President Barack Obama Nelson MandelaOn July 18, 2018, Nelson Mandela Day, former U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech in honor of the late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and his legacy that continues in today’s world. The day marked 100 years since his birth and led to Obama speaking about the progress made in that time span. Despite the many people still oppressed by corrupt political systems, Obama suggested tactics that could promote a bright future.

Nelson Mandela Day

Nelson Mandela Day was made official on November 10, 2009. The United Nations General Assembly declared that the humanitarian’s birthday, July 18, would be internationally recognized to honor his achievements and philosophy. The General Assembly deemed it necessary to acknowledge Mandela’s peaceful methods of conflict resolution every year.

Mandela witnessed South Africa’s former apartheid take away human rights from the black race. This led to his advocacy work for blacks and impoverished communities along with his subsequent role of the first democratically-elected president of South Africa.

Key Points in Obama’s Speech

In his speech, Obama made parallels between the political turmoil in Mandela’s lifetime and that which still exists today. He said that advancements in technology, poverty reduction, health and international trade have led to more peace. However, there’s a danger in prioritizing innovation and business interests over human needs. New machines can increase efficiency and production, but this hurts the common worker by eliminating jobs. If political leaders worked to raise people out of poverty, it would promote democracy in their government.

Obama went on to stress the need for a fair distribution of wealth. Advancements in the economy just provide those in power the chance to widen the disparity between themselves and the poor. People living in the top one percent do not need every penny they have to spend on luxuries since they have an excess of money. Even a small amount of that excess could help people in need. In other words, people do not have to commit themselves to a life of poverty in order to help lift others out of poverty.

Since his speech was in honor of Nelson Mandela Day, he brought up the philosophies Mandela wanted to see in future generations. When he became president, his declarations were not drafted for the sole use of South Africa. He believed in human rights for people all over the world.

Obama outlined what a democracy needs in order to be successful, including open-minded people and transparency. Decision makers must be receptive to opposing viewpoints. Even though a country might uphold a democratic system, that doesn’t mean those in power always base their actions on that philosophy. Instead of spreading lies and propaganda that only serve their personal interests, political leaders must be honest with their citizens.

Continuing the Legacy of Nelson Mandela

Organizations based in South Africa are continuing work beyond Nelson Mandela Day. Rebecca’s Well is an organization that supports women on their journeys to become contributing members of society by offering to help fund their education and by providing counseling services after a divorce. Much like the activism done by Mandela, these actions ensure that a marginalized group of people receive a fair chance of fulfilling their potential.

In terms of Obama’s message about global progress, the New Voices Fellowship casts the spotlight on innovative minds from developing countries. The most effective way to help tackle poverty is by consulting with those experiencing it. With that in mind, the organization proposes solutions for how to generate income, increase access to medical services and invent technology that helps the lives of people in need.

Obama said that no one, not even Mandela during his presidency, is immune to the dangerous lure of power. Mandela recognized that truth, which is why he brought democracy to South Africa. Governments need to be reminded of it to ensure that people are free to express their opinions about how their government is being run. Citizens have power too.

Sabrina Dubbert
Photo: Flickr

facts about human rights in TaiwanIn August 2018, Taiwan was selected to host the Human Rights Forum. The Forum, according to the New York Times, is run by the New York-based Human Rights Foundation and has been held in Oslo every year since 2009. The Human Rights Foundation’s chief strategy officer Alex Gladstein explained that the forum’s goal is to inform activists around the world about Taiwan’s transition to democracy, which is an example of democracy in a Chinese society. As international human rights organizations recognize Taiwan’s unique position in Asia as an advocate for human rights and democracy, it is important to highlight several key facts about human rights in Taiwan.

Judiciary reform

According to the Taiwan 2017 Human Rights Report, there are no acknowledged instances of torture carried out against accused persons. Furthermore, to address issues of overcrowding in prisons, in June 2017, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice gave prison inmates the right to maintain jobs outside the prison. The report indicated that 19 inmates had minimum monthly salaries of 690 U.S. dollars of which 60 percent was used as restitution to crime victims. Even more encouraging is that detention centers allowed both government and non-governmental inspections of the prisons. It is also important to note that prisoners have rights to legal counseling.

Also, arrests of individuals require warrants or summons. The report emphasized that all defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Regarding civil issues, an “impartial judiciary” is provided.

