On 6 July, The Hague Institute for Global Justice welcomed the President of Freedom House, Mark P. Lagon, for a lecture on Assessing Civil and Political Liberties Globally, including a presentation of the main findings of theFreedom in the World 2015 report. Mr. Lagon highlighted two important trends that curtail freedom in the world today. The first trend is the brazen tactics of authoritarian regimes, who increasingly use coercive means and find it unnecessary to pay lip-service to the human rights discourse. The other trend is the spread of terrorism, which in itself violates the fundamental human rights of victims, but which may also cause governments to adopt anti-terrorism measures that limit the freedom of the whole population.
In the beginning of his speech, Mr. Lagon spoke about the relationship between the notion of human dignity and human rights. He argued that human rights derive from the recognition of each person’s inherent value, but that human dignity can also be a yardstick for the implementation of human rights. He also spoke briefly on the history of human rights, mentioning the importance of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four freedoms, namely freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom from fear and freedom from want, for the formulation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Focusing on the Freedom in the World 2015 report, Mr. Lagon emphasized that more countries have declined than improved in the past year with regard to the political and civil liberties that Freedom House measure. Going through some regional trends, Mr. Lagon pointed to the fact that Tunisia is the only country in the Middle East and North Africa region, which is categorized as free. Thailand represents the biggest decline in freedom, due to the military coup in May 2014, while Fiji has the biggest increase in freedom.
Mr. Lagon also touched upon the question of who should take responsibility for making the world more free. He argued that liberal states must work to promote democracy and human rights, both individually and in multilateral fora. According to Freedom House’s report on global support for democracy, Sweden, Poland and the US are the most active in supporting democracy abroad. The report also finds that states generally fail to speak out against violations in their neighboring countries, and that states are hesitant to confront China about human rights violations.
The lecture was followed by a lengthy Q&A session moderated by Hague Institute President Dr. Abi Williams, in which speakers raised a variety of country situations, including Cuba, Tunisia, Uganda, Greece, Cambodia, Russia and China. Two general themes emerged from the Q&A: One is the report’s lack of focus on social and economic freedoms. Mr. Lagon acknowledged the importance of these freedoms, and suggested that some critics might even think that China, a country which is categorized as not free, provides more value for their citizens in the form of economic freedom than free countries. The second theme was the difficulty of promoting liberal values in places where societal values are not compatible with democracy or human rights. When asked about this, Mr. Lagon said that promoting democracy and human rights also involves challenging values and thinking in society, and that you should support domestic actors, who share your goal.