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Rights group releases 2012 freedom report

Human rights group Freedom House [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF] on Wednesday detailing the state of democracy in the world. The report tracks improvements and declines in the levels of democracy in governments. While Freedom House reports that 26 countries experienced overall declines in freedom while only 16 experienced gains, the report details trends in certain regions that are illustrative of "freedom's trajectory in 2012."

According to the report, the Middle East and North Africa experienced intense civil strife, yet still managed to achieve significant gains. While Israel remains the only fully free country in the region, important improvements in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt [JURIST news archives] were encouraging, with Freedom House improving them all to "Partly Free." Libya, labeled one of the most improved countries so soon after the recent revolution [JURIST Feature], came as the biggest surprise to Freedom House. On the other hand, countries like Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq [JURIST news archives] have reportedly experienced heavy declines in freedom over the last year and have been down graded to "Not Free."

Sub-Saharan Africa reportedly experienced some modest gains while also dealing with coups and civil strife. Ivory Coast [JURIST news archive] has been upgraded to "Partly Free" from "Not Free" just one year removed from civil war. Guinea and Malawi [JURIST news archives] were also similarly upgraded. Sierra Leone, Lesotho and Senegal [JURIST news archive] all improved to "Free" with Sierra Leone and Lesotho both holding free and fair elections. However, Mali [JURIST news archive] dropped from "Free" to "Not Free" amid intense civil conflict. Nigeria, Central African Republic, the Gambia [JURIST news archives] and Guinea-Bassau all declined from "Partly Free" to "Not Free."

In Eurasia, the report suggests Russia's declines have pulled the region down as a whole. According to Freedom House, President Vladimir Putin [JURIST news archive] has "ushered in a new period of accelerated repression" to the detriment of the region making it the least free region in the world. Specifically, Ukraine declined for the second year in a row on account of it continuing to hold political prisoners, including former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [JURIST news archives]. There was some improvement in Georgia [JURIST news archive] through its first ever democratic transfer of power.

Asia also displayed mixed results. Myanmar [JURIST news archive] continued its gains through allowing the main opposition party to freely campaign for parliament. Even though it is still "Not Free," Freedom House says such actions are steps in the right direction. This has moved Myanmar passed China in terms of political and civil rights. China [JURIST news archives] also experienced modest gains in making improvements in the ability for citizens to challenge injustice. The Maldives and Sri Lanka [JURIST news archives] have both experienced notable declines.

The report focused on Venezuela [JURIST news archive] in the Americas region. While Chavez's opposition was allowed to freely campaign, the report claimed that the election process was far from fair. Ecuador, Paraguay and Suriname [JURIST news archives] all experienced declines. Suriname, in particular, declined as a result of passing a law [JURIST report] granting immunity to a former president on trial for murdering his opposition.

Finally, the report detailed trends in Western Europe and North America. Declines in Greece [JURIST news archive] have largely come about as a result of economic hardships. These concerns have increased anti-immigration sentiment which has effected representation in the EU, thus bringing the region's rating down. The UK has been forced to deal with the fallout from the phone hacking scandal. US anti-terrorism policies have also been questioned, specifically the use of drone strikes [JURIST news archives]. Same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] was also endorsed by President Barack Obama.

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