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Rise of authoritarianism a threat to global freedom – report

4 March 20220 comments

Global freedom is under unprecedented threat with attacks on liberal democracy ramping up around the world, according to a new report.

The ‘Freedom in the World 2022’ report, released just as Russia presses home its invasion of Ukraine, found that autocracy is making gains against democracy and encouraging more leaders to abandon the democratic path to security and prosperity.

The report, by human rights NGO Freedom House, found that countries which suffered democratic declines over the past year outnumbered those which strengthened democracy by more than two to one.

“Authoritarian regimes have become more effective at co-opting or circumventing the norms and institutions meant to support basic liberties, and at providing aid to others who wish to do the same,” the report said.

“In countries with long-established democracies, internal forces have exploited the shortcomings in their systems, distorting national politics to promote hatred, violence, and unbridled power,” it said.

The report said countries that have teetered between democracy and authoritarianism are increasingly tilting toward the latter.

“The global order is nearing a tipping point, and if democracy’s defenders do not work together to help guarantee freedom for all people, the authoritarian model will prevail,” the report said.

The threat to democracy is the result of 16 consecutive years of decline in global freedom. A total of 60 countries suffered declines over the past year, while only 25 improved.

Around 38 per cent of the global population live in countries deemed by the report to be ‘not free’, the highest proportion since 1997. Only about 20 per cent now live in countries deemed ‘free’.

Among the key findings of the report, are:

*Authoritarian leaders are increasingly collaborating with one another to spread new forms of repression and rebuff democratic pressure.

Chinese and Russian envoys to the United Nations have worked to water down the international response to the military coups in Myanmar and Sudan, and Moscow has sought to strengthen economic ties with the junta in Myanmar.

The governments of Russia, China, Turkey, and others have economically supported the Maduro regime in Venezuela, offsetting sanctions imposed by democracies for its rigged elections and crackdowns on the opposition.

The Kremlin has continued to prop up Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s dictatorship in Belarus since providing propagandists and security assistance to help suppress opposition protests following the country’s fraudulent August 2020 presidential election.

*The 16-year decline has affected all geographical regions and democratic indicators, including the rule of law and freedom of expression and belief. Eurasia and the Middle East have experienced the greatest declines in average score overall during this period.

*Three countries received the best possible aggregate score of 100: Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

*The largest one-year score improvements for 2021 included Côte d’Ivoire, which is rated Partly Free and gained 5 points, and Ecuador, which gained 4 points and earned a status of Free.

*The largest one-year score declines for 2021 took place in Myanmar, which is rated Not Free and lost 19 points, and Afghanistan, which is also Not Free and lost 17 points.

*In countries with long-established democracies, internal forces have exploited the shortcomings in their systems, distorting national politics to promote hatred, violence, and unbridled power.

 “Authoritarians are becoming more brazen in their attacks on human rights at home and abroad, which should be a call to action for everyone who values their own rights and the rights of their fellow human beings,” said Freedom House researcher Sarah Repucci.

“Autocrats in Beijing and Moscow want to co-opt the label of ‘democracy’ to boost their own credibility while undermining actual democracy worldwide. It’s high time for democratic governments to move from rhetoric to action. Global freedom and prosperity are at stake,” Ms Repucci said.

The report found that countries in every region of the world have been captured by authoritarian rulers in recent years.

“In 2021 alone, Nicaragua’s incumbent president won a new term in a tightly orchestrated election after his security forces arrested opposition candidates and deregistered civil society organisations,” the report said.

“Sudan’s generals seized power once again, reversing democratic progress made after the 2019 ouster of former dictator Omar al-Bashir.

“And as the United States abruptly withdrew its military from Afghanistan, the elected government in Kabul collapsed and gave way to the Taliban, returning the country to a system that is diametrically opposed to democracy, pluralism, and equality,” the report said.

The Freedom House report said that at the same time, democracies are being harmed from within by illiberal forces, including unscrupulous politicians willing to corrupt and shatter the very institutions that brought them to power.

“This was arguably most visible last year in the United States, where rioters stormed the Capitol on January 6 as part of an organised attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election.

“But freely elected leaders from Brazil to India have also taken or threatened a variety of antidemocratic actions, and the resulting breakdown in shared values among democracies has led to a weakening of these values on the international stage.

“It is now impossible to ignore the damage to democracy’s foundations and reputation. The regimes of China, Russia, and other authoritarian countries have gained enormous power in the international system, and freer countries have seen their established norms challenged and fractured.

“The current state of global freedom should raise alarm among all who value their own rights and those of their fellow human beings. To reverse the decline, democratic governments need to strengthen domestic laws and institutions while taking bold, coordinated action to support the struggle for democracy around the world,” the report said.

The Freedom in the World report assesses the condition of political rights and civil liberties around the world. It is composed of numerical ratings and supporting descriptive texts for 195 countries and 15 territories. It has been published since 1973, allowing for the tracking of global trends in freedom for almost 50 years.

Read the full report here: