Global democracy, human rights worsening, says report


US research and advocacy group Freedom House found that democracy and human rights in 80 countries, including the Philippines, had “grown worse”, as world leaders take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to suppress civil liberties, and silence critics and the free press.

The report highlighted rights advocates’ concerns that the pandemic was being used to tighten state leaders’ grip on power.

The report titled “Democracy Under Lockdown” published on Oct. 01, it stated that world leaders “engaged in abuses of power, silencing their critics, and weakening or shuttering important institutions, often undermining the very systems of accountability needed to protect public health.”

The report, which polled 398 experts reporting from 192 countries and territories from January to September, found that democratic liberties were most visibly in decline in four key areas: transparency of information on the pandemic, corruption, protection for vulnerable populations and government abuse of power.

“What began as a worldwide health crisis has become part of a global crisis for democracy,” said Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.

“Governments in every part of the world have abused their powers in the name of public health, seizing the opportunity to undermine democracy and human rights.”

The report likewise said that tightening controls and abuses of human rights amid the COVID-19 pandemic “will be hard to reverse … and will last long beyond the pandemic,” said Sarah Repucci, co-author and Freedom House vice president for research.

Freedom House ranked countries across the “Free-Not Free spectrum” depending on the strength of democratic institutions or protections against human rights abuses.

In this scale, the Philippines was ranked “partly free,” with noted abuses relating to restrictions on the media and expressions of dissent, arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as police violence.

China, Russia, Turkey and Venezuela were among the countries categorized as “not free” based on those metrics.

The most common government response during the pandemic, the report found, was restrictions on the news media.

In at least 91 countries, including the Philippines, governments were able to limit questioning during press conferences, or tighten controls on transparency. Other states enacted draconian legislation against “fake news” about the virus, or had journalists arrested or newsrooms shut down to curtail information.

The report cited the Duterte administration’s “assault” on independent or critical media. It noted that the shutdown of broadcasting network ABS-CBN prompted a “pushback among local journalists through their enterprising methods despite the limitations in movement.”

Other governments have used the pandemic to “perpetrate violence” against civilians and to grant themselves special powers beyond what was reasonably necessary to protect public health.

These emergency powers, they said, were exploited by countries like Turkey to “interfere with the justice system, impose unprecedented restrictions on political opponents and undermine crucial legislative functions.”

Freedom House said such abuses often happened in “partly free” countries where there were weak safeguards for democratic institutions.

The Philippines was no exception. The country respondent, for one, noted that authorities have been visiting the homes of people suspected of being infected with the virus. Police have likewise arrested and detained people for simple violations such as not wearing a mask.

In other countries like India and Sri Lanka, state leaders have applied lockdown measures in such discriminatory ways against minorities and marginalized communities. Muslims in these countries were tagged as “superspreaders,” while migrants in other countries were ostracized as possible carriers of COVID-19. (Source: