March 9, 2009 / 6:39 PM / 11 years ago

Sudan, North Korea among least free states: report

GENEVA (Reuters) - Sudan, whose president has been charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court, and North Korea are among the world’s eight most repressive societies, a U.S. human rights body said Monday.

People supporting Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir attend a rally in Al Fasher, northern Darfur March 8, 2009. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

In its annual report on political and individual liberties, Washington-based Freedom House also put Myanmar, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Somalia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan among the “least free” around the globe.

“Within these entities, state control over daily life is pervasive and wide-ranging, independent organizations and political opposition are banned or suppressed, and fear of retribution for independent thought and action is part of daily life,” Freedom House said.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant last week for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

Besides the eight countries, the report listed two territories: Tibet in China, and Chechnya, a republic of the Russian Federation whose Moscow-backed president has been accused by critics of murdering and torturing opponents.

The inhabitants of both “suffer intense repression,” said the report, issued in Geneva to coincide with a month-long session of the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council, on which both China and Russia sit.

Close behind was a second group of nine countries with a similar level of political rights as the eight but scoring slightly better on civil liberties, including Belarus, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Zimbabwe.

Cuba and Saudi Arabia are also members of the U.N. Council.

“It is unfortunate that some of the worst violators of human rights are there,” Freedom House Advocacy Director Paula Schreiter told a news conference.

The others in the second-tier group were Chad, Eritrea and Laos.

OPPONENT OF DICTATORSHIPS

Freedom House, often accused of distortion by countries cited in its reports, was founded in 1941 and describes itself as “a vigorous proponent of democratic values and a steadfast opponent of dictatorships of the far left and the far right.”

It employs researchers around the world, while its governing board includes U.S. business and labor leaders, former U.S. diplomats, and academics, researchers and journalists, but it rejects suggestions that it reflects official U.S. policies.

In its report, “Freedom in the World 2009,” it listed U.S. ally Georgia saying that, because of election flaws it was only “partly free,” a label it also applied to Kosovo whose self-proclaimed independence from Serbia has strong U.S. support.

It said freedom had declined in the Palestinian territories, blaming this on expansion of Israeli settlements, restriction on Palestinian economic activity imposed by Israel’s “Security Barrier,” and the Israeli blockade and December attacks on Gaza.

Overall, the report said, 89 of the world’s 193 countries accounting for 46 per cent of the global population were free “and can be said to respect a broad array of basic human rights and political freedoms.”

A total of 42 countries with 22 per cent of the population were not free, it added, while 62 countries with 20 percent of the population were only partly free.

(Full text of the report is available at www.freedomhouse.org)

Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Andrew Dobbie

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