More aggressive tactics by authoritarian regimes and an upsurge in terrorist attacks contributed to a disturbing decline in global freedom in 2014, according to the Freedom in the World 2015 report, compiled by Freedom House on the condition of political rights and civil liberties.
“Acceptance of democracy as the world’s dominant form of government—and of an international system built on democratic ideals—is under greater threat than at any other point in the last 25 years,” said Arch Puddington, vice president for research. “Until recently, most authoritarian regimes claimed to respect international agreements and paid lip service to the norms of competitive elections and human rights. Today they argue for the superiority of what amounts to one-party rule, and seek to throw off the constraints of fundamental diplomatic principles.”
Nearly twice as many countries suffered declines as registered gains—61 to 33—and the number of countries with improvements hit its lowest point since the nine-year erosion began.
The report cites Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a rollback of democratic gains by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s intensified campaign against press freedom and civil society, and further centralisation of authority in China as evidence of a growing disdain for democratic standards that was found in nearly all regions of the world.
The report also singled out terrorism for its impact on freedom in 2014. From West Africa through the Middle East to South Asia, radical jihadist forces plagued local governments and populations. Their impact on countries such as Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and Nigeria was devastating, as they massacred security forces and civilians alike, took foreigners hostage, and killed or enslaved religious minorities, including Muslims they deemed apostates.
Of the 195 countries assessed, 89 (46%) were rated Free, 55 (28%) Partly Free, and 51 (26%) Not Free. According to Freedom House, a troubling number of large, economically powerful, or regionally influential countries moved backward: Azerbaijan, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela.
Continuing a recent trend, the worst reversals affected freedom of expression, civil society, and the rule of law. In a new and disquieting development, a number of countries lost ground due to state surveillance, restrictions on internet communications, and curbs on personal autonomy.
Ratings for the Middle East and North Africa region were the worst in the world, followed by Eurasia. Syria, a dictatorship mired in civil war and ethnic division and facing uncontrolled terrorism, received the lowest Freedom in the World score of any country in over a decade.
A notable exception to the negative trend was Tunisia, which became the first Arab country to hold the status of Free since Lebanon was gripped by civil war 40 years ago.
Of the 51 countries and territories designated as Not Free, 12 have been given the worst-possible rating of 7 for both political rights and civil liberties. The Worst of the Worst countries are the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The Worst of the Worst territories are Tibet and Western Sahara.
For the Middle East and North Africa, Freedom House found that Tunisia became the Arab world’s only Free country and the sole success story of the Arab Spring after holding democratic elections under a new constitution.
The rest of the Middle East and North Africa was racked by violence and tragedy, including the Syrian civil war, the expansion of the Islamic State and other extremist militant factions, and new internal conflict in Libya. Egypt solidified its return to autocracy with sham elections, summary mass trials, and a crackdown on all forms of dissent.
News from sub-Saharan Africa was dominated by the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and a sharp rise in violence by Islamist militants in Nigeria and Kenya. Uganda fell from Partly Free to Not Free after a series of recent laws targeting the opposition, civil society, the LGBT community and women led to serious rights abuses and increased suppression of dissent.
In South Sudan, civil conflict fuelled widespread ethnic violence and displacement, and the rival factions failed to agree on a peace deal that would allow the country to hold elections.
In Burkina Faso, President Blaise Compaoré was forced to resign amid popular protests, leading the military to dissolve the parliament and take charge of the country.
Improvements were seen in Madagascar and Guinea-Bissau, which held their first elections during late 2013 and 2014 following coups in previous years.