Libya still ‘a state in search of itself’?

Libya was one of the few democratic success stories of 2012, according to the latest Freedom in the World survey from Freedom House, the US-based rights watchdog.

“Having ranked among the world’s worst tyrannies for decades, the country scored major gains in 2012, especially in the political rights categories,” the report said.

Freedom House now ranks the North African state as “Partly Free” (4 for political rights and 5 for civil liberties) rather than “Not Free” (7 and 6). But some analysts fear that new-found freedoms are vulnerable and embryonic state institutions fragile until the government’s authority is extended across its entire territory.

It is premature to call Libya a democracy, said Larry Diamond, a professor and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “Political order is still so fragile there,” he told a discussion of the report at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

“The command by the state over the means of violence is still so inadequate that I think state building remains a major challenge,’ he cautioned. “And until the militias can be reined in and the authority of the democratically elected state now, Freedom House judges, can be firmly established, there’s still tremendous fragility and vulnerability in the unfolding story in Libya.”

The state’s inability to rein in Islamist and other militias threatens to undermine Libya’s democratic prospects, as anticipated in a report from the National Endowment for Democracy which addresses the country’s transitional challenges.

Libya’s transitional authorities – weakened by their lack of democratic legitimacy – have struggled dealing directly with these militias,” says Juan Garrigues, a Research Fellow at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB) and a Senior Advisor at the Dialogue Advisory Group.

“Transitional authorities’ and militia’s claims throughout the last year that armed groups would come under the control of the state once a legitimate government was in place will now be tested,” he writes for Open Democracy:

The question that remains is whether these militias will hand in their weapons once, and if, the security forces are strong enough to secure the country (as the militias claim) or whether the armed groups will hold on to these weapons until they feel their principal interests and objectives are secured (as some others suspect).

Libyans’ sense of pride and responsibility has ensured relative stability until now. However, if the second scenario emerges and militia commanders refuse to disarm and continue to consolidate their power through exploiting their growing political and economic ties, Libya’s hope of becoming one of the Arab Spring’s few success stories could quickly dissolve.

“Despite successful parliamentary elections in July 2012, Libya faces numerous obstacles to state development,” says the Middle East Policy Forum:

Rife with internal divisions and regional tensions, Libya struggles to achieve national cohesion and advance the political process. Moreover, the country’s fractious and divisive political environment inhibits institution building and complicates efforts to restore internal security. In light of Libya’s institutional and security challenges, the following panelists will discuss current developments and prospects for Libya’s political future.

“Libya: A State in Search of Itself”

Featuring:

Dr. Mary-Jane Deeb

Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division, Library of Congress

 Dr. Karim Mezran

Senior Fellow, Rafiq Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council

 Ambassador Edward “Skip” Gnehm, Moderator

Director, Middle East Policy Forum

 RSVP HERE

 January 24, 2013

6:30 pm – 7:45 pm

Lindner Family Commons

Room 602, 1957 E Street NW

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Veteran Russian rights advocate dies, another targetted

With the passing of a leading human rights advocate and the persecution of another, Russia’s political regression appears to be accelerating.  

Yuri M. Schmidt, a veteran human rights lawyer who represented dissidents and others charged with political crimes, including jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, succumbed to cancer last weekend.

Credit: NYTimes

“Yuri Markovich Schmidt (left) was born on May 10, 1937, in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. His father, a political dissident, was arrested shortly after Mr. Schmidt’s birth and sentenced to 19 years in a prison camp,” The New York Times reports:

He began representing prisoners charged with political crimes in the late 1980s. His clients included jailed leaders of political independence movements in the ethnic enclaves of Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia as well as a journalist charged with defaming President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan.

Mr. Schmidt often sought out clients: when a reformist St. Petersburg lawmaker, Galina V. Starovoitova, was found shot to death in an elevator in her apartment building in 1998, Mr. Schmidt found her sister at the funeral, hugged her and told her he would represent the family. His efforts helped lead to the conviction of a gunman and an accomplice in 2005.

Khodorkovsky said Mr. Schmidt had continued to visit him at the prison, in a remote spot more than 700 miles from Moscow, “despite being gravely ill.”

“This kind of work is never easy, it can be dangerous, and it’s not very lucrative,” Mr. Khodorkovsky said. “But then, you never have to make any compromises with your conscience.”

Members of the Moscow Helsinki Group have unanimously voted to re-appoint Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the Soviet-era dissident and leading rights activist, as the group’s head, despite her joint US-Russian citizenship. In retaliation for the Magnitsky Law passed by the US Congress, the Kremlin enacted a new legal provision authorizing the Ministry of Justice to suspend the work of a non-governmental organization headed by a foreign citizen.

“There is no doubt that we will all unanimously vote for Alexeyeva,” said Lev Ponomarev, the leader of For Human Rights. “And if they start to implement the ‘Alexeyeva law’, I will go to the constitutional court.”

Russian rights activists Lev Ponomarev and Lyudmila Alexeyeva

Alexeyeva has denounced the authorities’ refusal to let a jailed member of the Pussy Riot punk band to defer a year of her prison sentence to spend time with her 5-year-old son. “The authorities continue to behave like beasts toward these women, because the people in power here are inhuman,” she said:

Kremlin critics are also incensed by a law Putin signed in December barring Americans from adopting Russian children, which critics say has made vulnerable orphans pawns to politics, Reuters reports.

Some 40,000 people marched in Moscow on Sunday to protest the ban, some denouncing Putin as a “child-killer”. He has promised that Russia will take measures to improve the lives of orphans and other children in the care of the state.

“When the authorities saw how angry people were about the law, they said, ‘Oh, look, we will make the conditions here better for children’,” said Alexeyeva. “But Alyokhina’s child is a child, too.”

The veteran rights defender is expected to be a contender for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. She was also in the running for last year’s prize, alongside several other Russian rights advocates, including Svetlana Gannushkina and Memorial. 

Alexeyeva criticized the decision to award the prize to the European Union, rather than grass roots activists.

“To be honest, I don’t like this decision, because the European Union is a huge, fairly bureaucratic organization, and it’s clear what role the prize will play in its future policy — none, in my opinion,” she said.

“I would be very glad if this prize was given to political prisoners in Iran or (Russian) human rights defenders, but not the European Union, although I like the European Union,” she told the RIA Novosti news agency.

She added that the Nobel committee’s “trend — giving it to the president of a superpower one year, and to the European Union another year — I think it’s a certain erosion of the idea that is the foundation of this prize.”

The growing crackdown on Russian democracy and civil society activists is highlighted in the latest Freedom in the World survey from Freedom House, the US-based rights watchdog.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “heaped contempt on the values of open societies” over the past year, says the report, citing curbs on public demonstrations, attacks on foreign-funded NGOs, and restrictions on free expression in print and online. 

The Moscow Helsinki Group and For Human Rights are supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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Democracy in decline, autocrats on the offensive

Newly emerging popular movements for reform were the driving force behind the Middle East’s major gains in democratic rights last year, according to Freedom in the World 2013, Freedom House’s annual report. But other regions experienced setbacks due to growing authoritarian resilience and resourcefulness.

“Our findings point to the growing sophistication of modern authoritarians,” said Arch Puddington, Freedom House vice president for research. “They are flexible; they distort and abuse the legal framework; they are adept at the techniques of modern propaganda.”

“But especially since the Arab Spring, they are nervous, which accounts for their intensified persecution of popular movements for change,” he said.

The dramatic increase in freedom in Libya was the most surprising finding of the survey, he told a meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Authoritarian regimes moved to weaken “the elements of democratic governance that pose the most serious threats to repressive and corrupt rule: independent civil society groups, a free press, and the rule of law,” the report said.

While authoritarians have gone on the offensive, the report notes, the United States and other democracies have yet to demonstrate comparable assertiveness and leadership in defending or advancing democracy.

“Leaders of democratic countries should confer directly with leading regime critics and activists and speak out on behalf of the targets of persecution,” according to Puddington and Freedom House president David J. Kramer. “But by far the most important point is for world leaders, Obama in particular, to declare their determination to support people who aspire to democracy — anywhere.”

The U.S. administration has an “uneven” record on democratic solidarity, they write for Foreign Policy:

A program of support for civic movements would be one aspect of a comprehensive effort by the major democracies to reassert global leadership. But even by itself, support for civil society would have the practical benefit of directing attention

to those who are committed to making freedom a reality in the world’s dark corners. And it would send a critical message to the agents of repression that, no matter what our various domestic woes, the spread of freedom is still very much on the agenda. 

The findings for Freedom in the World 2013 reflect a complex picture for the state of global freedom, according to Puddington and Jennifer Dunham, research analyst for Freedom in the World:

On one hand, the number of countries ranked in the Free category increased to 90, an impressive share of the world’s 195 sovereign states. At the same time, more countries, 27, suffered significant setbacks in their freedom indicators than showed notable gains, 16, marking the seventh consecutive year in which declines outnumbered improvements.

