This year has been a busy one for democracy advocates in Romania. In June, after the courts confirmed a two-year prison sentence in the corruption case of former prime minister Adrian Năstase, the newly appointed government—led by his Social Democratic Party (PSD) protégé, Victor Ponta—launched an unprecedented onslaught against several democratic institutions. These attempts to dismantle checks and balances, which received harsh criticism from the European Union, culminated in an unsuccessful July impeachment referendum against current president and longtime Năstase rival Traian Băsescu.
Elections have traditionally been interpreted as fair and competitive just as long as they were free of blatant fraud on election day. Modern authoritarians took note. Increasingly, they have developed strategies that aim to fix the outcome of political contests weeks, months, or even years before the ballots are cast. Their goal is to win elections while avoiding the brazen acts of vote rigging that inevitably trigger international opprobrium.
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.
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.
After a smooth start in the early post-apartheid period, South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), is increasingly afflicted by contradictions between its idealistic principles and the baser behaviors of many of its officeholders. These behaviors currently include threats to institute tighter controls over the judiciary and the ANC’s civil society critics, especially the independent media. A discernable trend toward intolerance of judicial brakes on executive power, and also toward a general aversion to any criticism of executive policies and actions, raises troubling questions about the future of democratic governance in South Africa.
On March 21, David J. Kramer, President of Freedom House, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about human rights abuses in Russia. Our blog includes excerpts from his testimony at the hearing. The full testimony can be read here.
Since late 2010, Freedom House has been publishing the China Media Bulletin (CMB), a weekly digest of press freedom and censorship news related to the People’s Republic of China. The CMB has built up a substantial readership among scholars, journalists, diplomats, and government officials who specialize in China affairs. But the stories highlighted in the bulletin should be read by a wider audience, as its material is relevant to anyone who cares about freedom and the constantly evolving methods employed by freedom’s adversaries.
Last week, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin published an article—in the business newspaper Kommersant and, in shortened form, in the Washington Post—on the topic of “democracy and the quality of government.” Skeptical readers may scoff at the idea, but the fact that the Russian leadership devoted time and resources to the piece makes it worth investigating.
On December 28, with little fanfare, Russia’s foreign ministry released a 90-page human rights report on the United States, Canada, and assorted European countries. There is no accompanying introduction, preface, or methodology for this rather slapdash document, entitled On the Human Rights Situation in a Number of the World’s States, but the selection of countries and their respective treatment makes it fairly clear that the report is meant to be a stick in the eye of the Kremlin’s perceived enemies, rather than any genuine attempt to promote human rights around the world.