The Freedom House Survey for 2019The Leaderless Struggle for Democracy
Freedom House found that 2019 was the fourteenth consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The gap between setbacks and gains widened compared with 2018, as political rights and civil liberties declined in 64 countries and improved in just 37. The negative pattern was most visible near the top and the bottom of the scale: More than half the countries that were rated Free or Not Free in 2009 have suffered a net decline in the past decade.
Democracy and pluralism are under assault. Dictators are toiling to stamp out the last vestiges of domestic dissent and spread their harmful influence to new corners of the world. At the same time, many freely elected leaders are dramatically narrowing their concerns to a blinkered interpretation of the national interest. Worse, such leaders—including in the United States and India, the world's two largest democracies—are increasingly willing to break down institutional safeguards and disregard the rights of critics and minorities as they pursue their populist agendas.
As a result of these and other trends, Freedom House found that 2019 was the fourteenth consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The gap between setbacks and gains widened compared with 2018, as political rights and civil liberties declined in 64 countries and improved in just 37. The negative pattern was most visible near the top and the bottom of the scale: More than half the countries that were rated Free or Not Free in 2009 have suffered a net decline in the past decade.
The unchecked brutality of autocratic regimes and the decay of democratic powers are combining to make the world increasingly hostile to fresh demands for better governance. A striking number of new protest movements have emerged over the past year, reflecting the inexhaustible and universal desire for fundamental rights. However, many of these movements have confronted deeply entrenched interests that are able to endure considerable pressure and are willing to use deadly force to maintain power. Without greater support and solidarity from established democracies, many of the protests of 2019 are likely to succumb to authoritarian reprisals. [End Page 137]
India's turn toward Hindu nationalism
While India continues to earn a Free rating and held successful elections in 2019, the government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has dismantled democratic norms and distanced itself from the country's founding commitment to pluralism and individual rights, without which democracy cannot long survive.
Over the past year, Modi's government introduced a series of Hindu-nationalist policies targeting India's Muslims. In August 2019, the central government annulled the semiautonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state. Federal authorities replaced the state's elected institutions with appointees and abruptly stripped residents of basic political rights. The sweeping reorganization, which opponents criticized as unconstitutional, was accompanied by a massive deployment of troops, arbitrary arrests of hundreds of Kashmiri leaders and activists, and a shutdown of mobile and internet service. As a result, Indian Kashmir experienced one of the five largest single-year score declines of the past ten years in Freedom in the World, and its freedom status dropped to Not Free.
The government subsequently published a new citizens' register in the northeastern state of Assam that left nearly two-million residents without citizenship in any country. The deeply flawed process was widely understood as an effort to exclude Muslims, many of whom were descended from Bengalis who arrived in Assam during the colonial era. However, the Bengali population that was rendered stateless included a significant number of Hindus. To remedy this, the central government passed the Citizenship Amendment Law, which expedites citizenship for Hindus and other non-Muslims from India's Muslim-majority neighbors Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, but Muslims—including those from vulnerable minority sects or from other neighboring states such as China and Sri Lanka—will receive no such advantage. Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah has pledged to repeat the Assam citizens' register process nationwide, raising fears of a broader effort to render Indian Muslims stateless.
These three actions have shaken the rule of law in India and threatened the secular and inclusive nature of its political system. They also caused the country's score to decline four points, the largest decline among the world's 25 largest democracies in our survey for 2019. Tens of thousands of Indians from all religious backgrounds have taken to the streets to protest this jarring attack on their country's character, but they have faced police violence in return, and it remains to be seen whether such demonstrations will persuade the government to change course.
Beijing's totalitarian atrocities and global ambitions
One of the year's most appalling examples of domestic repression was the Chinese Communist Party's ongoing campaign of cultural annihilation against [End Page 138]
Freedom in the World Methodology
Freedom in the World 2020 evaluates the state of freedom in 195 countries during calendar year 2019. Its methodology, which is derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is applied to all countries, irrespective of geographic location, ethnic or religious composition, or level of economic development. Freedom in the World assesses the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals, rather than governments or government performance per se. Political rights and civil liberties can be affected by both state and nonstate actors, including insurgents and other armed groups.
