not vote, and the voting rights of racial minorities and the poor were restricted. Twenty‑four other countries with some form of democratic government maintained similarly restrictive democratic practices, denying voting rights to women, racial minorities, and those without property. By contrast, 55.8 percent of the world population lived under some form of monarchy (with 36.6 percent of the global population under absolute monarchic rule), and an additional 30.2 percent lived under colonial and imperial domination.

By 1950, the number of sovereign polities had risen to 80. With colonialism on the decline, the number of entities still under colonial and imperial rule had fallen to 43, while 31 entities remained protectorates, many of them former colonies making the transition to independence. In the aftermath of World War II, there was a further significant expansion of the

number of democratically elected governments. In 1950, 22 democratic states accounted for 31 percent of the world’s population. Countries with restricted democratic practices (i.e., countries with systems in which a single party exercises long‑term political dominance and the role of opposition parties is limited, as in the Philippines and Cuba in 1950, and countries in which large groups, women, and ethnic minorities were excluded from the electoral process, as in Colombia and Switzerland),  accounted for a further 11.9 percent of the world population. The middle of the twentieth century also witnessed the spread of totalitarian communism as an alternative form of government, under which a third of the world’s population then lived.

By the end of the twentieth century, sovereignty and electoral democracy both registered dramatic gains. The number of states more than doubled, from 80 in 1950 to 192 in 1999 (with East Timor and Bosnia, both of which are international protectorates, now also heading toward full independence and included in our list of states). The end of the century has also seen the virtual elimination of colonial and imperial rule. Today, 58.2 percent of the world’s population lives under democratically elected leadership, while another 5.0 percent lives under systems with restricted democratic practices  (for example in dominant party states such as Malaysia, where the ruling party enjoys overwhelming electoral advantages and systematically works to suppress the political space for opposition parties and Mexico, whose parliament was elected in a democratic process, but whose presidential election of 1994 was conducted in a less than free and fair fashion). In sum, electoral democracies constitute 120 of the 192 internationally recognized independent polities. Indeed the idea of national sovereignty has generally been accompanied by the idea of personal sovereignty within a democratically accountable state.

The trend toward democratically elected government has been accompanied by a trend toward broader political freedom and enhanced civil liberties. The adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights helped spark a growing global awareness of human freedom. Central to the spread of this awareness has been the ongoing revolution in communications technology, which has decentralized state control of information and allowed for its cheaper and more rapid dissemination.

Regional Patterns

Dmocracy and freedom have been on the upswing since the mid‑1970s. Few would dispute that this trend has been visible across all continents and in most cultures, underscoring that human liberty and democracy are not Western constructs, but universal aspirations. Yet while the expansion of democracy and freedom has been global, it has not everywhere proceeded at the same pace. There have been important geographical and cultural variations that deserve attention and deeper understanding.

At the dawn of the new millennium, democracy and freedom are the dominant trends in Western and East‑Central Europe, in the Americas, and increasingly in the Asia‑Pacific region. In the former Soviet Union, the picture remains mixed, with freedom’s further expansion stalled and a number of countries becoming increasingly authoritarian. In Africa, Free societies and electoral democracies remain a distinct minority. While there are no democracies or Free states within the Arab world, and fewer Free and democratic states in other predominantly Muslim societies, 1999 was a year of democratic ferment in the Islamic world.

Of the 53 countries in Africa, 8 are Free (15 percent), 24 are Partly Free (45 percent), and 21 are Not Free (40 percent). With democratic elections in Djibouti, Niger, and Nigeria, twenty African countries (38 percent) are electoral democracies. At the end of 1999, Eritrea dropped from Partly Free to Not Free, while Djibouti, Niger, and Togo rose from Not Free to Partly Free. The survey also records more modest progress in Burkina Faso, Burundi, Nigeria, and Tanzania and more modest declines in freedom in Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

In the Asia-Pacific region, 9 of the 26 larger countries are Free (35 percent), 7 are Partly Free (27 percent), and 10 are Not Free (38 percent). Despite the looming presence of Communist China and the rhetoric of “Asian values,”  14 (24 percent) of the region’s polities are electoral democracies.

