Michael Abramowitz

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Gustavo Petro, president of Colombia, at a campaign event after the first round of elections on May 29. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)

Is the world standing on the threshold of a democratic comeback?

After years of relentless bad news, Freedom House’s latest annual global report on the health of democracy offers hope. This year’s “Freedom in the World” survey notes that the number of countries suffering declines in 2022 was the lowest in 17 years, and was nearly matched by the number of countries experiencing improvements.

Whether this represents a genuine turning point in the competition between democracy and authoritarianism remains to be seen. The answer will depend to a large degree on the willingness of leaders and voters to take a strong stand for a free press, honest elections and a society where law prevails.…  Seguir leyendo »

The long arm of the authoritarian state

The reach of authoritarian repression is growing.
Now, not even exile is safe.

In October 2019, Iran kidnapped journalist Ruhollah Zam in Iraq. Zam had lived as a recognized refugee in France, but after traveling to Iraq for unknown reasons, the Revolutionary Guard Corps abducted and then smuggled him across the border to Iran. After a hasty trial last summer, he was executed in December for “corruption on earth.”

Last July, Mamikhan Umarov, a Chechen exile who had criticized the regime of leader Ramzan Kadyrov, was shot and killed in a Vienna suburb — the third Chechen killed in apparent assassinations in Europe in a year.…  Seguir leyendo »

Los gobiernos de Moscú y Pekín fueron pioneros en usar una serie de técnicas en internet para provocar inconformidad y socavar las elecciones libres, esas estrategias fueron reveladas durante la campaña presidencial de Estados Unidos en 2016. Sin embargo, la iniciativa rusa para influir en las elecciones presidenciales estadounidenses forma parte de un desafío más grande y profundo para la democracia a nivel mundial.

Las tácticas de manipulación en internet tuvieron un papel importante en al menos otras diecisiete elecciones del año pasado. Desde las Filipinas, pasando por Ecuador y Turquía, hasta Kenia, los partidos en el poder les pagaron a comentaristas, troles, bots, sitios de noticias falsas y medios propagandísticos para influenciar el apoyo popular y, en esencia, promocionarse.…  Seguir leyendo »

The opposition leader Raila Odinga during Kenyan elections last month. Political camps set up teams of paid bloggers, social media influencers and bots to shape public opinion online. Credit Tony Karumba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Surreptitious techniques pioneered in Moscow and Beijing to use the internet to drown out dissent and undermine free elections broke into view during the 2016 presidential campaign in the United States. But Russian efforts to influence the American election are part of a larger, profound challenge to democracy worldwide.

Online manipulation tactics played an important role in at least 17 other elections over the past year. From the Philippines and Ecuador to Turkey and Kenya, governing parties used paid commentators, trolls, bots, false news sites and propaganda outlets to inflate their popular support and essentially endorse themselves.

In the Philippines, members of a “keyboard army” said they could earn $10 a day operating social media accounts that supported Rodrigo Duterte or attacked his detractors in the run-up to his May 2016 election as president.…  Seguir leyendo »

Rakhine state, on the western coast of Burma, is among the most dangerous places in the world to be a Muslim.

Just over a year ago, simmering tensions and small-scale clashes erupted into mass violence between Buddhist Rakhines and Muslim Rohingya, a minority of about 800,000 whose roots in Burma are several centuries old. During these rampages, Buddhist mobs stormed Muslim enclaves, setting fire to villages, destroying schools and mosques and leaving scores of Rohingya dead.

One victim of the violence was Ayessa, a 55-year-old woman who lived in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state. Her husband and brother were killed, and she was forced to flee her home for a displaced persons’ camp.…  Seguir leyendo »

It’s the foreign policy doctrine that sounds like a Star Wars droid. It’s the argument that a former supreme commander of NATO, Adm. James Stavridis,thinks could be a basis for military action against Syria. And it’s the idea that Washington Post columnist George Will argues by no means justifies a U.S. strike.

The “responsibility to protect” — known in international-relations circles as R2P — is a straightforward, if often misunderstood, notion: Nations must protect their citizens from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and must take action to help other nations whose governments can’t or won’t protect their peoples.…  Seguir leyendo »

A few hours outside of Cambodia’s capital, 58-year-old Taing Kim, a delicate woman who spent several years as a nun, lives in a gray concrete house in the middle of a quiet village amid a sea of rice paddies. She settled in Kampong Chhnang nearly 30 years ago and makes her living by farming and selling firewood. She was married in 1980 but says her husband left her when he learned of her past.

Taing Kim is one of thousands of victims who have filed to be heard in the trial of three of the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge, the murderous party in power from 1975 to 1979 that tried to forcibly create an agrarian utopia in Cambodia — and killed some 1.7 million people along the way.…  Seguir leyendo »

For many years, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has sought a more determined approach from governments toward the prevention of genocide and other forms of mass atrocities against civilians. Far better to try to prevent such crimes than to respond after the fact, when the human, financial and moral costs are steepest.

That’s the theory. In practice, prevention is enormously complicated, difficult to implement and easily subject to second-guessing, as we are witnessing in Libya.

Whether or not one agrees with the decision to use military force in Libya, the action by President Obama and other world leaders over the past two weeks — and the president’s explanation Monday night — reveal a substantial shift in thinking over the past two decades about preventing mass atrocities.…  Seguir leyendo »

Looking back on his presidency, Bill Clinton has often expressed regret over his administration's failure to stop the genocide that ravaged Rwanda in 1994 and cost 800,000 lives, even referring to it as a "personal failure" on his part. And President George W. Bush, who labeled the mass killings in Darfur in 2004 as "genocide," has voiced frustration over his inability to persuade the United Nations and others to intervene more forcefully.

Now President Obama is trying to avoid having to issue his own mea culpa.

Obama's test comes in Sudan, which on Jan. 9 is supposed to hold a referendum on whether the country's southern region will secede from the north.…  Seguir leyendo »