by Arch Puddington and Jennifer Dunham
*Arch Puddington is vice president for research at Freedom House, and Jennifer Dunham is the research analyst for Freedom in the World.
The findings for Freedom in the World 2013, which were released this week, reflect a complex picture for the state of global freedom. On one hand, the number of countries ranked in the Free category increased to 90, an impressive share of the world's 195 sovereign states. At the same time, more countries, 27, suffered significant setbacks in their freedom indicators than showed notable gains, 16, marking the seventh consecutive year in which declines outnumbered improvements.
Ordinarily, Freedom in the World scores for individual countries move up or down in small increments. For example, over the past decade, Russia has declined from Partly Free status to a well-earned slot in the Not Free category. But its fall was not sudden or precipitous. The bottom-level scores for Freedom in the World range from 0 to 100, and in most years Russia suffered declines of between 1 and 4 points. Only the cumulative impact of those annual declines has made Russia one of the lowest-scoring countries among the world's major powers. In any particular year, a country that registers a gain or decline of between 3 and 5 points can be said to have undergone a fairly large change.
Yet for the year 2012, several countries registered across-the-board gains or declines that break the pattern of incremental changes. Mali's decline of 48 points is possibly the most severe one-year drop in the history of the report. Reductions for Guinea-Bissau and the Maldives were also sizeable. On the other side of the ledger, Libya's gain of 26 points ranks among the most substantial one-year improvements in the report's history.
The following table shows several of the important declines and gains for political rights and civil liberties over the past year.
In 2012, Mali experienced one of the most extreme single-year declines in the history of Freedom in the World, falling from Free to Not Free. Once viewed as a model African democracy, Mali was battered by a reinvigorated Tuareg rebellion, which triggered a military coup against the elected government. Political disarray in the southern capital allowed the seizure of Mali's northern provinces by Islamist militants, whose crude imitation of Islamic law drove hundreds of thousands of people to flee the area. Throughout the country--and especially in the north--civil liberties were severely curtailed, affecting the rule of law and the freedoms of expression, religion, and association.
Guinea-Bissau, already a weak state dominated by the military, dropped from Partly Free to Not Free as a result of an April coup. The interim president was removed, the national legislature was suspended, a presidential run-off vote was canceled, and repression of civil liberties increased, including harassment and arrests of regime opponents. Powerful elements of the military are under the influence of Latin American drug traffickers.
The Maldives' political rights rating declined due to the forcible removal of the democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, in February, as well as violence perpetrated against him and his party, the suspension of the parliament's summer session, and the role the military played in facilitating these events.
Ongoing political instability, sparked by a 2009 coup that ousted democratically elected president Marc Ravalomanana, caused a further decline for Madagascar in 2012. The year featured increased repression of the media as well as greater physical and economic insecurity, including violence in the southern part of the country and a rise in human trafficking.
Nigeria's decline can be attributed in large part to worsening conditions in the north, where the militant Islamist group Boko Haram waged a campaign of terror targeting government personnel and Christians, drawing a harsh and at times disproportionate response from the security forces. The conflict in the north narrowed the space for civil society and limited the population's freedom of movement. Nigeria's score also declined due to continued, unchecked corruption and the suppression of civil society during fuel-subsidy protests in January.
Libya under Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi ranked among the world's worst tyrannies for decades. However, it recorded major gains in 2012, especially on political rights indicators, and is now ranked as Partly Free. Despite predictions of chaos and failure, the country held successful elections in July for a General National Congress that included candidates from a range of regional and political backgrounds. Meanwhile, free expression and civic activity continued to expand, with a proliferation of media outlets and a broad range of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating. However, Libya continues to suffer from insecurity and a lack of clear government control over many parts of its territory, a problem that is compounded by the actions of autonomous local militias and radical Islamists.
Burma, another country that was long classified among the world's most repressive regimes, continued to move forward in 2012 with a process of democratic reform that was launched in 2010. While it remains a Not Free country, it recorded improvements in both its political rights and civil liberties ratings. The year saw the successful participation of the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, in parliamentary by-elections. The party was allowed to campaign with considerably more freedom than in the past, and it won nearly all of the seats at stake. Nevertheless, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party retains an overwhelming majority in the legislature, and the military's outsized power is still entrenched in the constitution and in practice. Freedoms of expression and association have improved markedly in the last two years, but they depend more on current government policy than on deep institutional changes. Moreover, Burma is still plagued by conflicts between the military and ethnic minority militias. And in 2012, communal violence flared between the oppressed Rohingya minority, which is largely Muslim, and the majority Buddhist population of Rakhine State.
Côte d'Ivoire: 10
Côte d'Ivoire, riven by internal conflict and political chaos as recently as April 2011, moved from Not Free to Partly Free due to the peaceful inauguration of a new parliament and the adoption of laws on transparency and corruption. It experienced improvements in civil liberties as a result of the reopening of opposition newspapers, public universities, and courts; renewed if halting attempts to curb abuses by the military; and a general improvement in the security situation.
Guinea, another West African country that experienced recent political strife, showed steady improvements under President Alpha Condé in government transparency, the ability of local and international NGOs to operate, and the climate for small businesses and private enterprise.
After political tension and uncertainty in 2011, Senegal improved from Partly Free to Free due to a peaceful power transfer through free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections. It also benefited from early steps taken by new president Macky Sall to audit government officials and projects, and to shut down a number of state bodies in favor of higher spending priorities, including flood-relief efforts.
This piece originally appeared on Freedom House's blog, Freedom at Issue. To read the original, click here .