Rights and Freedom in Retreat

Freedom House recently released their annual report on the state of world freedom. This is a must-read not only for human rights and democracy promotion specialists, but also for anyone interested in world affairs or international politics. The report is well-written, only 28 pages long and includes a lot of helpful charts and graphs. It's refreshing to see so much information being presented so clearly and explained so succinctly.

The results for 2014 are in and they are, to say the least, not encouraging. 2014 was not a good year for freedom in the world with negative trends evident in all regions. In fact, global rights declined for the ninth straight year.

According to Freedom House, 89 countries are 'Free' while 55 are 'Partly Free' and 51 are 'Not Free.' The organization mentions that 2.6 billion people live in countries that aren't free -- more than a third of the world's population. There are 125 electoral democracies in the world today. Tunisia clearly stands out as a bright spot, but the trends outlined in this report are overwhelmingly negative.

From Egypt to Libya to Syria to Russia to Thailand to Turkey to Uganda to Venezuela and elsewhere, things are trending in the wrong direction. Importantly, the report also mentions "racial strife, a renewed argument over counterterrorism tactics, and political gridlock" in the United States.

Detailed policy prescriptions fall outside the scope of the report, but these negative trends have implications for U.S. foreign policy.

2014 was a bad year for global human rights. Things have been heading in the wrong direction for the past several years. For starters, how best can international actors help undemocratic countries transition to democracy? Is that even considered a top-tier consideration in American foreign policy today? What are the lessons to be learned from the Arab Spring? More generally, how high a priority should the promotion of values and civil liberties abroad be for policymakers in Washington?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but they are issues which merit immediate attention. Continued backsliding on global freedom and international human rights is not inevitable.