Nothing to Celebrate

Start Slideshow View as a List

As the land of the free commemorates Independence Day this year, it is worth remembering the countries that have little to celebrate and much to fear. And in 2013, there were a lot of them: last year was the eighth consecutive year that Freedom House's Freedom in the World survey, an annual measure of political and civil liberties across the globe, found more countries lost freedom than gained it. The following countries, to the misfortune of their citizens, earned the status of "Worst of the Worst" in 2013: out of the 195 countries examined by Freedom House across categories ranging from the ability to vote freely in legitimate elections to the ability to exercise freedom of belief, these 10 earned the lowest possible ratings on every measure.

Central African Republic 

A rebellion in the Central African Republic ousted the president in March 2013 and led to suspension of the constitution, leaving the country virtually without law and authority for months. The rebellion also helped to create one of the largest humanitarian crises in Africa, with rival, Muslim, Christian and ethnic militias killing thousands of people and forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes. Government forces and paramilitary groups continue to commit atrocities without being held accountable.

Above,  Burundian soldier stands at Bangui airport as part of an African Union peacekeeping force

US Army Africa/ via Flickr:usarmyafrica

http://Equatorial%20Guinea%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20President%20Teodoro%20Obiang%20Nguema%20Mbasogo,%20Africa's%20longest%20serving%20head%20of%20state,%20maintains%20virtually%20complete%20control%20over%20Equatorial%20Guinea's%20economic%20and%20political%20life,%20enriching%20his%20family%20and%20associates%20at%20the%20expense%20of%20the%20rest%20of%20the%20nation.%20Although%20Equatorial%20Guinea%20is%20Africa's%20third%20largest%20producer%20of%20oil%20and%20has%20the%20highest%20GDP%20per%20capita%20on%20the%20continent%20three-quarters%20of%20the%20population%20lives%20in%20poverty.%20Authorities%20arrested%20opposition%20figures%20in%20advance%20of%20parliamentary%20elections,%20further%20stifling%20dissent.%20%20%20%20%20%20Above,%20Equatorial%20Guinea%20President%20Teodoro%20Obiang%20Nguema%20arrives%20for%20the%20New%20York%20Forum%20in%20Libreville,%20Gabon,%20on%20June%2014,%202013.%20%20%20%20%20%20%20Steve%20Jordan/AFP/Getty%20Images

Equatorial Guinea

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Africa's longest serving head of state, maintains virtually complete control over Equatorial Guinea's economic and political life, enriching his family and associates at the expense of the rest of the nation. Although Equatorial Guinea is Africa's third largest producer of oil and has the highest GDP per capita on the continent three-quarters of the population lives in poverty. Authorities arrested opposition figures in advance of parliamentary elections, further stifling dissent.

Above, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema arrives for the New York Forum in Libreville, Gabon, on June 14, 2013.

Steve Jordan/AFP/Getty Images

http://Eritrea%20%20%20%20%20%20Since%20its%20independence%20in%201993,%20President%20Isaias%20Afewerki%20has%20governed%20Eritrea%20-%20a%20state%20sometimes%20referred%20to%20as%20the%20North%20Korea%20of%20Africa%20--%20as%20an%20authoritarian%20military%20state,%20requiring%20all%20adult%20males%20under%20the%20age%20of%2050%20to%20serve%20in%20the%20armed%20forces.%20The%20government%20retains%20control%20of%20all%20media,%20silencing%20dissent%20and%20outlawing%20independent%20civil%20society%20organizations.%20Imprisonment%20and%20torture%20of%20journalists,%20dissidents,%20and%20opposition%20figures%20remains%20common,%20with%20many%20held%20in%20horrific%20conditions%20but%20never%20formally%20charged.%20%20%20%20%20%20Above,%20a%20man%20rides%20a%20bike%20in%20front%20of%20the%20the%20Asmara%20Public%20Library%20in%20Asmara,%20on%20July%2022,%202013.%20%20%20%20%20%20%20JENNY%20VAUGHAN/AFP/Getty%20Images

Eritrea

Since its independence in 1993, President Isaias Afewerki has governed Eritrea - a state sometimes referred to as the North Korea of Africa -- as an authoritarian military state, requiring all adult males under the age of 50 to serve in the armed forces. The government retains control of all media, silencing dissent and outlawing independent civil society organizations. Imprisonment and torture of journalists, dissidents, and opposition figures remains common, with many held in horrific conditions but never formally charged.

