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Interview ( 19 March 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Democracy Is In Retreat in Its Traditional Strongholds, Says Sarah Repucci

By Anam Ajmal

March 18, 2020Freedom House, an American NGO which promotes democracy, brings out an annual report on political rights and civil liberties. Its most recent report ‘Freedom in the World 2020’ concluded that the world had seen 14 successive years of decline in global freedom. The report’s author Sarah Repucci spoke to Anam Ajmal:


What are some of the most worrying trends for democracies right now?

Democracy is in trouble. By Freedom House’s measures, 2019 was the 14th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. Most concerning, the decline isn’t only in dictatorships like Russia or Syria: democracy is in retreat in its traditional strongholds. Among 41 established democracies, more than half have slipped over the past decade. As freely elected leaders set aside democratic norms, we’re seeing weaknesses particularly in rule of law, free expression and belief, and the functioning of government.

What are the fundamental reasons behind the erosion of democracy across the world?

There are many reasons for the erosion. I will focus on two. First, the economic downturn in 2008 left people feeling less secure, and leaders were able to exploit those feelings to make undemocratic moves that strengthened their grip on power. For example, the scapegoating of migrants in Europe has bolstered Hungary’s Viktor Orban and other leaders there, even though migrants did not pose a real threat to security or jobs in Hungary. Second, Russia and especially China, have been spreading their models of autocracy, initially among their immediate neighbours, and now much more widely through measures such as new multilateral organisations for information sharing that parallel the existing international system, trainings for foreign officials in various modes of repression, and massive diplomatic efforts.

Have new technologies, including social media platforms and facial recognition, also contributed to the decline in democracy?

The internet has been a boon for free expression and the ability to hold those in power to account. People continue to innovate new ways of using technology to circumvent restrictions and make their voices heard. But autocrats have become more savvy as well. They are using technology to monitor their opponents, to disrupt electoral processes, and for new forms of harassment online. China and others export technological tools for repression, and even run trainings on new media and information management. In 2019 Freedom House found that nearly all countries we examined that had held elections in the previous year had had some form of digital interference in their elections.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing Indian democracy?

Democracy in India should be a major concern for both Indians and people around the world. As the largest democracy, and one that is extremely vibrant, India can be a beacon for people struggling for freedom in all corners of the globe. But right now, many Indians seem less interested in upholding the pluralistic roots of their democracy than in promoting a more limited view of what Indian society should be. The biggest challenge facing Indian democracy is to address the concerns of all Indians while also protecting everyone’s rights.

What are some of the reasons behind India’s fall in the rankings?

In 2019, Freedom House saw a steeper decline in freedom in India than in any of the world’s 25 largest democracies. This is according to our Freedom in the World methodology, which is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with input from a panel of experts from every region of the world. The decline in India is due to developments such as the review of citizenship status in Assam that effectively rendered nearly two million people stateless, the new CAA that offered citizenship to certain religious groups from neighbouring countries but excluded Muslims, and authorities’ harsh repression of protests against the Act. Each of these moves targets a slice of the population, shaking India’s foundation of inclusiveness. When a government violates the rights of a minority, it paves the way for everyone to become a target. That might happen under this administration, or under a different administration in the future.

What can India do to improve its standing?

Indians should stand up for their values, regardless of who is being targeted. They should make clear that they want the government to protect their interests, but not at the expense of the rights of others. Indians should continue to participate in their democracy, including by voting, volunteering, engaging with civic organisations, and speaking out when they perceive abuses of power. Meanwhile, the government should pursue protection of its people and their interests without violating rights. It should amend laws that single out certain groups for unequal treatment and pursue policies that capitalise on the diversity of Indian society, instead of sowing discord and division.

Original Headline: ‘Democracy is in trouble, it’s in retreat in its traditional strongholds … Indians should stand up for their values’

Source: The Times of India