Ordinarily, Freedom in the World scores for individual countries move up or down in small increments. For example, over the past decade, Russia has declined from Partly Free status to a well-earned slot in the Not Free category. But its fall was not sudden or precipitous. The bottom-level scores for Freedom in the World range from 0 to 100, and in most years Russia suffered declines of between 1 and 4 points. Only the cumulative impact of those annual declines has made Russia one of the lowest-scoring countries among the world’s major powers. In any particular year, a country that registers a gain or decline of between 3 and 5 points can be said to have undergone a fairly large change.

Yet for the year 2012, several countries registered across-the-board gains or declines that break the pattern of incremental changes. Mali’s decline of 48 points is possibly the most severe one-year drop in the history of the report. Reductions for Guinea-Bissau and the Maldives were also sizeable. On the other side of the ledger, Libya’s gain of 26 points ranks among the most substantial one-year improvements in the report’s history.

The following table shows several of the important declines and gains for political rights and civil liberties over the past year.

While the number of countries ranked as Free for 2012 was 90, a gain of 3 over the previous year, 27 countries showed significant declines, compared with 16 that showed notable gains. This is the seventh consecutive year that Freedom in the World has shown more declines than gains worldwide. Furthermore, the report data reflected a stepped-up campaign of persecution by dictators that specifically targeted civil society organizations and independent media.

Among the most striking gains for freedom was that of Libya, which advanced from Not Free to Partly Free and registered one of the most substantial one-year numerical improvements in the report’s nearly 40-year history. Burma and a number of African countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Lesotho, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, also saw major advances.

Noteworthy declines were recorded for Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine.

The Middle East showed ambiguous results for the year. In addition to major gains for Libya, and Tunisia’s retention of sharp improvements from 2011, Egypt experienced relatively modest progress. The country held a flawed but competitive presidential election and direct military rule came to an end, yet the elected parliament was dissolved and President Morsi pushed through a new constitution under deeply problematic circumstances.

Moreover, the gains for the Arab Spring countries triggered a reaction, sometimes violent, by authoritarian leaders elsewhere in the Middle East, with resulting setbacks for freedom in Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.

The report’s findings were especially grim for Eurasian countries. Russia took a decided turn for the worse after Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency. Having already marginalized the formal political opposition, he enacted a series of laws meant to squelch a burgeoning societal opposition. The measures imposed severe new penalties on unauthorized demonstrations, restricted the ability of civic groups to raise funds and conduct their work, and placed new controls on the internet.

Key global findings: The number of electoral democracies stood at 117, the same as for 2011. Two countries, Georgia and Libya, achieved electoral democracy status, while two were dropped from the category, Mali and the Maldives.

Four countries moved from Partly Free to Free: Lesotho, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Tonga. Three countries rose from Not Free to Partly Free: Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, and Libya. Mali fell two tiers, from Free to Not Free, and Guinea-Bissau dropped from Partly Free to Not Free.

Some notable trends highlighted in the report include increased Muslim-on-Muslim violence, which reaching horrifying levels in Pakistan and remained a serious problem in Iraq and elsewhere; a serious decline in civil liberties in Turkey; and among the Persian Gulf states, a steady and disturbing decline in democratic institutions and an increase in repressive policies.

Worst of the Worst: Of the 47 countries designated as Not Free, nine have been given the survey’s lowest possible rating of 7 for both political rights and civil liberties: Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Two territories, Tibet and Western Sahara, were also ranked among the worst of the worst.

An additional 5 countries and 1 territory received scores that were slightly above those of the worst-ranked countries, with ratings of 6, 7 or 7, 6 for political rights and civil liberties: Belarus, Chad, China, Cuba, Laos, and South Ossetia.

To view the complete findings, click here.

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Investigative reporters – journalism’s ‘special forces’ and democracy’s guardians

The worldwide practice of investigative reporting has grown dramatically since the fall of communism began in 1989, writes David E. Kaplan, director of the Global Investigative Journalism Network. The field’s emphasis on public accountability, targeting of crime and corruption, and demonstrable impact have attracted millions of dollars in media development funding from international donors, who see it as an important force in promoting rule of law and democratization. But funding is largely episodic and makes up but a small fraction of that spent on overall media development.

