Freedom at Issue:

Insights on the global struggle for democracy

July 2012

Daniel Calingaert

Photo: Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki

The depraved slaughter of civilians in Syria, which began with sniper fire on peaceful demonstrators and later degenerated into bombings of residential areas and execution-style killings of women and children, masks a darker truth.  While the violence of the current crackdown distinguishes Syria today, it emerges from decades of brutal dictatorship, and equally brutal dictatorships are alive and well across the globe.  They tend to get noticed only when particularly gross abuses take place or they escape attention almost entirely.  For close to one-fourth of the world’s population, intense repression has become routine.

Vukasin Petrovic

With a constitutional referendum and subsequent national elections drawing near, Zimbabwe is poised to enter an exciting and highly uncertain period. However, if left in the hands of the current political elites, the creation of a democratic Zimbabwe remains unlikely at best.

Freedom House interviews Farai Maguwu, director of Zimbabwe's Center for Research and Development (CRD), about the diamond industry in Zimbabwe. 

Tyler Roylance

At a recent conference on modern monarchy in London, Princeton University professor David Cannadine observed that monarchy “has not been a growth industry” over the last century, and that most of the monarchies that have disappeared were authoritarian in nature. Data from Freedom in the World support this notion, which should serve as both a warning and a spur to democratic reform for the few authoritarian monarchies that remain, especially in the Middle East. But the transition to democracy need not be a matter of mere survival: monarchies already in the democratic camp seem to excel, scoring disproportionately well among the world’s free countries.

The outlandish accusations of Muslim Brotherhood affiliations made against American government officials and agencies by Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and four other members of Congress have rightfully been dismissed by many public figures and members of the media as utter nonsense. While it’s tempting to shrug this off, the incident could have significant repercussions for the individuals singled out for accusation and for religious tolerance generally.

by Morgan Huston and Arch Puddington*

This past Tuesday, the Unesco–Equatorial Guinea International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences was awarded for the first time. The award recognizes the achievements of scientific research that “have contributed … to improving the quality of human life.” Unfortunately, the man who proposed and funded this award, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, is among the most corrupt and repressive dictators in Africa, or indeed anywhere. In other words, he is a political leader who has devoted a long career to worsening the quality of life for the people of Equatorial Guinea.

Arch Puddington

Of the great social movements that have left their imprint on the history of freedom, few rival Poland’s Solidarity trade union federation in staying power, fortitude, and connection to ordinary people. The obstacles Solidarity faced were daunting. On three previous occasions, citizens in Eastern Europe had sought to overthrow the Soviet yoke: East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968. Each time the forces of democracy were crushed by the Red Army.

Mary McGuire

The right to form associations, clubs, and other groups, as well as to meet or talk with people individually without government interference, is identified as a fundamental freedom under Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is an essential component of any society. This freedom can be exercised by practicing one’s faith with fellow believers, forming labor unions and other civic groups, peacefully protesting unjust government policies, or simply forming human connections, in person or online, on issues of common interest. But in more than half of the world, this right is regularly infringed upon by governments, especially when it takes a form that antidemocratic regimes find threatening.

Today, on Global Freedom of Association Day, we highlight 10 of the most ridiculous ways in which the world’s more repressive governments have restricted freedom of association and assembly.

by Rhonda Mays and Robert Herman*

During our recent trip to Burma, most of the prodemocracy and human rights activists with whom we met expressed their appreciation for the role that sanctions by the United States and other democratic powers had played in bringing about the modest but potentially significant reforms we are now seeing in the country. They acknowledged that while trade restrictions may have made life harder for ordinary people, particularly those working in the garment and manufacturing sectors, the leverage gained as a result of the sanctions was absolutely vital in catalyzing political will among military leaders to initiate reforms.

Cathal Gilbert

Southern Africa’s regional court has been shuttered for almost two years, but in August it may make a comeback, albeit with limited powers. The following blog post examines why this is an important development for more than just the human rights community.

As a rule, political leaders in southern Africa do not care for vibrant, independent-minded courts. In a region where respect for human rights, the rule of law, and judicial independence are in short supply, so too are courageous courts capable of challenging excessive executive powers.

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