Freedom House: World less free, Iraq and South Asia improve

Freedom House has just released its annual Freedom in the World report on global political rights and civil liberties. Overall, the report shows global freedom in decline, a continuation of a trend over the last three years. Last week, I spoke with Freedom House’s director of research, Arch Puddington, about some of the report’s more ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
589653_090112_FIW2009_PR_BookletCover_FINAL5.jpg
589653_090112_FIW2009_PR_BookletCover_FINAL5.jpg

Freedom House has just released its annual Freedom in the World report on global political rights and civil liberties. Overall, the report shows global freedom in decline, a continuation of a trend over the last three years.

Last week, I spoke with Freedom House's director of research, Arch Puddington, about some of the report's more significant findings. Among these was a general improvement in the state of democracy in South Asia in 2008, a rare bit of good news for the increasingly unstable region.

South Asia is a volatile region. Last year one of our headlines was, "South Asia shows major decline." But you had some progress in Bangladesh, in Pakistan and some small countries like Bhutan, Nepal and the Maldives. They did show progress... I think that having India as the most powerful country in the region has a powerful ripple effect. India, despite its ethnic divisions and problems with terrorism and poverty does maintain a pretty stable democracy, which has rubbed off on its neighbors.

Freedom House has just released its annual Freedom in the World report on global political rights and civil liberties. Overall, the report shows global freedom in decline, a continuation of a trend over the last three years.

Last week, I spoke with Freedom House’s director of research, Arch Puddington, about some of the report’s more significant findings. Among these was a general improvement in the state of democracy in South Asia in 2008, a rare bit of good news for the increasingly unstable region.

South Asia is a volatile region. Last year one of our headlines was, “South Asia shows major decline.” But you had some progress in Bangladesh, in Pakistan and some small countries like Bhutan, Nepal and the Maldives. They did show progress… I think that having India as the most powerful country in the region has a powerful ripple effect. India, despite its ethnic divisions and problems with terrorism and poverty does maintain a pretty stable democracy, which has rubbed off on its neighbors.

This year’s report is also an opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of outgoing President George W. Bush’s famous “freedom agenda.”

If you look at just our findings, there was a modest improvement over the eight years of the Bush administration. There was modest improvement in the Middle East. There was modest improvement in sub-Saharan Africa. The only region that showed decline throughout that period is the former Soviet Union.

So we certainly would not conclude, as some have, that the Bush administration was a catastrophe for the state of world freedom. There was some gain. Most of that gain came during the first four years and the decline came after the color revolutions and the backlash in the Middle East and you saw some of the gains eroded.

Also relevant to the discussion of Bush’s legacy is the the only country in the Middle East that improved this year: Iraq.

The diminution of violence and expecially the decline in influcence of the Shia militias were cited by our analysts are improving the security environment and therefore enhancing, to a modest degree, the freedom of orginary people. I should not that we’ve always designated Iraq, in the post-Saddam era as “not free” and it’s still not free. The improvement is modest but we thought significant enough to make note of, since we’ve been pretty hard on Iraq in the past.

The report may also put to rest notions that the Olympics would do anything to improve the state of freedom in China.

You can check out Puddington’s full overview here.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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