Above, a man rides a bike in front of the the Asmara Public Library in Asmara, on July 22, 2013.

JENNY VAUGHAN/AFP/Getty Images

http://North%20Korea%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20Led%20by%20Kim%20Jong%20Un,%20North%20Korea%20remains%20the%20most%20isolated%20and%20repressive%20country%20in%20the%20world,%20forbidding%20political%20opposition,%20independent%20media,%20and%20independent%20citizens'%20groups.%20The%20world%20knows%20little%20about%20what%20actually%20goes%20on%20in%20the%20Hermit%20Kingdom,%20but%20evidence%20of%20various%20abuses%20has%20been%20collected%20from%20refugees,%20defectors,%20and%20other%20sources%20by%20human%20rights%20groups%20and%20the%20United%20Nations.%20Kim's%20regime%20maintains%20a%20network%20of%20prison%20camps%20in%20which%20thousands%20of%20political%20prisoners%20endure%20brutal%20conditions.%20Employment,%20education,%20residence,%20and%20access%20to%20medical%20care%20are%20determined%20by%20a%20semi-hereditary%20system%20that%20classifies%20citizens%20into%20subgroups%20based%20on%20family%20loyalty%20to%20the%20regime.%20%20%20%20%20%20Above,%20North%20Korean%20soldiers%20salute%20during%20a%20military%20parade%20to%20mark%20100%20years%20since%20the%20birth%20of%20the%20country's%20founder%20Kim%20Il-Sung%20in%20Pyongyang%20on%20April%2015,%202012.%20%20%20%20%20%20%20Ed%20Jones/AFP/Getty%20Images

North Korea

Led by Kim Jong Un, North Korea remains the most isolated and repressive country in the world, forbidding political opposition, independent media, and independent citizens' groups. The world knows little about what actually goes on in the Hermit Kingdom, but evidence of various abuses has been collected from refugees, defectors, and other sources by human rights groups and the United Nations. Kim's regime maintains a network of prison camps in which thousands of political prisoners endure brutal conditions. Employment, education, residence, and access to medical care are determined by a semi-hereditary system that classifies citizens into subgroups based on family loyalty to the regime.

Above, North Korean soldiers salute during a military parade to mark 100 years since the birth of the country's founder Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.

Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

http://Saudi%20Arabia%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20The%20oil-rich%20kingdom%20of%20Saudi%20Arabia%20has%20long%20suppressed%20political%20opposition%20and%20imprisoned%20its%20opponents%20without%20due%20process.%20The%20formation%20of%20political%20parties%20remains%20banned,%20and%20the%20government%20tightly%20controls%20the%20media,%20dominating%20print%20and%20satellite%20TV%20coverage%20and%20blocking%20access%20to%20hundreds%20of%20thousands%20of%20websites.%20Public%20expression%20of%20any%20religion%20other%20than%20Islam%20is%20forbidden.%20The%20kingdom%20has%20systematically%20arrested,%20tried,%20and%20imprisoned%20some%20of%20the%20country's%20most%20visible%20women's%20rights%20activists.%20%20%20%20%20%20%20Above,%20Saudi%20royal%20guards%20stand%20on%20duty%20in%20front%20of%20portraits%20of%20King%20Abdullah%20bin%20Abdulaziz%20(R),%20Crown%20Prince%20Salman%20bin%20Abdulaziz%20(C)%20and%20second%20deputy%20Prime%20Minister%20Mugren%20bin%20Abdulaziz%20in%20Riyadh,%20on%20February%2018.%20%20%20%20%20%20%20FAYEZ%20NURELDINE/AFP/Getty%20Images

Saudi Arabia

The oil-rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long suppressed political opposition and imprisoned its opponents without due process. The formation of political parties remains banned, and the government tightly controls the media, dominating print and satellite TV coverage and blocking access to hundreds of thousands of websites. Public expression of any religion other than Islam is forbidden. The kingdom has systematically arrested, tried, and imprisoned some of the country's most visible women's rights activists.

Above, Saudi royal guards stand on duty in front of portraits of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz (R), Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz (C) and second deputy Prime Minister Mugren bin Abdulaziz in Riyadh, on February 18.

FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

http://Somalia%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20Although%20a%20legitimate%20Somali%20government%20has%20emerged%20after%20years%20of%20murderous%20violence%20between%20heavily%20armed%20clans,%20national%20elections%20remain%20a%20distant%20goal.%20The%20government%20controls%20little%20territory%20outside%20of%20Mogadishu,%20the%20capital%20city,%20with%20the%20Islamic%20extremist%20group%20al-Shabab%20retaining%20sway%20over%20much%20of%20the%20south%20and%20south%20east%20despite%20recent%20advances%20by%20African%20Union%20troops.%20Both%20the%20government%20and%20al-Shabab%20continue%20to%20commit%20human%20rights%20abuses%20as%20each%20fights%20for%20territorial%20control.%20 Internally%20displaced%20persons%20have%20been%20denied%20access%20to%20food,%20basic%20medical%20treatment%20and%20security. %20%20%20%20%20%20Above,%20a%20Somali%20soldier%20stands%20guard%20on%20December%202,%202013%20outside%20the%20parliament%20in%20Mogadishu.%20%20%20%20%20%20Mohamed%20Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty%20Images

Somalia

Although a legitimate Somali government has emerged after years of murderous violence between heavily armed clans, national elections remain a distant goal. The government controls little territory outside of Mogadishu, the capital city, with the Islamic extremist group al-Shabab retaining sway over much of the south and south east despite recent advances by African Union troops. Both the government and al-Shabab continue to commit human rights abuses as each fights for territorial control.  Internally displaced persons have been denied access to food, basic medical treatment and security. 

Above, a Somali soldier stands guard on December 2, 2013 outside the parliament in Mogadishu.

Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images

http://Sudan%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20Sudan's%20President%20Omar%20al-Bashir,%20who%20remains%20under%20indictment%20by%20the%20International%20Criminal%20Court%20for%20genocide%20and%20crimes%20against%20humanity%20in%20Darfur,%20tightly%20restricts%20political%20opposition%20and%20dissent,%20intimidating%20and%20imprisoning%20journalists%20and%20academics.%20In%202013,%20hundreds%20were%20arrested%20in%20anti-government%20protests%20in%20Khartoum,%20and%20some%20estimate%20as%20many%20as%20200%20people%20were%20killed.%20Members%20of%20Bashir's%20party%20control%20oil%20revenues%20and%20government%20contracts,%20which%20means%20money%20typically%20is%20awarded%20to%20companies%20owned%20by%20the%20political%20elite.%20Tensions,%20meanwhile,%20continue%20---%20though%20have%20been%20somewhat%20dampened%20of%20late%20--%20with%20neighboring%20oil-rich%20South%20Sudan,%20which%20won%20its%20independence%20from%20the%20north%20 in%202011,%20and%20has%20spent%20the%20last%20year%20struggling%20with%20civil%20war.%20Fears%20persist%20that%20Bashir%20could%20use%20Sudan's%20military%20to%20secure%20oil%20reserves%20in%20the%20south.%20%20%20%20%20%20Above,%20Sudanese%20Armed%20Forces%20and%20troops%20from%20Rapid%20Support%20Forces%20celebrate%20after%20recapturing%20the%20Daldako%20area,%20about%2012%20miles%20northeast%20of%20Kadugli,%20on%20May%2020.%20Ethnic%20minority%20rebels%20have%20been%20fighting%20government%20forces%20for%20three%20years%20in%20a%20largely-hidden%20war%20which%20the%20UN%20says%20has%20affected%20more%20than%20one%20million%20people.%20%20%20%20%20%20%20STR/AFP/Getty%20Images

Sudan

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who remains under indictment by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur, tightly restricts political opposition and dissent, intimidating and imprisoning journalists and academics. In 2013, hundreds were arrested in anti-government protests in Khartoum, and some estimate as many as 200 people were killed. Members of Bashir's party control oil revenues and government contracts, which means money typically is awarded to companies owned by the political elite. Tensions, meanwhile, continue --- though have been somewhat dampened of late -- with neighboring oil-rich South Sudan, which won its independence from the north  in 2011, and has spent the last year struggling with civil war. Fears persist that Bashir could use Sudan's military to secure oil reserves in the south.

