AN EIGHTH YEAR OF DECLINE IN POLITICAL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES
The state of freedom declined for the eighth consecutive year in 2013, according to Freedom in the World 2014, Freedom House’s annual country-by-country report on global political rights and civil liberties.
Particularly notable were developments in Egypt, which endured across-the-board reversals in its democratic institutions following a military coup. There were also serious setbacks to democratic rights in other large, politically influential countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Venezuela, and Indonesia.
Findings of the 41st edition of Freedom in the World, the oldest, most authoritative report of democracy and human rights, include:
- Fifty-four countries showed overall declines in political rights and civil liberties, compared with 40 that showed gains.
- For the eighth consecutive year, Freedom in the World recorded more declines in democracy worldwide than gains.
- Some leaders effectively relied on “modern authoritarianism,” crippling their political opposition without annihilating it, and flouting the rule of law while maintaining a veneer of order, legitimacy, and prosperity.
- Central to modern authoritarians is the capture of institutions that undergird political pluralism. They seek to dominate not only the executive and legislative branches, but also the media, judiciary, civil society, economy, and security forces.
There were some positive signs for the year:
- Civil liberties improved in Tunisia, the most promising of the Arab Spring countries.
- Pakistan showed gains due to successful elections and an orderly rotation of power.
- In Africa, gains occurred in Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Madagascar, Rwanda, Togo, and Zimbabwe.
- The addition of Honduras, Kenya, Nepal, and Pakistan raised the number of electoral democracies to 122.
Worst of the Worst: Ten countries were given the lowest possible rating of 7 for both political rights and civil liberties.
|Central African Republic||Somalia|
Middle East and North Africa
The Middle East and North Africa registered the worst civil liberties scores of any region. Gains: Iraq’s political rights rating improved as the result of greater political activity by opposition parties during provincial elections, and Tunisia earned an increase in its civil liberties rating. Declines: Egypt saw its status decline from Partly Free to Not Free. The Gaza Strip received a decline in its political rights rating.
In recent years, sub-Saharan Africa has been the most politically volatile region, with major democratic breakthroughs in some countries, and coups, insurgencies, and authoritarian crackdowns in others. This trend continued in 2013. Gains: Mali moved from Not Free to Partly Free due to successful elections and an improved security situation in the north. Côte d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo, and Zimbabwe all saw ratings improvements. Declines: The Central African Republic dropped from Partly Free to Not Free because of a rebellion that ousted the president and parliament and suspended the constitution, and Sierra Leone’s status declined from Free to Partly Free due to persistent problems with corruption. Ratings declines were also seen in South Sudan and Uganda.
Eurasia continues to be one of the most repressive areas in the world. Three of its countries—Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—are among the worst-rated. Russia intensified domestic persecution of political opponents and vulnerable minority groups in 2013. Gains: None. Declines: Azerbaijan suffered a downgrade in its civil liberties rating due to blatant property rights violations by the government.
China became increasingly intolerant of dissent in 2013, as officials expanded the criminalization of online speech and police arrested dozens of activists who had advocated anticorruption reforms. Gains: Bhutan, Japan, Maldives, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga all registered improvements. Declines: Indonesia’s status declined from Free to Partly Free due to a new law restricting the activities of nongovernmental organizations. South Korea registered a downgrade in its political rights rating.
The death in March 2013 of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez brought early hopes of improvements in the country’s political rights and civil liberties environment. However, his successor, Nicolás Maduro, further weakened the independent media, reduced the opposition’s ability to serve as a check on government policy, and made threats to civil society groups. Gains: Nicaragua’s political rights and civil liberties ratings improved due consultations on proposed constitutional reforms, gradual improvements for the rights of women, and advances in efforts to combat human trafficking. Declines: The Dominican Republic and Panama suffered declines due to the stripping of citizenship from Dominicans of Haitian descent and the Panamanian government’s corruption problems.
Most countries in Europe showed respect for democratic standards and civil liberties, even as many faced growing nationalist sentiment in response to an influx of immigrants. However, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan displayed increasingly authoritarian tendencies, including a crackdown on protesters in Istanbul and a campaign against critical voices in the media. Gains: Italy’s political rights rating rose following free and fair national elections and improvements in the country’s anticorruption environment. Declines: None.