(CNSNews.com) – Despite the Bush administration’s attempt to spread freedom and democracy in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan still rank among the least free countries in the world, according to Freedom House’s 2009 Freedom in the World report, released Monday.
Both nations received extremely low marks in the report’s comparative assessment of political rights and civil liberties in 193 countries.
Freedom House – an organization that conducts research on democracy, political freedom and human rights – labels countries “free, partly free or not free” by evaluating nations’ freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of elections and rule of law.
Before 9/11, when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, both nations fell into the “worst of the worst” category in terms of freedom – earning the worst possible scores in the areas of political rights and civil liberties. After the defeat of the Taliban and the removal of Saddam Hussein, the “freedom scores” for both countries increased for a brief period of time. Though Iraq never escaped the “not free” label, Afghanistan actually attained “partly free” status for a couple of years.
Corruption and security conditions, however, pushed Afghanistan back into the “not free” zone in 2009, according to Arch Puddington, director of research at Freedom House.
“We certainly applauded many of the programs the Bush administration tried to implement in Iraq the early years after 2003 – programs to build a civil society, to empower women and to encourage a free press,” Puddington told CNSNews.com.
“Some of these programs did have an initial positive potential, but most were made irrelevant by the deterioration in security,” he added.
If successful democratic systems are ever to exist in Iraq and Afghanistan, the countries will have to figure out how to improve security, Puddington said.
A Worldwide Decline of Freedom
Iraq and Afghanistan are not alone in their “freedom stagnation.” Liberty suffered a decline worldwide for the third year in a row in 2008. While 14 countries experienced improvements in degrees of freedom, 34 countries suffered declines in the assesment -- including China.
China's decline was a major disappointment, according to Puddington. The human rights group had hoped China’s economic growth -- and its selection for the 2008 Olympics -- might lead to an improvement of its human rights record.
“The Chinese have experienced an economic miracle,” Puddington said. “In a short period it has moved from a poor country to one of the economic power houses of the world.”
Despite the fact that millions of people moved from poverty into working and middle classes, Puddington said, the Chinese government has not loosened social controls. The Olympics, meanwhile, proved to be no incentive.
“We were disappointed that China did not take seriously its promises to the International Olympics Committee to improve human rights,” Puddington added.
Instead, the Chinese government cracked down on the press, increased censorship and increased control over the Internet, he said.
“More importantly, we were disturbed by its treatment of religious and cultural minorities -- especially the Tibetans, who were placed under a regime of restrictions and roadblocks and the Uighurs, who were forbidden from observing Muslim holidays and restricted pilgrimages to Mecca,” he added.
But perhaps the single most dramatic reversal of liberty in 2008 came in the former Soviet Union, according to the group.
Six of the 12 countries that made up the Soviet Union, experienced less freedom last year. Russia moved from the “partly free” category to “not free” over the past decade, Puddington said.
“Since Putin became president we saw a decline in freedom in every one of our indicators,” said Puddington. “We saw make-believe elections, opposition parties sent to the margin, corruption become more endemic and a robust free press transformed into a press controlled by the Kremlin.”
The threat in Russia is compounded, he said, by the fact that, at the same time internal repression seems to be returning, the formerly Communist nation is trying to intimidate her more democratic neighbors.