Human Rights & Democracy

September 24, 2020: Freedom House

Posted on September 24, 2020 at 12:00 AM

Michael Abramowitz, President of Freedom House, spoke to the Club on August 4. Freedom House was co-founded by
Eleanor Roosevelt in 1941, as an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy in the world. It is best known for its work documenting the threats to freedom through a series of annual surveys on political rights and civil liberties, the most well-known of which is called Freedom in the World.

Abramowitz told his WNDC audience that a key finding from Freedom in the World this year was the deterioration of freedom in more than half of all established democracies over the past 14 years. He said of great concern is a decline in freedom in the United States over the past decade or so, noting that the negative democratic trend predates President Trump but has grown worse during his years in office. Freedom House has been concerned about his attacks on essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and, most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections.

While noting that it was impossible to be sure about COVID-19’s long-term impact on democracy, Abramowitz concluded with a few generalizations—not all of them gloomy—on the future:

  1. Repression will continue. We’ve seen the initial wave of restrictions, but there will likely be two more phases: a spike
    across the global south as the virus spreads there, and then a long tail during which the most authoritarian leaders
    continue to invoke health concerns to bend society to their will. Just like their economy, the impact of the coronavirus on global freedom will be felt for years to come.
  2. Democracy is going to look different than it does now, but that won’t necessarily make it weaker. Elections will adapt—they might take place over more days or mostly at home—but eventually they will take place. Campaigning will move more online and to broadcast media. Ultimately, massive campaign rallies are not critical to democracy.

— Elizabeth Spiro Clark, Chair, Human Rights and Democracy Task Force

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