Freedom of speech

Freedom of speech and the press are observed in Taiwan, especially involving internet access. Taiwan also does not restrict academic freedom or cultural events.

In April 2018, the New York Times noted that Reporters Without Borders are going to open their first Asian bureau in Taipei, the Taiwanese capital. They decided to do so after considering, but rejecting Hong Kong. Taiwan’s selection over Hong Kong is tied with increasing pressure from the Government of China to Hong Kong, allowing Taiwan to surpass Hong Kong as the synonym for free speech in Asia.

Voting rights and protection of sexual assault victims

While Taiwan currently does not offer refugees protection, it does allow its citizens to migrate within its borders, emigrate from, and travel internationally. Such policies are not necessarily permanent, however, as Taiwan offers citizens the rights to elect government leaders through “secret ballot.” Suffrage is given to all citizens, including women.

Taiwan law prohibits rape, especially spousal rape, and domestic violence, but it is important to note that these crimes are often not reported. In addition, rape survivors are given protection in a way that they can endure their trials away from the public eye and the law permits a charge of rape even if the victim chooses not to press charges. This provision is one of the key facts about human rights in Taiwan, as charges for sexual assault can still be carried out, regardless of the social pressures that discourage victims to report. Also, the Sexual Assault Crime Prevention Act allows the use of one-way mirrors, video conferencing, or other practices to protect victims during questioning and trial.

In recent years, Taiwan became the front-runner of human rights in Asia, as seen through its shift toward judiciary reform, freedom of expression and increased protections for sexual assault victims. These key facts about human rights in Taiwan merit activists’ decision to host the upcoming Human Rights Forum and showcase Taiwan’s accomplishments and the path towards achieving even better results in the future

Christine Leung
Photo: Google

BulgariaWhenever Bulgaria is mentioned in the media, coverage is generally skewed towards poverty and corruption, depicting it as one of the EU’s most troubled members. However, a closer look at the facts and figures of life in Bulgaria proves that how the media misrepresents Bulgaria does not entirely reflect reality.

Bulgaria and the EU

Bulgaria is the poorest member of the EU. This fact has not escaped the notice of the rest of Europe, and Bulgaria’s media representation has suffered for it. A 1984 study performed by Weaver and shows that the poorer a country is, the less coverage it is likely to gain in any given news outlet, and the more negative that coverage is liable to be. In contrast, richer countries such as the U.S. are much more likely to receive positive media attention, overshadowing poorer nations like Bulgaria.

Bulgaria in the Media

When the media mentions Bulgaria, it paints it as a corrupt Eastern European country that the rest of the EU wants nothing to do with. Media biases against Bulgaria frequently stem from the fact that Bulgaria was once part of the Soviet Bloc. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Bulgarians struggled to adjust to the fact that their country was no longer Communist, and it was not uncommon for Bulgarians to migrate west to try for a fresh start. However, they were often met with fear from their new neighbors, mostly due to their status as ex-Communists whose government was still somewhat corrupt and were subsequently dehumanized by many Western European nations. For example, Bulgaria has repeatedly been denied admission to the Schengen Zone, which would permit Bulgarians to work and travel freely in fellow Schengen countries within the EU. This, combined with the country’s comparatively low GDP, has led to media depictions in which they are given the same derogatory treatment that migrants are typically given by news outlets.

Bulgaria and the Rest of the World

How the media misrepresents Bulgaria becomes apparent when examining the economic and political conditions in Bulgaria. For starters, Bulgaria’s GDP is currently $18,900, having risen from $8.400 in 1991. Although this is, in fact, fairly low by EU standards, it is not low when thought of in the context of the rest of the world. The world is split into four income groups, ranging from Group One (extreme poverty) to Group Four (the U.S. standard). Bulgaria falls into Group Three (upper middle income); most of its people can afford decent beds, bikes, and maybe cheap cars, but not annual vacations or spacious houses. The average person is getting about 6570 kilowatt-hours of electricity, 48 percent of them have Internet access, and 99.4 percent have access to clean drinking water. In fact, as of 2014, no one in Bulgaria is living in extreme poverty. Meanwhile, the rest of the EU’s citizens are scattered throughout Groups 3 and 4.

Corruption in Bulgaria is also not as abundant as the media portrays it. For example, the Inequality Index (Gini) rated Bulgaria around 40, which is in the middle of the scale. Their first elections took place in 1990, and their current democracy score is 9 out of 10.

Overall, things are looking much better in Bulgaria than the media lets on. While the media would let its consumers believe that Bulgaria is a hopeless case of corruption and poverty, it is actually a free nation with a thriving economy. If one looks hard enough, one will find that how the media misrepresents Bulgaria is a true misrepresentation and nothing more.

– Cassie Parvaz
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in VietnamSince its formation in 1987, the U.S. diplomatic relationship with Mongolia has remained incredibly strong in the areas of development, security, and trade. Mongolia sits in an interesting geopolitical position due to its shared borders with China and Russia. As China and Russia continue to act as rivals to U.S. military and economic policy, Mongolia becomes more significant component to U.S. foreign policy in Asia and Eastern Europe. Although total foreign assistance to Mongolia is relatively small, the U.S. has benefited greatly from ensuring a future of peace and democratic idealism in Mongolia. 

A Democratic Mongolia

Mongolia has often referred to the U.S. as its most important “third neighbor.” At first glance, the value of providing foreign assistance might seem elusive. In comparison to the Russian and Chinese titans, Mongolia’s value may seem inconsequential. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As popular support for democratic institutions begins to increase in tempo, Mongolia serves as a beacon of light for democratic values in the region. Since 1990, the year in which Mongolia formally became a democratic country, over 10 elections has occurred on the legislative and presidential level. The continued success Mongolians have seen in democratic institutions has bolstered the over-arching U.S. mission of spreading democratic ideals across the globe. This is one major way in how the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Mongolia. 

The Education Vehicle

Within the same vein, English has been made mandatory in Mongolia’s educational system since 2005. Furthermore, Mongolia has committed roughly $600,000 to the Fulbright master’s program, which has greatly increased the total number of Mongolians studying in the United States. A newly launched program in 2017 gives Mongolian high school students the chance to study abroad in the U.S. Continued sponsorship and foreign aid in programs such as these not only gives Mongolians access to U.S. universities and schools but also helps carry the torch of U.S. democratic values to less accessible regions of the world. In this case, particularly Russia and China. 

Geopolitical Ally

In recent years, tensions between the U.S. and Russia have increased due to the Crimean crisis and civil war within Ukraine. The Russo-U.S. relationship has remained relatively frigid since these cataclysmic events. Mongolia’s shared border and partnership with the U.S. gives the latter country increased geopolitical proximity to the Kremlin. Within the realm of conflict, Mongolia also has deployed troops to support the U.S. effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. sponsored a program entitled “Khan Quest,” which was aimed at improving Mongolian military competency at home and abroad. Providing military support in Mongolia has allowed the U.S. a slight buffer to Russian influence in Asia. This is how the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Mongolia. 

Aid

In 2015, the Mongolian economy grounded to a halt after a long period of growth and prosperity. Prior to the crash, U.S. exports to Mongolia totaled in around $650 million. The U.S. aid budget to Mongolia for FY19 is $1.75 million, all of which will be dedicated towards peace and security. As a target for U.S. exports, foreign assistance to Mongolia becomes increasingly important. Holding a strong partner in exports is another way in how the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Mongolia.

– Colby McCoy
Photo: Flickr

Types of Government Systems
Aristotle was the first to define three principal types of government systems in the fourth century B.C. These consisted of monarchy, aristocracy and polity. Since then, many more have been formulated, but the main themes and ideas have remained. Today, the five most common government systems include democracy, republic, monarchy, communism and dictatorship. This list details what to know about each.

