Monday, January 21, 2008

Freedom slips back

The Economist this week reports on the Freedom House report on 2007, and worryingly notes that 2007 is the second year in a row when freedom appeared to slip back.
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Freedom House classifies countries into "free", "partly free" and "not free" based on their civil and political freedoms. You can see this in its map of freedom which usefully summarises the state of the world.
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Good news came from Thailand and Togo, which saw rankings improve from "not free" to "partly free". Other improvements came from Cote D'Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Haiti and Rwanda.
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Bad news came from an unfortunately long list including Iran, Russia, China, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Burma, Azerbaijan, Kyghystan, Georgia, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Palestian territories, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, DR Congo, Chad, CAR, Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, South Africa, Congo (B), Nicaragua and on and on.
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The "worst of the worst" are Libya, North Korea, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Cuba and Uzbekistan. Leftwing academics criticise Freedom House for being too closely aligned to US foreign policy, although this would not explain Israel's relatively poor ratings in recent years and Iran not being in the "worst of the worst" category. China's continued low rating reflects how wealth and prosperity are no replacement for individual freedom.
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For me what is most notable is how so many of the poorest countries in the world are rated so badly in freedom terms. East Timor, one of the great cause celebres of the left is only rated as partly free, partly because the police and military are not apolitical or independent. There is much to be done, note how South Africa's rating has slipped a little, it being no coincidence that Thabo Mbeki is mates with Robert Mugabe.
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So remember to appreciate the freedoms you have, and support others having them - the world is freer than it was twenty years ago, when half of Europe was in chains. However, the story looks bad more than good - it should be a warning to all those supporting state aid of oppressive governments - why should you be forced to pay aid to a government that is not free?

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