Freedom House releases report showing decline in democracy worldwide

by Hunger Notes

(January 13, 2011) 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.

The key global and regional findings are as follows:

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.