Worst of the Worst 2010

Introduction

Read the full report here.

Freedom House has prepared this report as a companion to our annual survey on the state of global political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World. We are publishing this report to assist policymakers, human rights organizations, democracy advocates, and others who are working to advance freedom around the world. We also hope that the report will be useful to the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The reports are excerpted from Freedom in the World 2010, which surveys the state of freedom in 194 countries and 14 select territories. The ratings and accompanying essays are based on events from January 1, 2009, through December 31, 2009. The 17 countries and 3 territories profiled in this report are drawn from the total of 47 countries and 7 territories that are considered to be Not Free, and whose citizens endure systematic and pervasive human rights violations.

Included in this report are nine countries judged to have the worst human rights conditions: Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Also included is one territory, Tibet, whose inhabitants suffer similarly intense repression. These states and territories received the Freedom House survey’s lowest ratings: 7 for political rights and 7 for civil liberties (based on a 1 to 7 scale, with 1 representing the most free and 7 the least free). Within these entities, state control over daily life is pervasive, independent organizations and political opposition are banned or suppressed, and fear of retribution for independent thought and action is ubiquitous.

The report also includes eight additional countries near the bottom of Freedom House’s ratings scale: Belarus, Chad, China, Cuba, Guinea, Laos, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. The two territories of South Ossetia and Western Sahara are also included in this group. These countries and territories—all of which received ratings of 7 for political rights and 6 for civil liberties—offer very limited scope for private discussion while severely suppressing opposition political activity, impeding independent organizing, and censoring or punishing criticism of the state.

Massive human rights violations take place in nearly every region of the world. This year’s roster of the “worst of the worst” includes countries from the Americas, the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa, and East Asia; they represent a wide array of cultures and levels of economic development. This report focuses on states and territories that have seen some of the world’s most severe repression and most systematic and brutal abuses of human dignity. It seeks to focus the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council on states and territories that deserve investigation and condemnation for their widespread violations.

Despite a net 37-year gain in support for the values of democracy–multiparty elections, the rule of law, freedom of association, freedom of speech, the rights of minorities and other fundamental, universally valid human rights–the last four years have seen a global decline in freedom. The declines represent the longest period of erosion in political rights and civil liberties in the nearly 40-year history of Freedom in the World. New threats, including heightened attacks on human rights defenders, increased limits on press freedom and attacks on journalists, and significant restrictions on freedom of association have been seen in nearly every corner of the globe. The countries identified in this report represent some of the worst examples of these threats, and their populations live under regimes that use every means necessary to prevent progress in democratic governance.

By absolute historical standards, the world is still freer than it was thirty years ago. Dozens of states have shed tyranny and embraced democratic rule and respect for basic civil liberties. According to our global survey, Freedom in the World 2010 (whose findings can be accessed online at www.freedomhouse.org), of the 194 countries in the world, 89 (46 percent) are Free and can be said to respect a broad array of basic human rights and political freedoms. An additional 58 (30 percent) are Partly Free, with some abridgments of basic rights and weak enforcement of the rule of law. In all, some 3 billion people—46 percent of the world’s population—live in Free states in which a broad array of political rights are protected. This progress makes the overall global decline, including the current state of this set of countries and territories, all the more disturbing.

There is growing evidence that most countries that have made measured and sustainable progress in long-term economic development are also states that respect democratic practices. This should hardly be surprising, as competitive, multiparty democracy provides for the rotation of power, government transparency, independent civic monitoring, and free media. These in turn promote improved governance and impede massive corruption and cronyism, conditions that are prevalent in settings where political power is not subject to civic and political checks and balances.

The expansion of democratic governance over the last several decades has important implications for the United Nations and other international organizations. Today, states that respect basic freedoms and the rule of law have greater potential than ever before to positively influence global and regional institutions. But they can only achieve that potential within international bodies by working cooperatively and cohesively on issues of democracy and human rights. Nowhere is the need for international democratic cooperation more essential than at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Although democracy has scored impressive gains in recent times, we have also begun to see a new drive to prevent the further spread of democracy and, where possible, roll back some of the achievements that have already been registered. A number of the countries featured in this report are prominent in this effort. In addition, many of the world’s worst violators of human rights and democratic standards have joined in loose coalitions at the United Nations to deflect attention from their records of repression. The failure of the United Nations to effectively address human rights problems played an important role in the decision to replace the old Commission on Human Rights with the new Human Rights Council. The Council is functioning under a set of procedures that should enable it to deal with the core human rights problems in the world. We offer this report in the hope that it will assist the democratic world in pressing the case for freedom at the United Nations and in other forums.