Decline in global freedoms

Anna Triponel

March 8, 2024
Our key takeaway: Global freedom declined for the 18th consecutive year in 2023. According to Freedom House, the scale and scope of the decline is extensive and affects one-fifth of the world’s population. Electoral manipulation and armed conflict between state and non-state actors are highlighted as primary drivers for the decline, as well as organised crime, inability to practice a chosen religion; crackdown on LGBT+ people’s rights through restrictive laws; and the rejection of pluralism by authoritarian leaders and armed groups, which is defined as “the peaceful coexistence of people with different political ideas, religions, or ethnic identities.” Human rights defenders are highlighted as a group that are targeted by authoritarian regimes as payback for imposed sanctions. The report identifies actions that companies can take to support efforts to stem the global decline in freedoms: (1) protect free and fair elections, which includes investing in local human rights expertise to better understand the context-specific impacts of their products and services; (2) work with other stakeholders to identify and close legal loopholes regarding authoritarian regimes’ ability to evade sanctions; and (3) engage with human rights defenders to understand how they are targeted by authoritarian regimes due to sanctions. 

Freedom House published Freedom in the World 2024: The Mounting Damage of Flawed Elections and Armed Conflict (March 2024):

  • Global freedom declined for the 18th consecutive year in 2023: According to the report, the decline was widespread and extensive: “[p]olitical rights and civil liberties were diminished in 52 countries, while only 21 countries made improvements.” Global freedom regressed due to various reasons, which includes: 1) “widespread problems with elections, including violence and manipulation”; 2) “[a]rmed conflicts and threats of authoritarian aggression”; 3) “denial of political rights and civil liberties in disputed territories” which “dragged down freedom in the associated countries, including some democracies”; and 4) “rejection of pluralism—the peaceful coexistence of people with different political ideas, religions, or ethnic identities—by authoritarian leaders and armed groups” which “produced repression, violence, and a steep decline in overall freedom in 2023.”
  • Notable threats to freedom in 2023: In addition to electoral manipulation and armed conflict, the report highlights four additional categories of threats that impacted freedoms in 2023. Namely: 1) “Organized crime groups menaced democratic institutions, security, and freedom.” Incidents were seen in Ecuador, Mexico, Haiti and Myanmar; 2) “Freedom to practice a chosen religion was suppressed.” This was prevalent in Afghanistan, India, the U.S. and other countries; 3) “LGBT+ people’s rights were targeted through restrictive laws.” This was seen in Ghana, Russia, and Turkey; 4) “Migrants and refugees were subjected to arbitrary deportation and physical violence.” Incidents were seen in Lebanon, Pakistan, Tunisia, Cyprus and Germany.
  • Recommendations for companies: While the report focuses on policy recommendations for governments, it contains insights on what companies can do to help reverse the decline in global freedoms. For instance, companies can protect free and fair elections in 2024. Specifically, technology companies can a) “support the accessibility of circumvention technology and resist government orders to shut down internet connectivity or ban digital services during an election period”; b) “work closely with independent researchers who can study the effects that their services have on information integrity and free expression”; and c) “invest in staff dedicated to working on human rights issues, including regional and country specialists, to better understand the local impact of their products.” Companies can also work with civil society, alongside democratic governments, to identify and close legal loopholes regarding authoritarian regimes’ ability to evade sanctions. For instance, the private sector can “consult with anticorruption and human rights organizations as part of their ‘know your customer’ efforts. These expert groups will be able to provide detailed context on corruption and human rights abuses, how perpetrators may be networked, and how they may seek to avoid detection.” Furthermore, companies can work with other stakeholders “to limit the unintended impact on activists of sanctions against their home countries.” In practice, this means companies engaging with “exiled HRDs to better understand how their current efforts to mitigate risk—whether reputational, regulatory, or sanctions-related—may adversely impact exiled dissidents.”

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