Each country is assigned between 0 and 4 points on a series of 25 indicators, for an aggregate score of up to 100. These scores are used to determine two numerical ratings, one for political rights and one for civil liberties, with a rating of 1 representing the most free conditions and 7 the least free. A country's political-rights and civil-liberties ratings then determine whether it has an overall status of Free (1.0 to 2.5), Partly Free (3.0 to 5.0), or Not Free (5.5 to 7.0). Aggregate and subcategory scores from the current year's report, as well as earlier reports dating back to 2003, can be viewed at https://freedomhouse.org/report-types/freedom-world.
In addition to categorization as Free, Partly Free, or Not Free, Freedom in the World classifies countries meeting certain criteria as electoral democracies. Beginning with the survey for calendar year 2017, the criteria for designation as an electoral democracy were made more stringent. While the designation previously required a score of 7 or better in the Electoral Process subcategory and an overall political-rights score of 20 or better, a country must now earn an overall civil-liberties score of 30 or better as well.
For complete information on the methodology, visit https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2020/leaderless-struggledemocracy.
millions of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. In 2019, as hundreds of thousands of people were sentenced to prison or detained for forced indoctrination, the Communist Party also deployed tens of thousands of security officers and state-of-the-art surveillance systems to monitor the entire population, transforming the region into a dystopian open-air prison. Further abuses included forced labor, the confinement of detained Muslims' children in state-run boarding schools, and draconian bans on ordinary religious expression. These policies have contributed to China's ranking as one of the fifteen worst-performing countries in this yearìs Freedom in the World survey, and one of only eleven countries that Freedom House flagged for evidence of ethnic cleansing or some other form of forced demographic change. [End Page 139]
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The Communist Party's totalitarian offensive in Xinjiang combines coercive measures and technological developments that were honed over decades of persecuting Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, and others. There were already signs in 2019 that similar techniques will be expanded to China's entire population, such as a new requirement for telecommunications companies to perform facial scans on all new internet or mobile-phone subscribers, and reports that local authorities nationwide were purchasing equipment for mass collection and analysis of citizens' DNA.
The world's democracies have failed to apply meaningful collective pressure to halt China's rights abuses, and elected leaders in Europe and elsewhere have often been tepid in their public criticism. Many undemocratic governments have even supported Beijing, including those in countries that have received Chinese loans and other investments. The pattern of de facto impunity bolsters China's broader efforts to demand recognition as a global leader and aids its relentless campaign to replace existing international norms with its own authoritarian vision.
Chinese transnational censorship and propaganda activities are accelerating worldwide. Beijing increasingly exploits global social-media platforms to demonize political enemies and spread disinformation abroad, including deploying paid online trolls on Twitter and Facebook and manipulating the content-ranking systems on Google, Reddit, and YouTube. The Chinese government is also gaining influence over crucial parts of other countries' information infrastructure through companies that manage digital television broadcasting and communications on mobile devices.
The past year featured a new wave of pushback against certain aspects of China's global ambitions, with public resistance to the harmful effects of Chinese investment projects intensifying in host countries, and some politicians growing more vocal about protecting national interests against Beijing's encroachment. Nevertheless, piecemeal responses are unlikely to deter the Chinese leadership in the long term.
A world without democratic leadership
The same trends that have destabilized major democracies and pulled them away from their founding principles have also pulled them apart from one another, creating a vacuum on the international stage. Where once democracies might have acted in unison to blunt or solve global crises, disparate authoritarian states now frequently step into the breach and attempt to impose their will.