Five Types of Government Systems

  1. Democracy
    A democracy can be defined as a government system with supreme power placed in the hands of the people. It can be traced back to as early as the fifth century B.C. In fact, the word democracy is Greek for “people power”. While most use the United States as an example of a democratic government system, the United States actually has what is called a representative democracy. The difference lies in the method of civilian participation. In a direct democracy, every citizen is given an equal say in the government. In a representative democracy, citizens elect representatives who make the law. The difference is significant when put into action. Other examples of democratic states include Aruba, Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.
  2. Republic
    In a republic government system, the power also rests with the people, as they are in charge of electing or choosing the country’s leader, instead of the leader being appointed or inheriting power. Broadly defined, a republic is a government system without a monarch. A republic may be governed by a group of nobles, as long as there is not a single monarch. Some examples of countries with a republic government system include Argentina, Bolivia, Czech Republic and France.
  3. Monarchy
    In a monarchy, state power is held by a single family that inherits rule from one generation to the next. In a monarchy, an individual from the royal family holds the position of power until they die. Today, the majority of monarchy governments have transitioned to constitutional monarchies, where the monarch is head of state but only performs ceremonial roles and does not have state power. Only a few countries still have systems where the monarch retains control; these include Brunei, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Swaziland.
  4. Communism
    A communist government system is usually based on a particular ideology of communism taught by Karl Marx or Vladimir Lenin. A single party or group of people usually runs communist states. In some cases, citizens of a communist state are given certain jobs or life duties in an effort to obtain collective citizenship for the state. Examples of communist states include China, Cuba and Vietnam.
  5. Dictatorship
    In a dictatorship, a single person, a dictator, has absolute power over the state. It is not necessarily ruled by a theology or belief. It is an authoritarian form of government where one person is in charge of enforcing and enacting the law. Aspects often include military organizational backing, unfair elections (if any) and various human rights violations. A dictator does not usually inherit their power like a monarch does; they either seize control of the state by force or through (usually unfair) elections. Dictators are not held accountable for their actions and thus are free to do as they please, including limiting citizens’ rights. Burundi, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and North Korea are contemporary examples of countries run by a dictator.

While these types of government systems all vary, they have at least one similarity: the allocation of power. Whether it be the allocation of power to a single person, a group of people, or evenly distributed to everyone, power is the shared theme of all types of government systems.

– Haley Hine
Photo: Flickr


There has been a battle over national governance in Libya ever since the dismantling of the Muammar Gaddafi authoritarian regime in the 2011 Arab Spring. A majority of Libyans are hopeful for a unified democratic governance in Libya; unfortunately, the Fragile State Index has listed Libya in the top 25 most fragile states in the world.

Political History in Libya

Dr. Federica Saini Fasanotti, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, described that “Libya has never been (truly) unified.” In a conversation on October 6, 2017 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) headquarters, Dr. Fasanotti described the historical significance of conflicts and changes of power in relation to rule of law in Libya.

Throughout the history of Libya, the state had many different rulers, contributing to the divided government. Up until 1911, the country was an autonomous territory under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. After 1911, Libya was controlled by the Italians in the western world’s quest for colonies. Then, in 1951, the Allied powers of World War II granted Libya independence, and the state created a federal constitution and monarchy; in 1969, Muammar Gaddafi led a coup d’état of the monarch.

Local, Regional and Strategic Issues

Dr. Fasanotti described the three fundamental issues to democratic governance in Libya. The local issue is the many internal divisions caused by the history of political upheavals and usage of tactics like Gaddafi’s ‘divide and rule’ concept — a tactic where  different ethnicities and tribes are pitted against one another. The regional issue is the absence of current leadership to direct the country on the path of democratic governance. The strategic issue is the presence of terrorism, troublesome migration patterns and economic beneficial resources.

Alice Hunt Friend, a Senior Fellow with the International Security Program at the CSIS, stated,“It is very hard to take these complex, contingent situations and hundreds of years of history and translate it into prescriptive policies.”

Civil Society Formation by USAID

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supports the project of Libya Elections and Governance Support Program to create effective practices for sub-national governance. The duration of the program is from October 2012 to September 2019.

The goal of creating municipal governments in Libya has served as an attempt to fill the national governance void. In the southern desert city of Sabha, the USAID assisted in the formation of a community center to provide the citizens the opportunity to engage in the decision-making process.

Uniting Communities

The community center attempts to create partnerships between people of different ethnicities and tribes to form ideas out of mutual interest. The additional partnership between local leaders and citizens assists in creating transparency and credibility with the government.

To have local municipalities work together to create a stable national government — like the community center in Sabha — is the goal of the civil society formation by the USAID; local authorities’ soft power has extremely high value. 

Democratic governance in Libya has a formulation in municipalities and initiatives at the local level that once implemented, can reach national proportions.

– Andrea Quade
Photo: Flickr

The media misrepresents Jamaica in a variety of ways. It portrays Jamaica as a population full of recreational drug users and criminals. It also depicts a land full of tourist scams and impoverished people struggling to survive.