Of the smaller Asia-Pacific countries, eleven are free, one –-Tonga— is Partly Free, and one—the Sultanate of Brunei—is Not Free. With the exception of Tonga and Brunei, the other eleven Asia-Pacific countries are electoral democracies.  In East‑Central Europe and the former USSR, there are growing signs of a deepening chasm. In Central Europe and parts of Eastern Europe, including the Baltic states, democracy and freedom prevail; in the former USSR, however, progress toward the emergence of open societies has stalled or failed. Overall, 19 of the 27 post-Communist countries of East‑Central Europe and the former USSR are electoral democracies. Ten of the region’s states are Free, 12 are Partly Free, and 5 are Not Free; however, all of the Not Free states are from the former USSR; and with the exception of the Baltic States, none of the former Soviet republics is free. Stagnation and reversals for freedom characterized virtually all the non‑Baltic Soviet states. Russia’s war in Chechnya resumed with a brutal vengeance and has been accompanied by the growing influence of representatives from the security services in the upper echelons of power. Belarus’s dictatorship under the erratic tyrant Alyaksandr Lukashenka remained Eastern Europe’s most repressive state. A modest revival of civic opposition activity in Yugoslavia resulted in that country’s improved freedom status.

Western Europe remains the preserve of Free countries and democracies, with all 24 states both free and democratic.

Among the 35 countries in the Americas, 31 are electoral democracies (Mexico, Peru, Cuba, and Antigua and Barbuda are the exceptions). Twenty‑two states are rated as Free, 12 are Partly Free, and one (Cuba) is Not Free. Negative trends produced a lower freedom rating for Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela, all of which declined from Free to Partly Free.

In the Middle East (excluding North Africa), the roots of democracy and freedom are the weakest. In this region, only one country is rated Free (Israel), three are rated Partly Free (Jordan, Kuwait, and Turkey), and 10 are Not Free. Israel and Turkey are the region’s only two electoral democracies. Among the 16 states with an Arab majority in the Middle East and North Africa, there are no Free countries. Three predominantly Arab states—Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco—are Partly Free. And while the year saw some evidence of modest democratic reforms in several Arab states, there are no electoral democracies in the Arab world.

The survey continues to reveal interesting patterns in the relationship between cultures and political development. While there are broad differences within civilizations, and while democracy and human rights find expression in a wide array of cultures and beliefs, the survey shows some important variations in the relationship between religious belief or tradition and political freedom.

Of the 85 countries that are rated Free, 76 are majority Christian by tradition or belief. Of the nine Free countries that are not majority Christian, one is Israel, often considered part of a Judeo‑Christian tradition, and two others, Mauritius and South Korea, have significant Christian communities representing at least a third of their population. Of the six remaining Free countries, Mali is predominantly Muslim, nearly half of Taiwan’s population is Buddhist, Mongolia and Thailand are chiefly Buddhist, Japan has a majority that observes both Buddhist and Shinto traditions, and India is predominantly Hindu.

Thirteen of the 63 countries with the poorest record in terms of political rights and civil liberties are predominantly Christian. By this indicator, a predominantly Christian country is more than five times as likely to be Free and democratic as it is to be repressive and non-democratic. There is also a strong correlation between electoral democracy and Hinduism (India, Mauritius, and Nepal), and there is a significant number of Free countries among traditionally Buddhist societies and those in which Buddhism is the most widespread faith (Japan, Mongolia, Taiwan, and Thailand).

The Islamic world remains most resistant to the spread of democracy and civil liberties, especially the Arab countries. Only one country with a Muslim majority (Mali) is Free, 14 are Partly Free, and 26 are Not Free. Eight of the 41 countries with a predominantly Muslim population—a net increase of two from last year— are electoral democracies: Albania, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Niger, and Turkey. Nevertheless, even as Pakistan exited this group, there were growing signs of political ferment and modest democratic reform in many Islamic countries.

In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Islamic country, and in Nigeria, where it is estimated that roughly half the population is Muslim, political openings resulted in competitive democratic elections and an orderly transfer of power. Similarly, predominantly Muslim Djibouti and Niger held free and fair elections. Significantly, these countries represent nearly one‑quarter of the world’s Muslims. If we factor in the Muslims living in the electoral democracies of Europe, the Americas, and India, a majority of the world’s Muslims (roughly 600 million out of 1.15 billion) live under democratically elected governments.