In the Middle East and North Africa, a lack of consistent international [End Page 142] leadership from democracies has encouraged authoritarian powers to engage in devastating proxy wars. In Syria, which has languished as the world's least free country for the past seven years, the precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops from the northern border area in late 2019 left Russia and Turkey to fill the void, unleashing a fresh wave of abuses against the Kurdish population and imperiling the campaign against the Islamic State.
An even more knotted conflict went on in Libya, where Russia joined Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and others in supporting a local warlord's assault on the capital, which was defended by militias with backing from Turkey and Qatar. As with Syria, the extended chaos has contributed to the global migration crisis and allowed terrorist groups to organize in ungoverned areas. Another wantonly destructive war dragged on in Yemen, with Iran and Saudi Arabia pursuing their regional rivalry through local proxies.
At the same time, the United States failed to provide steady, meaningful support for democratic processes in Lebanon and Iraq, where mass protests against corruption and sectarian politics were met with violence from Iranian-backed militias. Even as Iran's leadership continued to sow discord across the region, it confronted angry protests at home sparked by a rise in fuel prices and an accumulation of other grievances. Security forces used live ammunition to crush the demonstrations, leading to hundreds of deaths and an unprecedented internet shutdown intended to smother news of the violence.
In contrast to the its behavior in the Middle East, the United States has been fairly steadfast in its support for democratic forces in Venezuela, and many other democracies have followed suit. However, authoritarian states such as China, Russia, and Cuba have come to the aid of Nicolás Maduro's regime, allowing him to cling to power despite a worsening political, economic, and humanitarian crisis. Hope was high in early 2019 as the opposition-controlled National Assembly found that Maduro's reelection in 2018 had been fraudulent, and appointed National Assembly President Juan Guaidó interim president of the country. But even as protests continued throughout the year, Maduro proved resilient, and in January 2020 he successfully deployed security forces to physically block opposition lawmakers from entering the National Assembly, the country's last democratically elected institution.
Public demands for democratic governance
In Free, Partly Free, and Not Free countries alike, people took to the streets to express discontent with existing systems of government and demand changes that would lead to better, more democratic outcomes. While these demonstrations are striking in their numbers, their ultimate outcomes are in many cases not yet clear, and the protests in general have yet to usher in a new period of global democratic progress. [End Page 143]
The dramatic protests in Hong Kong erupted in response to a proposed extradition bill that underscored the erosion of civil liberties in the territory under Chinese rule. Even when the bill was eventually withdrawn, the public continued to press for other key demands, including universal suffrage. But Beijing has refused to yield any more ground, and despite a sweeping opposition victory in local elections in November, Hong Kong has suffered more repression to date than it has gained in freedom.
In Algeria, demonstrations broke out following President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's announcement that he would seek a fifth term. Although he resigned in April and a new president was elected in December, protesters dismissed the electoral process as a bid by entrenched military and economic elites to perpetuate their rule, and the movement has continued into 2020.
Courageous protests in Sudan that began in December 2018 led to the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir in April, ending a thirty-year reign that featured multiple civil wars and alleged genocide. The demonstrators, not satisfied with the military junta that replaced Bashir, continued to demand systemic reform and civilian rule, enduring horrific crackdowns by the armed forces as democratic powers largely stood by. The protest leaders eventually secured a power-sharing deal in August, raising hopes for justice and free elections in the future, though military and paramilitary commanders retained enormous influence and valuable support from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE. Sudan's Freedom in the World score received a five-point net improvement for the year, reflecting real gains that may or may not lead to broader political transformation.
In Bolivia, leftist president Evo Morales left the country amid protests in November after ignoring national referendum results and attempting to secure a fourth term in office through a fraudulent election. However, the interim president who succeeded him, conservative senator Jeanine Añez, proved to be a polarizing figure and relied on the military to curb counterprotests by Morales's supporters. New elections are scheduled for May, and there are hopes that democratic governance will be fully restored in Bolivia after years of increasingly heavy-handed rule.
