by John J. Metzler, syndicated columnist
UNITED NATIONS – There’s been a disturbing decline in global freedoms over the past year with a clear erosion of political rights for the ninth consecutive year. These are among the dire findings of the Freedom House report which rates rights and freedoms in 195 countries around the world. The report underscores that, after the higher water-mark of liberties a decade ago, world events have taken a turn for the worse with a corresponding crackdown on rights and freedoms.
In its annual overview, “Freedom in the World 2015: Discarding Democracy; Return to the Iron Fist,” Freedom House, the respected human rights monitor, paints a complex picture of the status and sustainability of civil, political and human rights. During 2014, for example, nearly double the number of countries, 61, saw declines in freedoms while 33 experienced advances.
Freedom House uses a complex methodology in which states are rated for political rights and civil liberties with 1 being the most free and 7 the least free.
Viewing 195 countries, the survey says that 89 countries are Free representing 45 percent of the world; 55 states are Partly Free representing 28 percent, while 51 countries are Not Free comprising 26 percent.
The USA, Canada along with Western Europe are Free, Mexico, Indonesia and Kenya fall into the Partly Free category, while China, Iran and Russia fit into the Not Free designation.
Ratings for the Middle East and North African region remain the worst in the world, sadly with obvious reasons.
Algeria, Libya and Iraq are clearly in the Not Free category while Israel presents the other side of the spectrum as Free. Importantly Tunisia has earned a place in the Free category as well, a rare example of positive political developments in North Africa.
Turkey presents a troubling case as we see the country’s rating slipping lower into the Party Free group as the creeping Islamic-lite authoritarianism of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government becomes more powerful. In the same region, political rights have suffered in both Bosnia and Macedonia, both countries of former Yugoslavia, rated as Partly Free. Yet, nearby Croatia and Slovenia proudly belong to the Free category.
Both East and Southeast Asia present a mixed bag in terms of rights and freedoms.
While Mainland China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma/Myanmar fit firmly into the Not Free category so too now does Thailand. Both Singapore and Malaysia fall into Partly free category. Japan, South Korea and the Republic of China on Taiwan are proudly part of the Free countries.
Africa covers a wide swath of the spectrum. Here we see the depths of political repression in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Partly Free states include Mali, Nigeria and Zambia. Free countries are few, with Botswana being joined by Namibia, Ghana and South Africa.
Yet, viewing the practical effects of dictatorship, we see that Zimbabwe’s longtime dictator Robert Mugabe has burnished his credentials by just being elected to the prestigious post as the Chairman of the African Union.
In Latin America the growth of freedom has been impressive with Cuba being the only country listed as Not Free, while a number of others such as Bolivia and Venezuela are Partly Free.
Overall by region in North and South America, 71 percent of the population is Free, as are 86 percent of the Europeans. The numbers cascade with only 12 percent of sub-Saharan African population being Free. In Asia the news is better with 38 percent of the population free. But even famously democratic places like Hong Kong have seen a reversal as Beijing tightens the political noose on this freewheeling Special Administrative Region of China.
Freedom House lists a special category; Worst of the Worst. These countries include not surprisingly North Korea but also Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and Syria and Turkmenistan. Surprised?
The world is threatened by the rising tide of intolerance and by the return of repression. With the global perception of a weaker USA, the international scene continues to witness expanding strife, the rise of radicalism and the return of dictatorships.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations; Germany, Korea, China (2014).