Above, Sudanese Armed Forces and troops from Rapid Support Forces celebrate after recapturing the Daldako area, about 12 miles northeast of Kadugli, on May 20. Ethnic minority rebels have been fighting government forces for three years in a largely-hidden war which the UN says has affected more than one million people.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

http://Syria%20%20%20%20%20%20Hundreds%20of%20thousands%20of%20civilians%20have%20died%20and%20millions%20more%20have%20been%20displaced%20over%20the%20course%20of%20Syria's%20shockingly%20brutal%20civil%20war,%20which%20began%20in%202011%20when%20the%20autocratic%20government%20of%20President%20Bashar%20al-Assad%20responded%20to%20peaceful%20protests%20with%20volleys%20of%20gunfire.%20Neither%20the%20government%20nor%20competing%20militant%20groups%20have%20shown%20regard%20for%20fundamental%20human%20rights,%20including%20the%20right%20to%20life.%20Government%20forces%20have%20resorted%20to%20indiscriminate%20chemical%20attacks%20and%20aerial%20bombardment%20of%20civilian%20areas,%20while%20some%20insurgent%20groups%20have%20deployed%20suicide%20bombers%20and%20shelled%20government-controlled%20communities.%20 Assad%20recently%20won%20re-election%20in%20a%20rigged%20vote%20that%20was%20held%20in%20only%20a%20fraction%20of%20the%20country.%20Meanwhile,%20at%20least%2020%20journalists%20have%20been%20arrested%20and%20tortured%20by%20the%20state,%20and%20some%20militant%20groups%20have%20imposed%20crude%20versions%20of%20Islamic%20law%20in%20their%20areas,%20carrying%20out%20summary%20executions%20and%20other%20punishments%20for%20perceived%20religious%20offenses.%20%20%20%20%20%20%20Above,%20a%20father%20and%20son%20return%20home%20with%20vegetables,%20as%20smoke%20from%20a%20pro-government%20forces%20artillery%20strike%20ascends%20in%20the%20background%20in%20Aleppo,%20on%20January%206,%202013.%20%20%20%20%20%20%20ZAC%20BAILLIE/AFP/Getty%20Images

Syria

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have died and millions more have been displaced over the course of Syria's shockingly brutal civil war, which began in 2011 when the autocratic government of President Bashar al-Assad responded to peaceful protests with volleys of gunfire. Neither the government nor competing militant groups have shown regard for fundamental human rights, including the right to life. Government forces have resorted to indiscriminate chemical attacks and aerial bombardment of civilian areas, while some insurgent groups have deployed suicide bombers and shelled government-controlled communities.  Assad recently won re-election in a rigged vote that was held in only a fraction of the country. Meanwhile, at least 20 journalists have been arrested and tortured by the state, and some militant groups have imposed crude versions of Islamic law in their areas, carrying out summary executions and other punishments for perceived religious offenses.

Above, a father and son return home with vegetables, as smoke from a pro-government forces artillery strike ascends in the background in Aleppo, on January 6, 2013.

ZAC BAILLIE/AFP/Getty Images

http://Turkmenistan%20%20%20%20%20%20%20%20Turkmenistan%20President%20Gurbanguly%20Berdymukhamedov%20retains%20almost%20unlimited%20power,%20including%20control%20over%20civil%20society,%20media%20outlets%20and%20the%20electoral%20process.%20The%20government%20controls%20all%20broadcast%20and%20print%20media,%20can%20appoint%20and%20remove%20judges%20at%20will%20and%20restricts%20religious%20practices.%20It%20is%20illegal%20for%20citizens%20to%20access%20social%20media%20sites%20and%20foreign%20news%20outlets.%20%20%20%20%20%20Above,%20wearing%20traditional%20Turkmen%20costume%20a%20man%20goes%20to%20vote%20at%20a%20polling%20station%20in%20Ashgabat%20on%20December%2015,%202013.%20%20%20%20%20%20%20STR/AFP/Getty%20Images

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov retains almost unlimited power, including control over civil society, media outlets and the electoral process. The government controls all broadcast and print media, can appoint and remove judges at will and restricts religious practices. It is illegal for citizens to access social media sites and foreign news outlets.

Above, wearing traditional Turkmen costume a man goes to vote at a polling station in Ashgabat on December 15, 2013.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

Uzbekistan

Under Islam Karimov, who has ruled Uzbekistan since 1991, the government has criminalized civil society activity and refused to register political opposition parties. Forced labor remains endemic: school children and their teachers are forced each year to help with the cotton harvest, to bolster the country's main export. Human trafficking, too, remains widespread: traffickers bringing girls and women abroad to be sold into prostitution openly bribe border control officers. Uzbekistan received the lowest rating for human trafficking from the U.S. State Department in 2013 for its failure to make any effort to combat what some have called "modern slavery".

Above, Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov takes part in a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization at the Ala-Archa state residence in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, on September 13, 2013.

VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images

Previous Next Close