Waves of protest in Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador were initially met with unacceptable force. However, they soon led to dialogue on political reforms, including an agreement by the Chilean government to hold a referendum on constitutional revisions in April 2020. This sort of response shows that democracies should have the flexibility to address popular grievances without resorting to repression or extralegal measures.
In Ethiopia, after years of futile attempts to repress mass protests, the authoritarian government finally opted for reform. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 with a mandate to overhaul the system, pressed ahead with his agenda during 2019, revising excessively [End Page 144] restrictive laws on elections, terrorism, the media, and civil society organizations. The country has earned a twelve-point improvement over the past two years in Freedom in the World. However, as the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front—recently reorganized to form the Prosperity Party—has loosened its authoritarian grip, various ethnonationalist elements have sparked political and communal violence, and the government has responded with a partial return to repressive tactics such as internet shutdowns and arrests of journalists.
In some countries, diverse parties have banded together to challenge antidemocratic populist leaders. Hungary has suffered from the concentration of power under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's populist-nationalist Fidesz party for the past nine years, losing twenty points in its Freedom in the World score since the 2010 election and becoming the first European Union member state to be classified as Partly Free. Nevertheless, after fragmented opposition groups joined forces for local elections in October, they defied expectations and captured eleven major cities across the country. In Poland on the same day, the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party lost control of the Senate to an opposition umbrella group, its first such setback since taking power in 2015. Poland's score has fallen nine points in that time as Law and Justice has adopted a series of measures to break down judicial independence, dominate the media, and mute criticism from civil society.
Mass protests across the Americas, many culminating in violent clashes between protesters and security forces, contributed to a pattern of declining freedom scores in the region. However, some of the protest movements also prompted authorities to address underlying grievances.
In addition to the demonstrations in Bolivia, where Evo Morales was forced from power after seeking a fourth presidential term in a deeply flawed election, strikes in Colombia in protest of President Iván Duque's administration were met by some police abuse, while a hike in Santiago's mass-transit fares sparked widespread protests and a broader critique of the political system in Chile. The Chilean unrest resulted in at least 27 deaths and thousands of injuries, but in response to protesters' demands, the government agreed to hold a plebiscite on a new constitution in April 2020. Some concessions were also granted in Ecuador, where austerity measures were reversed following protests that led to seven deaths and injured more than a thousand people.
Acute political and governance crises also affected the region during the year, leading two countries to decline in the Freedom in the World indicator pertaining to representative rule. In Peru, President Martín Vizcarra took the unusual step of dissolving the opposition-controlled [End Page 145] Congress after it obstructed his anticorruption efforts. The Congress then attempted to "suspend" Vizcarra, but he remained in control and scheduled legislative elections for January 2020. An impasse between the president and parliament in Haiti left that country without a prime minister for most of the year, and local and legislative elections were postponed indefinitely. Meanwhile, antigovernment protests drew a violent police response, leaving more than forty people dead.
Venezuela and Nicaragua suffered another year of deterioration in their scores, and brutal repression of dissent by the allied Maduro and Daniel Ortega regimes has encouraged millions of people to flee abroad, contributing to the region's larger migration crisis. Restrictive migration policies continued to threaten the basic rights of those seeking refuge outside their home countries. Among other problematic initiatives, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras agreed to deals with Washington that would oblige asylum seekers traveling north to apply for and be denied protection in those countries before filing asylum claims in the United States; those who fail to do so risk being sent back to the countries through which they passed, despite the poor security and human-rights conditions there. The three Central American states each suffered score declines for the year, though the specific reasons varied.
Political rights and civil liberties declined overall in Asia, as authoritarian rulers showed their disdain for democratic values through practices ranging from fabricated criminal cases against opposition leaders to mass persecution of religious and ethnic minorities.