Misrepresentation #1: Everyone in Jamaica smokes marijuana

The TNI Drugs and Democracy Programme reported in a survey taken by the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), 60 percent of the Jamaican population smokes marijuana and uses tobacco and alcohol. The Jamaica Constabulary Force stated only nine percent of Jamaican’s use cannabis.

Marijuana use in Jamaica has been tied to the Rastafarian religion. Most Rastafarians consume it as part of spiritual rituals. However, not everyone in Jamaica is a Rastafarian and not everyone in Jamaica smokes or participates in the sale of marijuana. In fact, up until 2015 when lawmakers in Jamaica decriminalized it, selling and using marijuana was illegal for over 100 years.

Influenced by the U.S., Jamaica is set to become part of the legalized marijuana market, which will create income for its local farmers and change how the media misrepresents Jamaica.

Misrepresentation #2: Locals and tourists don’t mix

While tourist scams are real in Jamaica, tourism in the country is still at an all-time high. Tourism brought in earnings of more than $2.5 billion in 2016 from nearly 4 million visitors. The booming tourism industry can benefit both the locals and the tourists.

Jamaicans can set up shops for dining and shopping near tourist-heavy areas and the visitors can experience the local culture and interact with the locals. There is even a program in place called Meet the People that matches locals with tourists to spend time together based on similar interests.

Misrepresentation #3: Poverty is crippling Jamaica

More than 400,000 people in Jamaica live in poverty and 14,000 live in extreme poverty. That’s close to 15 percent of the country’s population who don’t have access to a decent way of survival. Although the percentage is not uplifting, it is far from the worst across all countries. Out of 164 countries, Jamaica ranks 119th on a scale of the percent of the population living below the poverty line. In comparison, the U.S. is ranked 126th.

Jamaica’s poverty concerns have to do with the country’s struggle to keep a consistent gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate. Jamaica’s GDP growth rate has fluctuated between .5 percent to 1.4 percent within the last few years, creating challenges for the poor. However, the growth rate is expected to rise significantly in 2018, creating a steady decline in the poverty rate through 2020.

Although some facts about Jamaica can’t be overlooked, grave information attached to those facts and how the media misrepresents Jamaica are skewed. Jamaica has grown into a thriving, middle-income country.

– Naomi C. Kellogg

Photo: Flickr

What is a Parliamentary System
Many in the United States may be aware that most Europe governments use a parliamentary system, but the question most are probably thinking is: what is a parliamentary system? More importantly, how is it different from the system used by the United States? Here are the answers to these questions and more.

 

Basics of a Parliamentary System

In terms of the U.S. system, a country’s parliament would serve as both its legislative and executive branches. The most important thing to know about parliamentary systems is that the political parties hold the power and not individuals. When citizens vote, their ballots list party names and when a party wins, seat allotment is assigned to party members based on seniority (in most cases).

When a party wins the majority of seats, it then selects a leader to serve as the executive called a Prime Minister or, in some cases, a Chancellor. This person will most likely already be the party leader and they then select their cabinet which sets the government’s agenda. If one party does not win the majority of seats in the parliament, then it must form a coalition with other parties to form a majority.

This process may take time, but it will eventually allow for the smoother passage of legislation.

 

One House or Two?

Many parliaments are bicameral, meaning it has two houses, while others may be unicameral, having only one house. In bicameral systems, there is a lower and an upper house, but most legislating actually takes place in the lower house.

The greatest difference between the two is the number of veto points or places where legislation can be halted within the legislative process. Unicameral systems have fewer veto points than bicameral systems making it easier and faster to pass legislation but also easier to overturn. Many parliamentary systems therefore adopt the bicameral system for stability.

 

Parliamentary vs. Presidential

In a parliamentary system, the executive is the Prime Minister while in a presidential system, the President is the executive. There are many differences between these two positions, but most notably, the Prime Minister and his/her cabinet arises from the legislature, while Presidents are directly elected by the people.

At first glance, many would then prefer a President because citizens choose him/her directly, yet many still prefer Prime Ministers.

First of all, they are beholden to their party, so their decisions are far more predictable than a President’s and voters know exactly what values they are voting for. This applies for all members of the legislature as well, not just the Prime Minister.

Parliamentary systems also entail the possibility for a vote of “no confidence” by the legislature which can remove a Prime Minister from power at any point if they lose the vote. Presidents, however, have fixed terms and cannot so easily be removed.

 

Success Rate

Citizens in the United States are very fond of the presidential system, yet in reality the success rate for parliamentary systems is far greater. The system has been a part of some European countries for centuries, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. When deciding which system to adopt, new countries must consider what is best for its country, and that may or may not be a parliamentary system.

– Megan Burtis

Photo: Flickr

Registration Drive in Costa Rica Opens New Opportunities
Migrating to Costa Rica from Panama for economic opportunities, many indigenous people are experiencing the consequences of lacking a state ID, specifically the Ngäbe-Buglé people of remote Costa Rica. Originally from Panama, many Ngäbe-Buglé have moved to Costa Rica in search of work, often as coffee farmers. The farmers and their families are deprived of any national healthcare as well as the opportunity to seek a secondary education without a valid ID.

For many, the lack of healthcare leads to preventable deaths. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an expectant mother, 23-year-old Teresa, suffered from leukemia that went undiagnosed because she lacked access to a medical center. Teresa soon found it difficult to walk and experienced frequent fainting.

However, thanks to the registration drive in Costa Rica by the Costa Rican and Panamanian Civil Registry Office, supported by the UNHCR, Teresa and the Ngäbe-Buglé people are receiving assistance with state registration, giving them access to hospitals and much-needed treatment.

For Teresa, this project saved her life as well as her baby’s. “I was fainting and I couldn’t even walk … They came to the house and helped me with the paperwork,” Teresa said, according to UNHCR. After becoming a citizen and being admitted to a hospital, Teresa received a bone marrow transplant as well as chemotherapy.

The outreach program, the Chiriticos Project, travels door-to-door, primarily targeting the Ngäbe-Buglé people during the harvesting season. The reason many Ngäbe-Buglé adults fail to obtain an ID is because they are unaware of the required steps and paperwork.

Often traveling by motorcycle or even on foot, the outreach workers aim to bridge the gap by guiding them through the process. According to UNHCR, about 15,000 Ngäbe-Buglé travel from Panama to Costa Rica without an ID. However, more than 3,600 people have received assistance with registering for an ID since 2014 thanks to the Chiriticos Project.

Chiriticos experience immense deprivation of opportunity in life. Parents often fail to register their child’s birth, making obtaining a birth certificate an overwhelming and nearly impossible feat later in life. Without a birth certificate, children are denied access to secondary schools and forced to return to farming, trapping them in an inescapable circle.

Another way that the UNHCR supports the registration drive is through its campaign #IBelong, which aims to eliminate statelessness by 2024. The campaign is supported by local authorities and assists indigenous people with obtaining an ID and providing legal aid.

One person who reaped the benefits of the registration drive in Costa Rica is 18-year-old mother Elida Andrade. According to The Costa Rica Star, Andrade’s parents, who moved to Costa Rica from Panama for work, never registered Elida’s birth. The effect of their decision was made clear when Andrade tried to enroll in a secondary school. Without a state ID, the state denied Elida access to grants, pushing the possibility of an advanced education out of reach.

The outreach project restored Andrade’s hope by helping her register for a birth certificate and opening the door to her potential education. “That day was one of the happiest days of my life. I now feel like a real Costa Rican,” Andrade said. She quickly registered her one-year-old son Pablo’s birth to prevent him from facing the same problem later in life.

Andrade, who plans on studying in the medical field, expressed her enthusiasm and appreciation for the registration drive in Costa Rica. “I will be the pride of my parents and my community. In the meantime, I will promote birth registration so that all my people can assert their rights. The future is ours,” Andrade said, according to The Costa Rica Star.

The registration drive in Costa Rica has unveiled a whole new realm of possibilities for some Ngäbe-Buglé people living in remote, poor areas. While providing a pathway to education for some, and opening access to medical care to others, the registration drive is essential for the wellbeing of the Ngäbe-Buglé.

However, according to UNHCR, more than 10 million people worldwide suffer from statelessness. Gaining citizenship is just another step to improve a nation’s most remote and poor areas.

– Austin Stoltzfus

Photo: Flickr

strongest democraciesFreedom House’s annual nonpartisan report on the state of global democracy, Freedom in the World, had grim findings in its newly released 2018 version. According to the report, 2017 marked the “twelfth consecutive year of decline in global freedom” in which civil liberties and political rights eroded in multiple democracies, both young and old.

That said, the focus in this post will be highlighting the world’s top 10 strongest democracies, moving from last to first, based on various economic and social factors:

  1. Uruguay
    Uruguay is known for its strong record on legal equality and social tolerance of minority groups. It has a strong economy, an informed populace and a national identity based on democratic freedoms rather than ethnicity. It is also highly regarded for its notable lack of government corruption, an issue that has long plagued other democratic nations in South America.
  1. Ireland
    Despite instances of corruption, Ireland has upheld its strong and stable democracy throughout the political turmoil of the past few years. Balanced and fair elections have maintained the country’s tradition of equal protections under the law, though Ireland could stand to dedicate more to foreign aid, giving just 0.33 percent of its Gross National Income (GNI) in 2016.
  1. Switzerland
    Notable as one of the only countries in the world to operate as a confederation, Switzerland follows a tradition of decentralizing power and allowing citizens to weigh in on government decisions through referendums, making the nation closer to a direct democracy than a representative one.  Switzerland has a long history of civil rights and political liberties, having been a democratic nation since 1848.
  1. Denmark
    A parliamentary representative democracy with open and fair elections, Denmark remained one of the world’s strongest democracies in 2017. Despite pressures following the 2015 migrant crisis, Denmark has maintained its core democratic structures. It has strong checks on power and corruption, a robust set of civil liberties for its citizens, and some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe.
  1. Australia
    Australia is widely recognized as a strong democratic system, with free and fair elections and a system of obligatory voting. The country encourages the sharing of powers, with a bicameral parliament designed to mitigate extreme divides between opposing views.
  1. New Zealand
    A nation that contains immense and stunning scenery, New Zealand is perhaps best known for its appearances in the popular Lord of the Rings movies and its thriving tourist industry. But the nation also possesses a thriving democracy. With regular elections and a system of checks on governmental abuse of power, New Zealand remains a destination for those who wish to combine epic scenery with the modern attributes of a prospering democracy. Its only shortcomings relate to combatting global poverty, as the country contributed just 0.25 percent of its GNI to foreign aid in 2016 despite strong economic growth.
  1. Finland
    Competition between multiple parties with diverse views, along with deep respect for the law and a resulting lack of corruption, made Finland one of the best democracies in 2017. It boasts a free press and independent judiciary that respects the political rights of citizens. It is above average in terms of foreign aid contributions, contributing 0.44 percent of its GNI to foreign aid in 2016, but could still improve in this regard.
  1. Canada
    A country recognized by its broad social welfare system and vast landscapes, Canada remains an admirable democratic society. A strong electoral system combined with governmental respect for diverse opinions among citizens has led to a solid and functioning country. Canada could do better in foreign aid, however, contributing only 0.26 percent of its GNI to helping less fortunate nations in 2016.
  1. Sweden
    A parliamentary monarchy with a robust and independent judiciary, Sweden remains one of the best multiparty political systems and one of the strongest democracies, incorporating the viewpoints of most members of society and benefitting from a respected judicial branch that largely upholds civil liberties. Sweden also contributes the most toward fighting global poverty among members of the United Nations, with 1.09 percent of its GNI going to foreign aid in 2016.
  1. Norway
    Despite the political and social turmoil that defined 2017, Norway preserved its status as one of the strongest democracies in the world. Norway sports strong protections for freedom of speech among its populace and has a civil society and independent media that is encouraged to critique the government and promote responsible behavior by public officials. Key to Norway’s success is its modest population, which makes it easier to represent all viewpoints in government and mitigate the societal divisions that plague larger countries. Norway also has done more than most democracies to address the issue of global poverty, contributing 1.1 percent of its GNI to foreign aid in 2016.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s democracy index found in its July 2017 report that democracy was in retreat across the globe, including in the United States, which is considered one of the world’s oldest and strongest democracies. It is important to examine the strongest democracies in the modern world in order to study how they have maintained strong systems of civil and political liberties, as well as what they are doing to improve other nations’ economic well-beings, a key foundation for democratic stability.

– Shane Summers

Photo: Wikimedia Commons