In 2011, the Chinese magazine Caixin revealed that local officials in a southern county were kidnapping babies and selling them on the black market, prompting an official investigation and international attention. The magazine, known for digging into hidden stories, was founded by journalist Hu Shuli, who pioneered investigative journalism in China after completing a 1998 Knight Fellowship at Stanford University.

In the Brazilian state of Parana, home to 10 million people, the Gazeta do Povo newspaper and RPC TV spent two years building a database to reveal how the legislative assembly systematically pilfered as much as $400 million in public funds. The 2010 series drew 30,000 people to the streets in anti-corruption protests and resulted in more than 20 criminal investigations.

In 2007, the Bosnian Center for Investigative Reporting used public records to expose how Nedzad Brankovic, prime minister of the Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska, received a nearly free apartment through a dubious government privatization deal. The investigation led to public protests, an indictment of Brankovic, and ultimately his resignation.

In 2003, the Georgian TV channel Rustavi-2 was heralded as the voice of that nation’s peaceful “Rose Revolution,” helping overturn a rigged election and force the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze. Rustavi-2’s staff, trained by Western journalists, had built much of its credibility through investigative reporting on government corruption and organized crime.

In 2000, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism ran an eight-month investigation into the hidden assets of Philippine President Joseph Estrada, detailing how Estrada had amassed luxury homes and held secret stakes in a dozen companies. The series goaded the Philippine media into action, helped form key charges in an impeachment trial, and led to Estrada’s downfall months later.

What these cases have in common is that they were the result of determined, in-depth investigations by journalists in developing and democratizing countries. Supporting dedicated teams and individual reporters to do in-depth investigations has always been a struggle, even in Western countries where the practice is well established. It is risky, expensive, and often controversial.

But investigative reporting has earned a unique and honored place in the profession. Investigative reporters are, in a sense, the “special forces” of journalism. They tend to be better trained, go after tougher targets, and have greater impact than beat and daily news reporters.

Fueled by globalization, international aid, and the efforts of journalism groups, the worldwide practice of investigative reporting has grown dramatically since the fall of communism began in 1989. The field’s emphasis on public accountability, targeting of crime and corruption, and demonstrated impact have attracted millions of dollars in media development funding from international donors, who see it as an important force in promoting rule of law and democratization.

Support for investigative journalism, however, has been identified as a major gap in international media assistance, marked by funding that is largely episodic and that makes up but a small fraction of that spent on overall media development. Veteran trainers and implementers broadly agree that sustained programs, support of nonprofit investigative journalism groups, and adherence to high standards can produce impressive results both in fostering public accountability and in building a professional news media.

Investigative journalism has spread rapidly around the world in the past decade, helping to hold corrupt leaders accountable, document human rights violations, and expose systematic abuses in developing and transitioning countries. Despite onerous laws, legal and physical attacks, unsupportive owners, a lack of qualified trainers, and other obstacles, the practice has found a footing even in repressive countries.

Global and regional networks of investigative journalists, backed by donors and fueled by globalization and an explosion in data and communications technology, are growing increasingly effective and sophisticated. Journalists are linking up as never before to collaborate on stories involving international crime, unaccountable businesses, environmental degradation, safety and health problems, and other hard-to report issues.

Strategic investments into investigative journalism programs can have significant positive impact in a wide range of countries, including those in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Such funding will be most effective if it is long term and integrated into broader initiatives that include legal reform and freedom of information.

Despite its frontline role in fostering accountability, battling corruption, and raising media standards, investigative reporting receives relatively little support–about 2 percent of global media development funding by major donors.

Nonprofit investigative reporting organizations–now numbering 106 in 47 countries–have been pivotal drivers of the global spread of investigative journalism. These include reporting centers, training institutes, professional associations, grantmaking groups, and online networks.

These nonprofit groups have proved to be viable organizations that can provide unique training and reporting, serve as models of excellence that help to professionalize the local journalism community, and produce stories with social and political impact. Different programs will be appropriate for different regions and markets.

This extract is taken from Global Investigative Journalism: Strategies for Support, a special publication of the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA).

The Center, an initiative of the National Endowment for Democracy, works to strengthen the support, raise the visibility, and improve the effectiveness of media assistance programs by providing information, building networks, conducting research, and highlighting the indispensable role independent media play in the creation and development of sustainable democracies around the world. An important aspect of CIMA’s work is to research ways to attract additional U.S. private sector interest in and support for international media development

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