In several countries, repressive governments cracked down on their perceived enemies after securing new terms through elections. Legislative elections in the Philippines, which experienced a two-point decline on Freedom House's 100-point scale, solidified majorities for allies of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has overseen a campaign of extrajudicial killings. Just weeks after the voting, prosecutors launched sedition cases against an array of critical politicians, clergymen, and civil society activists. Soon after Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the brother of Sri Lanka's former authoritarian ruler, was elected president himself, there were reports of a crackdown on journalists and law-enforcement officials who had investigated the Rajapaksa family for alleged corruption and human-rights violations. While Sri Lanka's overall score remained unchanged, its corruption score worsened. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi's discriminatory moves against the political rights of Muslims during the year followed the BJP's general-election victories in the spring, contributing to a four-point decline.
Thailand held its first elections since a military junta took control in 2014, enabling its return to Partly Free status, but opposition parties' relatively strong showing even in a fundamentally unfair electoral system prompted further repression by authorities. For example, the state [End Page 146] filed spurious charges against key opposition leaders later in the year, and prodemocracy activists faced physical attacks.
Conditions in other countries deteriorated in advance of elections due in 2020. Burma was downgraded to Not Free as armed conflicts between the military and ethnic rebel groups intensified. Members of the Rohingya minority who remained in the country after years of persecution and mass expulsions continued to face the risk of genocide, according to UN investigators. Singapore passed a "fake news" law that was quickly invoked to silence the opposition and other government critics, resulting in a score decline for freedom of expression.
Meanwhile, autocratic states with no competitive elections found new ways to oppress their citizens and consequently suffered declines in their scores. Even as China assailed the rights of its Muslim minorities, the sultanate of Brunei activated a new penal code derived from Islamic law that prescribed the death penalty for crimes such as sex outside marriage.
Entrenched strongmen across Eurasia, long one of the worst-performing regions in Freedom in the World, used various types of stage-managed elections in 2019 to extend the life of their regimes.
In Russia, the ruling United Russia party won all the year's gubernatorial elections, largely by ensuring that viable opposition candidates were not allowed to participate. Even in the Moscow city-council elections, which featured a successful strategic-voting campaign organized by dissident leader Alexei Navalny, the votes lost by United Russia largely went to Kremlin-approved alternatives. Parliamentary elections in Belarus and Uzbekistan also shut out any genuine opposition, leaving legislatures entirely in the hands of progovernment groups.
In Kazakhstan, longtime president Nursultan Nazarbayev transferred power to a handpicked successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, through a rigged election, and the authorities used arrests and beatings to break up mass protests against the move.
Despite the grim picture overall, some positive signs were evident in several of the region's Partly Free environments. Newly elected leaders who came to power on promises of systemic reform—Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian of Armenia, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, and Prime Minister Maia Sandu of Moldova—took initial steps to uproot the kleptocratic forces that have long stymied their countries' democratic aspirations. Although Moldova's reforms stalled when Sandu's coalition government collapsed in November after just five months in power, corrupt former power-broker Vladimir Plahotniuc—who had fled to avoid criminal charges upon the Sandu governmentìs formation—remained a fugitive.
The political opening in Armenia that began with Pashinian's long-shot rise to the premiership in 2018 had a positive effect on the disputed [End Page 147] territory of Nagorno-Karabakh during 2019. There was an increase in competition and civil society activity surrounding local elections in September, and the stage was set for further changes in the 2020 elections for Nagorno-Karabakh's president and parliament. Unfortunately, the Eurasia region's other breakaway territories, which are all occupied by Russian troops, remained locked in a pattern of stagnation or decline in political rights and civil liberties.
The principles of liberal democracy in Europe, historically the best-performing region in Freedom in the World, have been under serious pressure in recent years, and the regional average score continued to decline in 2019.
