The number of free countries and electoral democracies dropped and the overall freedom in the Middle East and North Africa suffered for the fifth year, according to a report [text, PDF] released Thursday by the US-based rights group Freedom House [advocacy website]. The group's annual assessment, Freedom in the World 2011 [materials], reports that 25 countries showed significant declines in 2010, while 11 countries showed increases, amounting to what Freedom House calls an "authoritarian challenge to democracy." According to the report, the democratic world showed little resistance to the continuing repressive authoritarian regimes of the world, including China, Egypt, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela [JURIST news archives]. Freedom House Executive Director David J. Kramer urged the world's democracies [press release] to respond to the changes, saying that authoritarian governments "are not just engaging in widespread repression, they are doing so with unprecedented aggressiveness and self-confidence, and the democratic community is not rising to the challenge." The number of "Free" countries fell from 89 to 87, with Ukraine and Mexico now classified as "Partly Free." The number of electoral democracies dropped to 115, the lowest number since 1995. Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, and Sri Lanka were removed from the list of electoral democracies and the Philippines, Tanzania, and Tonga [JURIST news archives] were added. The nine states rated the most repressive in respect to political rights and civil liberties were Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Tibet, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan [JURIST news archives].
Although a previous March report [materials; JURIST report] by Freedom House showed that women's rights and opportunities had increased in nearly all Middle Eastern and North African countries over the last five years, the Middle East and North Africa were reported as the regions with the lowest level of freedom in 2010. Ukraine was pushed to the "Partly Free" list after repressing freedoms of the press and experiencing election fraud [JURIST report] and the politicization of the judiciary. In April, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy group] urged the Ukrainian government to ensure accountability for human rights violations [JURIST report]. AI also urged Ukraine to record and monitor incidents of racially motivated crimes and to create a fair asylum system. Mexico lost its "Free" status after the government's failure [JURIST report] to curb the country's violence and drug trafficking. Freedom House measures civil liberties and political rights [backgrounder] of a country and assigns an overall "freedom status" of "Free," "Partly Free," or "Not Free" based on the results.