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The East: Freedom House Sees Major Gains For Liberty In 1998

  • Frank Csongos

Washington, 21 December 1998 (RFE/RL) - The international human rights monitor, Freedom House, says individual liberties made major gains around the globe in 1998. But it says freedom suffered a setback in Russia.

In its annual survey on the state of freedom in the world's countries, Freedom House said today that despite financial turmoil and persistent civil strife in several countries, it found the highest number of free countries on record - 88 countries representing 46 percent of the world total.

The survey found 53 countries - or 28 percent of the world total - partly free, with some abridgments of rights and weak enforcement of the rule of law. The survey also said that 50 countries - or 26 percent of the world total - are NOT free and suffer from systematic human rights violations.

The study said democracy and freedom are the dominant trends in most parts of the world. It said that the major exceptions are the former Soviet Union, Africa and the Middle East.

The group lists Russia as a country where freedom suffered a serious setback in 1998.

The study said: "The assassination of democracy advocate Galina Staravoitova was the most tragic development in a bad year for Russian reformers. With President (Boris) Yeltsin enfeebled, a coalition of neo-Communists and hardline nationalists gained increased influence, and succeeded in bringing down a reformist government. A new government, dominated by former Communists, made little progress in stemming corruption or reviving the economy."

Among the 13 countries to receive Freedom House's worst rating for political rights and civil liberties, three were under the domination of communist parties: Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam. Others in this category include Afghanistan, Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Turkmenistan.

The survey said there are no democracies or free societies within the Arab world and few in other predominantly Muslim societies. It said Israel was the only free country in the Middle East.

Freedom House was established in 1941 to promote liberty and democracy around the world. It evaluates human rights conditions, sponsors public education campaigns, organizes programs to promote democracy and free market reforms and provides support for free media, the rule of law and effective local government.

The nonprofit organization, which is based in Washington and New York, is chaired by Bette Bao Lord. Among its board of directors are many prominent Americans such as former U.S. National Security Advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Anthony Lake and former United Nations Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick.

The study says the worst-rated territory as far as freedom is concerned is the Serb province of Kosovo, which is largely ethnic Albanian.

Freedom House president Adrian Karatnycky said some of the most dramatic gains for freedom were in large and influential countries. He said India had moved from "partly free" to "free" status, while Nigeria and Indonesia had moved from "not free" to "partly free".

Karatnycky, coordinator of the survey, said the detonation of nuclear devices by India and Pakistan this year was a jolting reminder of the menace still posed by weapons of mass destruction.

He said: "Other reasons to worry included Iraq's determination to rebuild its nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal, North Korea's nuclear saber rattling, and the role of Russian scientists in the development of weapons for Iran and other states."

The survey said that in Central and Eastern Europe and the former USSR, there are growing signs of regional division. It said that in Central Europe and parts of Eastern Europe, along with the Baltic states, democracy and freedom prevail and great progress has been seen in the construction of free market economies. But, it said, in the former Soviet Union, progress toward open societies has stalled or failed.

The survey also said Slovakia moved from partly free to the free category this year.

Here is a partial list of countries:

Afghanistan - Not Free

Albania - Partly Free

Armenia - Partly Free

Azerbaijan - Partly Free

Belarus - Not Free

Bosnia-Herzegovia - Partly Free

Bulgaria - Free

China - Not Free

Croatia - Partly Free

Cuba - Not Free

Czech Republic - Free

Estonia - Free

Georgia - Partly Free

Hungary - Free

Iran - Not Free

Iraq - Not Free

Kazakhstan - Not Free

Kyrgyz Republic - Partly Free

Latvia - Free

Lithuania - Free

Macedonia - Partly Free

Moldova - Partly Free

Poland - Free

Romania - Free

Russia - Partly Free

Slovakia - Free

Slovenia - Free

Tajikistan - Not Free

Turkmenistan - Not Free

Ukraine - Partly Free

Uzbekistan - Not Free

Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) - Not Free

The survey said that Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, Transdniester and Chechnya, which it described as disputed lands, are all in the "not free" category.