Illiberal populist leaders and parties in Central Europe kept up their assault on independent institutions during the year. In the Czech Republic, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš's replacement of the justice minister with a close ally raised concerns that he was attempting to block criminal charges for his alleged misuse of European Union funds, prompting the country's largest protests since 1989. Poland's legislative elections laid bare the extent to which the ruling Law and Justice party had politically captured the state media, whose taxpayer-funded broadcasts leading up to the voting amounted to partisan propaganda. Although Law and Justice lost control of the Senate, the less powerful upper house of Poland's parliament, the party retained its lower-house majority and at year's end redoubled its efforts to purge the judiciary.
In Montenegro and Serbia, independent journalists, opposition figures, and other perceived government foes faced ongoing harassment, intimidation, and sometimes violence. Public frustration with the entrenched ruling parties boiled over into large protests in both countries, but they failed to yield any meaningful change.
Far-right parties made electoral gains in Estonia, where the Conservative People's Party entered government for the first time, and in Spain, where Vox capitalized on gridlock that left the country without a governing majority for most of the year.
In several cases, however, elections produced at least the possibility of improvements for liberal democracy. Voters in Turkey ousted the ruling Justice and Development Party from municipal governments in Ankara and Istanbul, even if President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's power remained unchecked at the national level. To the north, Latvia's new government committed itself to tackling corruption and oligarchic [End Page 148] influence, and balloting in Kosovo lofted the opposition nationalist Vetëvendosje party into office, where it had an opportunity to change the country's culture of corruption. North Macedonia held a competitive presidential election, helping to repair the antidemocratic legacy of former prime minister Nikola Gruevski. And Romania amended its electoral code, expanding access to the franchise ahead of its presidential vote. The country ended the year with a new government after the corruption-plagued Social Democratic Party, whose agenda had endangered the rule of law, was defeated in a parliamentary confidence motion.
Middle East and North Africa
Tunisia held competitive and credible elections for the presidency and parliament in September and October 2019, confirming its status as the only Free country in the region other than Israel. It was also the only country in the region whose score improved in 2019. Tunisians continued to face serious challenges, including an unreformed security sector and the constant threat of terrorist attacks. A state of emergency has been in place continuously since 2015. Nevertheless, Tunisia's democracy, born during the 2011 Arab Spring, has proven resilient so far, and its political achievements are especially impressive in comparison with the rest of the Middle East and North Africa, where credible elections remain exceedingly rare.
In Qatar, for example, the 2003 Constitution promised that two-thirds of the national advisory council—the country's closest thing to a parliament—would be elected every four years, but the emir has repeatedly postponed the voting, most recently in 2019, contributing to a low political-rights rating. The elections are currently not expected before 2021, though like Saudi Arabia, which has one of the worst scores in all of Freedom in the World, Qatar has held circumscribed balloting for municipal advisory bodies.
Elections and governance in Iraq and Lebanon are distorted by sectarian militias, corrupt patronage networks, and interference from foreign powers—entrenched problems that stoked the frustration of protesters during 2019. Iraq held competitive elections in 2018 and was allowing increased space for political opposition and civil society, but the violent response to the 2019 protests and recent Iranian and U.S. military action on Iraqi territory have thrown its future into doubt. In Morocco, Jordan, and Kuwait, all Partly Free countries, powerful monarchies continue to assert their dominance over elected parliaments and control cabinet appointments. In October, for instance, Morocco's king engineered a cabinet shuffle that replaced many elected politicians with nonpartisan technocrats, leading to a one-point decline.
In the Palestinian territories, both consistently ranked Not Free, the unresolved schism between the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority led by the Fatah faction in the West Bank has [End Page 149] contributed to legal confusion and repeated postponement of elections. No presidential election has been held since 2005, and the last parliamentary balloting was in 2007. Authorities loyal to Fatah and Hamas continued to suppress dissent in their respective territories during 2019, underscoring their lack of democratic legitimacy.
