Freedom in the World 2011: The Authoritarian Challenge to Democracy

Washington, D.C

Global freedom suffered its fifth consecutive year of decline in 2010, according to Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House’s annual assessment of political rights and civil liberties around the world. This represents the longest continuous period of decline in the nearly 40-year history of the survey. The year featured drops in the number of Free countries and the number of electoral democracies, as well as an overall deterioration for freedom in the Middle East and North Africa region.

A total of 25 countries showed significant declines in 2010, more than double the 11 countries exhibiting noteworthy gains. The number of countries designated as Free fell from 89 to 87, and the number of electoral democracies dropped to 115, far below the 2005 figure of 123. In addition, authoritarian regimes like those in China, Egypt, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela continued to step up repressive measures with little significant resistance from the democratic world.

“This should be a wake-up call for all of the world’s democracies,” said David J. Kramer, executive director of Freedom House. “Our adversaries are not just engaging in widespread repression, they are doing so with unprecedented aggressiveness and self-confidence, and the democratic community is not rising to the challenge.”

Published annually since 1972, Freedom in the World examines the ability of individuals to exercise their political and civil rights in 194 countries and 14 territories around the world. The latest edition analyzes developments that occurred in 2010 and assigns each country a freedom status—Free, Partly Free, or Not Free—based on a scoring of performance on key democracy indicators.

Four countries received status declines, including Ukraine and Mexico, which both fell from Free to Partly Free. Mexico’s downgrade was a result of the government’s inability to stem the tide of violence by drug-trafficking groups, while Ukraine suffered from deteriorating levels of press freedom, instances of election fraud, and growing politicization of the judiciary. Djibouti and Ethiopia were downgraded from Partly Free to Not Free. Other countries showing declines included Bahrain, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, France, Sri Lanka, and Venezuela.

The Middle East and North Africa remained the region with the lowest level of freedom in 2010, continuing its multiyear decline from an already-low democratic baseline.

The world’s most powerful authoritarian regimes acted with increased brazenness in 2010. China pressured foreign governments to boycott the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony honoring jailed democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo, and Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez pushed through legislation that allowed him to rule by decree and further restricted nongovernmental organizations and the media. Russia’s leadership showed blatant disregard for judicial independence in its handling of, among other cases, the sentencing of regime critic and former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky after a trial that was widely considered fraudulent. And both Egypt and Belarus conducted sham elections with little hint of transparency. In the case of Belarus, the election was followed by massive violence by security forces against peaceful demonstrators.

“It is often observed that a government that mistreats its people also fears its people,” said Arch Puddington, director of research at Freedom House. “But authoritarian regimes will have a much freer hand to silence their domestic critics if there is no resistance from the outside world. Indeed, if the world’s democracies fail to unite and speak out in defense of their own values, despots will continue to gain momentum.”

Immigration policies were a topic of concern this year in many countries, including those in Western Europe and the United States. France saw a decline in its civil liberties score due to its treatment of Roma from Eastern Europe as well as its problems in coping with immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa.

There were a few bright spots in the survey, including status improvements from Not Free to Partly Free for Kyrgyzstan and Guinea after both countries held comparatively free and fair elections, and ratings improvements for Kenya, Moldova, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Tanzania.

Key global findings:

Free:The number of countries designated by Freedom in the World as Free in 2010 stands at 87, two fewer than the previous year, and representing 45 percent of the world’s 194 countries and 43 percent of the world’s population.

Partly Free:The number of Partly Free countries increased to 60, or 31 percent of all countries assessed by the survey, comprising 22 percent of the world’s total population.

Not Free:The number of countries deemed to be Not Free remained at 47, or 24 percent of the total number of countries. Nearly 2.5 billion people live in societies where fundamental political rights and civil liberties are not respected. China accounts for more than half of this number.

Electoral Democracies:The number of electoral democracies dropped from 116 to 115, the lowest number since 1995. Three countries—the Philippines, Tanzania, and Tonga—achieved electoral democracy status after conducting elections that were regarded as improvements over earlier polls. Declines in Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, and Sri Lanka triggered their removal from the list of electoral democracies.

Worst of the Worst:Of the 47 countries ranked Not Free, nine countries and one territory received the survey’s lowest possible rating for both political rights and civil liberties: Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Tibet, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Key regional findings:

Sub-Saharan Africa: Major declines were recorded in Ethiopia and Djibouti, both of which dropped from Partly Free to Not Free. In addition, declines were noted in Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Rwanda, Swaziland, and Zambia. Improvements were noted in Kenya, Nigeria, Somaliland, and Tanzania, as well as in Guinea, which received an improvement in status from Not Free to Partly Free.

Asia-Pacific:Successful elections resulted in improvements for the Philippines and Tonga. Declines were documented in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Fiji, Indian Kashmir, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

Central and Eastern Europe/Former Soviet Union: The 2010 election in Kyrgyzstan, which followed the collapse of the government earlier in the year, was considered relatively free and fair and resulted in a status improvement from Not Free to Partly Free.Gainswere also noted in Georgia and Moldova. Ukraine dropped from Free to Partly Free, and Nagorno-Karabakh fell from Partly Free to Not Free. Other declines were seen in Hungary and Latvia.

Middle East and North Africa: The Middle East and North Africa, which has long been the region with the lowest levels of democracy in the world, continued its steady decline in 2010. In addition to a reduction in Egypt resulting from the country’s sham elections, declines were seen in Bahrain, Kuwait, and Iran. There were no status or ratings improvements in the region.

Americas:The inability of the Mexican government to protect ordinary citizens, elected officials, or journalists from organized crime caused Mexico’s status to fall from Free to Partly Free. Other countries that saw declines included Venezuela, where President Chávez pushed through damaging legislation just before the formation of a new parliament with significantly more opposition seats. Improvements were noted in Colombia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Western Europe and North America:Western Europe and the United States continued to struggle with a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment. France received a score reduction for its treatment of ethnic minorities, including the mass deportation of Roma.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.  

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

Join us on Facebook and Twitter (freedomhousedc) and Instagram. Stay up to date with Freedom House’s latest news and events by signing up for our RSS feedsnewsletter and our blog.

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