Democratic ferment has also become a major current in the political life of Iran. The year saw a major struggle between civil society (which includes an active student movement) and pro-reform members of the government versus government hard-line conservatives and unofficial paramilitary groups supporting them. President Khatami, a cleric, who was elected in 1997 on a platform of moderate liberalization, declared in 1999: “ A lively and democratic human society is one which thinks, one which is free, one which is based on the rule of law, and one which criticizes.”

A major engine for the spread of the ideas of openness and democratic practices is the Al-Jazeera satellite television station, which broadcasts from Qatar and is viewed throughout the Arab world. Al-Jazeera offers news and commentary programs that include theological debates and appearances by political dissidents and exiles from across the region. In Qatar, which  remains an extremely conservative society and where the emir is a major proponent of liberalization, 1999 saw the advent of elections based on universal suffrage to municipal councils with limited powers.

Yemen held its first direct presidential election in September 1999. Onerous restrictions kept the candidate of the major opposition Yemen Socialist Party from qualifying for the ballot, but the country nevertheless saw a vote based on universal suffrage. In Morocco, positive trends include increased tolerance for opposition parties and the return of some political exiles to the country. In Jordan, a restrictive press law was relaxed and municipal elections were held in which opposition parties, including one linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, captured majorities in three cities and made an impressive showing in Amman. In Lebanon, a country that remains under Syrian domination, modest democratic progress was registered through relatively pluralistic local elections.

Although we tend to think of civilizations and cultures as fixed and stable, political transformations within civilizations can spread rapidly.  For example, before the third wave of democratization was launched in the 1970s, the majority of predominantly Catholic countries were tyrannies; they included Latin America’s oligarchies and military dictatorships, East‑Central Europe’s Marxist‑Leninist states, Iberia’s authoritarian‑corporatist systems, and the Philippine dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.  Social scientists speculated about the influence that Catholicism’s hierarchical system of church authority might have on Catholic attitudes toward politics.  Today, of course, most Catholic countries have become Free and democratic, and some would argue that it was precisely the internal discipline of the Catholic church that made possible the rapid spread of pro-democratic values following Vatican II and under the papacy of John Paul II.

Democracy and Conflict

While there are numerous studies suggesting that democracies do not engage in war with one another, the last two decades of democratic expansion have been accompanied by numerous violent conflicts, mostly within states. An influential annual survey of major conflicts1 has shown the following trends for the last decade:

•           conflicts reached a peak in 1992, but have since gradually decreased across all regions; while an annual average of 48.3 inter‑ and intrastate conflicts took place in the period 1989‑94, this annual average fell to 35.2 in the period 1995‑98;

•           the number of major conflicts (i.e., those in which there are over 1,000 deaths per year) has significantly declined from a high of 20 in 1991 and 1992 to 14 in 1993, to 7 in 1994, down to 6 in 1995 and 1996, to 7 in 1997, and up to 13 major conflicts in 1998.

While there is no absolute guarantee that the downward trend will be sustained, it correlates well with the evidence of the gradual and incremental expansion of democracy and freedom in the last decade. Indeed, a close examination of the survey’s regional data indicates that in the regions where democracy is predominant and political freedom is highest (i.e., Europe and the Americas), armed conflicts are proportionately lowest. Two factors appear to be related to major intrastate conflicts: weak states and the absence of democratic systems. This is underscored by the data related to strife in 1998. Of the 13 major conflicts in 1998, nine occurred in Africa, where weak states predominate and where democratic systems account for less than a third of all countries.

As Timothy Sisk has suggested, much of the upsurge in strife and violence that occurred in the aftermath of the Cold War in the early 1990s erupted as inept authoritarian regimes decayed, state authority collapsed, and a struggle for power ensued.2 To these were added conflicts that emerged in the aftermath of the disintegration of the Soviet empire as the new, weak successor states lacked internal legitimacy. It is the collapse of unstable and illegitimate tyrannies, not conflict occasioned by democratic ferment, that is largely at the root of post‑Cold War upheaval. At the same time, there is good reason to believe that the decline in major conflicts is closely connected with the global expansion of democracy, which in the last 10 years has seen the number of Free countries increase from 61 to 85 and the number of Not Free states decline from 62 to 48.