Egypt has held multiple elections since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi seized power in 2013, but they have all been tightly controlled, rubber-stamp affairs, with no genuine opposition campaigning permitted. In April 2019, the regime orchestrated a constitutional referendum that extended the president's current term to 2024, after which he can seek another six years in office. The plebiscite, which suffered from low turnout despite alleged vote-buying and intimidation meant to ensure a strong endorsement, also further weakened judicial independence and strengthened the military's role in civilian governance.
Democratic backsliding in West Africa accelerated in 2019. Benin, previously one of the continent's top performers, held legislative elections from which all opposition parties were effectively excluded. The flawed process, which featured an internet shutdown and violence against antigovernment protesters, contributed to a remarkable thirteen-point decline. Senegal's presidential election went forward without two of the country's most prominent opposition figures, who were barred from running due to criminal cases that were widely viewed as politically motivated, leading to a one-point decline.
Opposition parties were able to compete in Nigeria's general election, but the balloting was marred by major procedural irregularities and a rise in violence and intimidation, driving the country's scores down in all three election-related indicators. The manipulation of online content during the electoral period and the government's increasing hostility toward the media threatened free expression throughout the year. In Guinea, which was set to hold a presidential election in 2020, protesters attempted to block President Alpha Condé's drive to change the constitution and run for a third term. The country suffered a three-point decline as legislative elections were postponed and civic groups faced harassment for opposing the third-term effort.
East and Southern Africa presented more of a mixed picture. In Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, the space for independent civic and political activity continued to shrink as incumbent leaders worked to silence dissent. All three countries experienced declines in their scores. However, there was notable progress in some authoritarian states as they proceeded with tenuous reforms: While it remains to be seen whether the military in Sudan will abide by its power-sharing agreement with prodemocracy protest leaders and cede control to civilian leadership ahead of elections in 2022, the Sudanese people have already experienced initial improvements in political rights and civil liberties. [End Page 150]
Ethiopia also made notable strides under Prime Minister Abiy, reforming restrictive laws and allowing previously banned political groups to operate openly. Still, internal conflict threatened the durability of these gains, and the 2020 elections will be an important test. Angola's early progress after a change in leadership in late 2017 was fairly dramatic, but the momentum slowed in 2019, and the results of President João Lourenço's reform agenda, with its emphasis on battling corruption, have yet to be fully realized.
The Urgent Need for Democratic Solidarity
The mass protests that emerged or persisted during 2019 in every region of the world are a reminder that the universal yearning for equality, justice, and freedom from oppression can never be extinguished. However, local movements of citizens should not be expected to confront entrenched power structures—often backed by powerful foreign autocracies—without some form of assistance. International democratic actors can help these movements to achieve their goals, blunt authoritarian reprisals, and convert breakthrough moments into long-term gains. Unfortunately, instead of consistent and constructive engagement, the world's democratic powers in 2019 offered only fitful support, frequent indifference or ambiguity, and at times outright abandonment.
Those in the United States and elsewhere who doubt the value of a foreign policy designed to advance human freedom should realize that no one's rights are safe when tyranny is allowed to go unchecked. History has shown that the chaotic effects of authoritarian misrule abroad are not confined by national borders, and that authoritarian powers will seek to expand their control by subverting the democratic sovereignty of other states. The same is true in domestic affairs: Attacks on the rights of specific groups or individuals in a given country ultimately imperil the liberty of the entire society.
Today, as authoritarians fortify themselves at home and extend their international reach, and as some democratic leaders adopt a myopic, self-serving, and discriminatory view of their official responsibilities, the world is becoming less stable and secure, and the freedoms and interests of all open societies are endangered. The tide can be reversed, but delay makes the task more difficult and costly. Rather than putting international concerns on hold while they address problems in their own countries, the citizens and genuine public servants of democracies must apply their core principles simultaneously in both domestic and foreign policy, and stand up for fundamental rights wherever they are threatened. [End Page 151]
Sarah Repucci is senior director for research and analysis at Freedom House. For more information on the survey, see the box on p. 139. For the rankings of individual countries in 2019, see the Table on pp. 140–41.