Do you like democracy? Are you passionate about personal freedom? Well, then, 2019 won’t be your favorite year. For 13 consecutive years, from 2005 to 2018, political and civil liberties have steadily eroded across the world, according to the Freedom in the World 2019 report published by Freedom House.
This is Freedom House’s flagship annual report, which assesses the state of political and civil liberties around the world. The report, which has been published annually since 1973, is composed of numerical ratings and supportive texts for 195 countries and 14 territories. In effect, the reports represent the most reliable measure of global freedom trends over the last 40 years, and is regularly used by policymakers, journalists, academics, activists, and others.
“Challenges to American democracy are testing the stability of its constitutional system and threatening to undermine political rights and civil liberties worldwide,” reads Freedom House’s short summary of the findings.
The report draws data from on-the-ground teams, by consulting local contacts, or by combing local and national news outlets. Nongovernmental organizations and governmental actors also supply data. Freedom House explains that their findings are vetted by expert advisers and local specialists, to ensure that the final document is impartial and reflects the reality on the ground.
Some of the information that Freedom House uses for the report includes analyses of the electoral process, the rule of law, freedom of expression and belief, associational and organizational rights, personal autonomy, individual rights and freedoms, as well as political pluralism and participation. Based on these metrics, countries are deemed “Free”, “Partly Free”, and “Not Free”.
This year’s report, headlined “Democracy in Retreat”, doesn’t paint a very pleasant picture. The decline in freedom over the past 13 years has touched upon countries in every single region of the globe, and from all walks of life — from seasoned democracies such as the USA to entrenched authoritarian regimes like Russia or China.
Not Free countries, overall, have increasingly given up the pretense of democratic practice established over the past decades, Freedom House explains, with more and more authoritarian governments banning or jailing their opposition, re-writing term limits, and becoming increasingly controlling of independent media outlets.
Several countries that democratized following the Cold War (both ‘Free’ and ‘Partly Free’ countries) have regressed in regards to freedom. Government corruption, graft, antiliberal or populist movements, and breakdowns in the rule of law are all eroding democracy and personal freedoms in these countries. Even countries with a long and robust democratic history (most ‘Free’ countries) are plagued with populist movements that oppose principles such as the separation of powers in the state and who resent minorities.
The report’s silver lining is that all in all, the world still enjoys more freedom than in any era before. The past 13 years of losses in freedom are still shallow compared to the massive gains seen over the late 20th century. Some countries are also showing progress, among them Malaysia, Armenia, Ethiopia, Angola, and Ecuador, particularly in holding leaders accountable for their actions. The report further identifies civic movements in favor of justice and inclusion in areas where democratic institutions are under pressure.
“The promise of democracy remains real and powerful,” the report reads. “Not only defending it but broadening its reach is one of the great causes of our time.”