The report by US-based NGO Freedom House, was presented in Parliament yesterday (20 February) in the presence of the liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt and several leading MEPs from across party lines.
According to the authors, the report marks the seventh consecutive year in which countries with declines outnumbered those with improvements. MEPs say that there is a clear link between the level of political freedom and the successful economic and social development of countries.
Over the past year, three countries have moved from "Partly Free" to "Free" in the Freedom House ranking: Lesotho, Sierra Leone and Senegal. Lesotho’s political rights indicators improved because, despite pre-election violence, it held free and fair parliamentary elections that resulted in a peaceful rotation of power.
Senegal, after political tension and uncertainty in 2011, also experienced a peaceful power transfer through presidential and parliamentary elections. The West African country benefited from nascent efforts by its new president to increase government accountability and transparency.
Sierra Leone, 10 years after the end of a brutal civil war, successfully completed free and fair national elections, during which reformed electoral institutions operated with transparency and demonstrated an ability to function without undue influence from the international community.
Côte d’Ivoire also showed substantial improvement just a year after a violent civil conflict, moving from "Not Free" to "Partly Free". Two other countries, Guinea and Malawi, also showed gains. In Guinea there was evidence of steady improvements in religious freedom, the rights of local and international NGOs, and the climate for small businesses and private enterprise.
Malawi peacefully transferred power to new president Joyce Banda, a move followed by an easing of repression, including improvements in academic freedom and freedom of assembly.
On the negative side though, Mali suffered one of the greatest single-year declines in the history of Freedom in the World, dropping precipitously from ‘Free’ to ‘Not Free’, and Guinea-Bissau's status declined from ‘Partly Free’ to ‘Not Free’. Declines were also seen in the Central African Republic, Gambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Madagascar, South Africa, and Uganda.
To compare other major regions, Western Europe has an aggregate index ‘Free’ of 96%, followed by the Americas at 69%. Next is Central and Eastern Europe-Eurasia with 45%, Asia-Pacific with 43%, Sub-Saharan Africa with 22% and the Middle East and North Africa with only 6%.
Fallout of Arab spring
The report notes that the gains for the Arab Spring countries triggered a reaction, sometimes violent, by authoritarian leaders elsewhere in the Middle East, with resulting setbacks for freedom in Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.
But Tunisia maintained dramatic improvements from the previous year, and Libya and Egypt both moved from Not Free to Partly Free. Syria suffered by far the worst repercussions from the Arab Spring. Declines in freedom were also seen in Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
Worst of the Worst
Of the 47 countries designated as ‘Not Free’, nine have been given the survey's lowest possible rating of 7 for both political rights and civil liberties: Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Two territories, Tibet and Western Sahara, were also ranked among the worst of the worst.