Saturday, January 31, 2015

Freedom in the World 2015: A Reflection on the Freedom House Report

"I am an irrepressible optimist, but I always base my optimism on solid facts." - Mohandas Gandhi 

Freedom House in its 2015 reports distressing news: for the past nine years freedom has been in retreat around the world. According to Freedom House
"More aggressive tactics by authoritarian regimes and an upsurge in terrorist attacks contributed to a disturbing decline in global freedom in 2014, according to Freedom in the World 2015, Freedom House’s annual report on the condition of political rights and civil liberties."
In concrete terms of the 195 countries Freedom House assessed: 89 (46 percent) were rated Free, 55 (28 percent) Partly Free, and 51 (26 percent) Not Free. Less than half the world is currently living in freedom.

On two previous occasion addressing the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy in 2010 and again in 2013 the global deterioration of human rights has also been painfully evident and reflected upon. A possible answer was ventured citing the martyred Cuban democratic opposition activist, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who when awarded the Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought on December 17, 2002 observed that:
“The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized.”
 Although this is part of the answer, it is not the complete answer. Over the past decade two approaches towards confronting grave injustices have been tried and found wanting: war with and/or appeasement of tyrants.

Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya to overthrow cruel and unjust regimes have led into spirals of violence that have destabilized entire regions making the situation worse. On the other hand cruel and unjust regimes such as North Korea, the Peoples Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Vietnam and now in Cuba have and continue to be appeased out of fear, greed, and perceived self interests. 

In either case human rights has worsened. Neither has worked.

The one approach that has achieved progress over the past century and when failing has not worsened the situation compared to what existed before is nonviolent resistance.  Resisting injustice without committing new injustices or accepting existing injustices to avoid new challenges or losses in the profit and loss column. Tragically in the case of Syria what was initially a nonviolent uprising shifted to violent resistance when elements of Assad's military defected to the opposition thinking it would speed up victory. It had the opposite effect. 

On February 24, 2015 the Seventh Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy will convene placing a spotlight on the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria when one of the escaped students will speak out for the first time. She will be joined by dissidents from Iran, North Korea, Turkey, Ukraine and China. 

Speaking truth to power and engaging in effective nonviolent campaigns that topple entrenched dictatorships does not cost billions of dollars. Appeasing tyrants have generated great profits for industries in the past as has going to war against them. This is the tragedy of nonviolence but at the same time the great opportunity it provides to the powerless majority but the secret is that it requires training, learning tactics and having a strategy.

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