Freedom House is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Washington, D.C. that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights. It publishes an annual report assessing the degree of perceived democratic freedoms in each country, which is used in political science research.
The organization was founded in October 1941, and Wendell Willkie and Eleanor Roosevelt served as its first honorary chairpersons. Freedom House describes itself as “a clear voice for democracy and freedom around the world.” The group states “American leadership in international affairs is essential to the cause of human rights and freedom” and that this can primarily be achieved through the group’s “analysis, advocacy, and action”.
Human Rights activists have denounced Freedom House for being a political instrument used by hawkish circles in the United States to put pressure on countries that do not behave according to their standards.
The Financial Times has reported that Freedom House is one of several organizations selected by the State Department to receive funding for ‘clandestine activities’ inside Iran.
On June 8, 2006, the vice-chairman of Freedom House’s board of trustees asked the U.S. Senate to increase the share of NGO funding aimed at helping support non-violent foreign democratic activists organize for potential overthrows of their non-democratic governments. Palmer argued in favor of shifting funding away from NGOs working in already democratic nations to fund this effort.
On December 7, 2004, U.S. House Representative Ron Paul criticized Freedom House for allegedly administering a U.S.-funded program in Ukraine where “much of that money was targeted to assist one particular candidate.” Paul said that:
“one part that we do know thus far is that the U.S. government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), granted millions of dollars to the Poland-America-Ukraine Cooperation Initiative (PAUCI), which is administered by the U.S.-based Freedom House. PAUCI then sent U.S. Government funds to numerous Ukrainian non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This would be bad enough and would in itself constitute meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation. But, what is worse is that many of these grantee organizations in Ukraine are blatantly in favor of presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko.”
Cuban, Sudanese and Chinese criticism
In May 2001, the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations of the United Nations heard arguments for and against Freedom House. Representatives of Cuba alleged that the organization is a U.S. foreign policy instrument linked to the CIA and “submitted proof of the politically motivated, interventionist activities the NGO (Freedom House) carried out against their Government”. They also claimed a lack of criticism of U.S. human rights violations in the annual reports. Cuba also claimed that these violations are well documented by other reports, such as those of Human Rights Watch. Other countries such as China and Sudan also gave criticism. The Russian representative inquired “why this organization, an NGO which defended human rights, was against the creation of the International Criminal Court.”
Critics such as Cuba have criticized the organization alleged political biases, Noam Chomsky has criticised Freedom House for receiving funding from and allegedly furthering the interests of the U.S. government.
The United States representative claimed that alleged links between Freedom House and the CIA were “simply not true.” The representative said he agreed that the NGO receives funds from the United States Government, but said this is disclosed in its reports.
James Woolsey, chairman of the Freedom House, and a former director of the CIA, claimed Russia was becoming an increasingly fascist state, and that Russian administration under incumbent president Putin (2000–2008) was behaving “like a fascist government”. He added, “Mr. Putin and his movement toward fascism in Russia are on the wrong side of history. They are not going to succeed, they may hold on for some time in trying to undermine the democratic revolutions near Russia and in these adjoining states, and they may be partially successful here and there, but ultimately they will lose.”
Russia, identified by Freedom House as “Not Free”, called Freedom House biased and accused the group of serving U.S. interests. Sergei Markov, a Duma deputy from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, called Freedom House a “Russophobic” organization. “You can listen to everything they say, except when it comes to Russia,” Markov argued. “There are many Russophobes there,” he asserted.
Professor of Political Science Daniel Treisman from University of California has criticised Freedom House’s assessment of Russia:
At a minimum, an acceptable cross-national rating of democracies should be able to distinguish between the kind of system in Russia and government by a federation of dynastic monarchies free from any checks whatsoever, as in the United Arab Emirates. This rules out the Freedom House index.—Daniel Treisman
U.S. domestic criticism
MIT Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky, University of Pennsylvania Professor Emeritus Edward S. Herman, and some nations have criticized the organization for receiving funding from and allegedly furthering the interests of the U.S. government. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, in their book Manufacturing Consent, wrote that in 1979 Freedom House monitored the election of Ian Smith in Rhodesia and found them “fair”, but found the 1980 elections won by Mugabe under British supervision “dubious”. Chomsky and Herman further write that the group’s history has been characterized as excessively criticizing states opposed to US interests and unduly sympathetic to those regimes supportive of US interests. The authors suggest this can be most notably seen by the way it perceived the US ally El Salvador in the early 1980s, a regime that used the army for mass slaughter of the populace to intimidate them in the run up to an “election”, but Freedom House found these elections to be “admirable”.
Noam Chomsky further claimed in 1988 that Freedom House “had interlocks with AIM, the World Anticommunist League, Resistance International, and U.S. government bodies such as Radio Free Europe and the CIA, and has long served as a virtual propaganda arm of the (U.S) government and international right wing.” He justifies this claim by presenting a series of national elections that he claims were staged and that the Freedom House observers praised. He also criticizes Freedom House’s claimed expenditure of “substantial resources in criticizing the media for insufficient sympathy with U.S. foreign-policy ventures and excessively harsh criticism of U.S. client states.” Chomsky further argues that “Its most notable publication of this genre was Peter Braestrup’s The Big Story, which contended that the media’s negative portrayal of the Tet offensive helped lose the war. The work is a travesty of scholarship, but more interesting is its premise: that the mass media not only should support any national venture abroad, but should do so with enthusiasm, such enterprises being by definition noble.”
Craig Murray, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004, wrote that the executive director of Freedom House told him in 2003 that the group decided to back off from its efforts to spotlight human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, because some Republican board members (in Murray’s words) “expressed concern that Freedom House was failing to keep in sight the need to promote freedom in the widest sense, by giving full support to U.S. and coalition forces.” Human rights abuses in Uzbekistan at the time included treatment of prisoners who were killed by “immersion in boiling liquid,” and by strapping on a gas mask and blocking the filters, Murray reported.
Freedom House Board Of Trustees:
William H. Taft IV, Chair (William H. Taft IV is decendant of William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States. His long service in government includes serving as the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO, and as chief legal advisor to the State Department.)
Ruth Wedgwood, Vice-Chair
Thomas A. Dine, Vice-Chair
Walter Schloss, Treasurer
John Norton Moore, Secretary, Governance & Ethics Officer
Max Kampelman, Chairman Emeritus
Bette Bao Lord, Chairman Emeritus
Susan J. Bennett
James H. Carter
Kim G. Davis
Paula J. Dobriansky
Alan P. Dye
Rebecca G. Haile
D. Jeffrey Hirschberg
Kenneth I. Juster
Kathryn Dickey Karol
Theodore N. Mirvis
Faith P. Morningstar
Diana Villiers Negroponte
Lisa B. Nelson
Richard S. Williamson
Wendell Willkie II
Jennifer L. Windsor
Richard N. Winfield
Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky & Edward S. Herman