The mayhem, ethnic and sectarian conflict, and civil war that have ravaged the world in the years since the end of the Cold War have occasioned numerous international humanitarian interventions, some of them involving the armed might of the United States and other advanced industrial democracies, frequently operating under the aegis of the United Nations. Few would question the good intentions behind such interventions; many might go so far as to agree that, in the face of ethnic cleansing and acts of genocide directed at innocent civilians, the international community has an obligation to act. Yet the record of successful recovery from conflicts in which the international community has intervened is mixed.

While many of these interventions have put an end to mass violence, they have not led to durable nation‑building efforts rooted in reconciliation through democratic processes. External interventions have tended merely to freeze conflicts and to result in an intrusive international presence. While motivated by noble intentions, this international presence has had the paradoxical effect of halting the emergence of stable and sustainable democratic structures and impeding civic revival.

As a result, the list of UN‑sanctioned missions and peacekeeping efforts has grown while the number of countries successfully emerging from their status as international protectorates has declined. Today, there are 17 UN peacekeeping operations around the world, some (like the UN’s efforts to maintain the peace between Egypt and Israel and between India and Pakistan) having originated in the late 1940s. Twelve UN missions have come into being since 1991, with 8 of them in place since 1995.

Last year saw a major NATO‑led humanitarian intervention in Kosovo that successfully reversed the Yugoslav government’s ethnic‑cleansing campaign against the Albanian population. This action emphasized the resolve of the democratic world to prevent ethnic atrocities in its backyard. Yet the situation in post-conflict Kosovo has not become easier to handle in the aftermath of the intervention. Indeed, while much suffering has been alleviated for the Albanian citizenry, a campaign of terror against Serbs and gypsies, resulting in the death of hundreds of civilians and the displacement of tens of thousands more, has effectively cleansed Kosovo of most of its non‑Albanian minorities. At the same time, the international community’s unwillingness to risk attacks on its peacekeepers has resulted in significant compromises that have strengthened the power of the authoritarian Kosovo Liberation Army. Both of these factors suggest that an effective, democratically based exit strategy is an unlikely prospect in the medium term, while the likelihood of a return of Serbian and gypsy populations is remote.

In Bosnia, democratic progress has been thwarted by the persistence of substantial support for Serbian hard‑liners in Republika Srpska and the resulting restriction on democratic choice imposed by the Office of the High Representative of the United Nations. In 1999, similar restrictions were imposed by the UN, including the blocking of a proposed head of a Republika Srpska broadcasting authority. While such actions by the international community may have been justified, they made clear to citizens of Bosnia that the powers of their democratically elected leaders were significantly restricted.

The singular lack of success of international efforts in other settings, including Somalia (now abandoned by the UN), Angola, and Haiti, are additional examples that underscore the difficulties inherent in post-conflict state‑building and reconciliation efforts. In most peacekeeping exercises, the international community is ultimately faced with a Hobson’s

choice: persist in supervising the internal political situation and restrict democratic development (thus risking the growth of public cynicism about the authority of indigenous political institutions), or accede to de facto ethnic separation and ratify the results of ethnic cleansing.

In short, while outside intervention puts an end to mayhem, it appears not to have found a formula that would allow for authentic, indigenously driven transitions to more open societies. In turn, the seemingly intractable nature of the political and ethnic divisions results in a protracted international presence that uses up vast resources, diverting funds that could be applied to new and emerging democracies that have avoided violence and strife.

The end-of-the-century Survey of Freedom shows that the number of electoral democracies continues to grow. At the same time, it shows that the process of deepening liberal democratic practices is complex and requires long term development of civic democratic consciousness and the rule of law. Nevertheless, as the century and millennium end, advocates of policies to promote democratic transitions can take heart. Their conscious efforts to strengthen democratic movements and democratic values around the world have contributed to the significant expansion of freedom registered in the long-term data of this survey. With a growing community linked by shared democratic values and signs of democratic ferment in Islamic countries, the next century holds open the promise of a new, more cohesive global community linked by shared democratic values.


Adrian Karatnycky is president of Freedom House and coordinator by of its Annual Survey of Freedom. The survey will be issued in book form as Freedom in the World: 1999-2000 in the Spring of 2000.



1.         Peter Wallensteen and Margareta Sollenberg, “Armed Conflict,1989-1998,” Journal of Peace Research 5 (September 1999): pp. 593-606.

2.         Timothy Sisk, “Democracy and Failed States”, in Freedom in the World: 1998-1999 (New York: Freedom House, 1999), p. 26.


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