The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

A Discussion on Freedom


Written by Natasha Kieval, Programs Intern

Happy 4th of July! On this revered American holiday, we celebrate our independence from Great Britain. America is often called the “Land of the Free,” but the word “freedom” is often problematic – what exactly does it mean?

According to, freedom is “the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint.”

Freedom House derives its definition of freedom from assessing two categories: political rights and civil rights. Each year, it releases its “Freedom in the World” report, ranking each nation in the world as “free,” “partly free,” or “not free.” For methodology and more details on how these rankings are reached, click here.

The US is categorized as “free,” receiving the highest rankings in both the categories of political rights and civil rights. In these rankings, it is joined by many other countries, including Austria, Barbados, Estonia, and Norway.

Syria, in the middle of major conflict, was categorized as “not free” and given the worst possible ratings in both categories. Syria saw a “decline in freedom” this year, which Freedom House attributed to increased sectarian violence and targeted attacks on opposition Sunni Muslims.

Sudan was also given the worst possible ratings in both the civil and political rights categories, due to the “government’s elements of both radical Islamism and traditional military junta.” South Sudan was ranked slightly higher, but was also categorized as “not free.”

Freedom House also attributed Congo’s categorization as “not free” to its armed conflicts.

In contrast, Burma was one of the world’s countries that made the most gains in freedom. Though it is still classified as “not free,” the successful participation of the opposition party in national elections improved its rankings. Ethnic violence as well as repressive governmental actions prevent it from being classified as “partly free.” It now has better rankings than China in both the categories of political rights and civil rights.

Of our post-conflict areas, Cambodia and Rwanda were ranked not free, and Armenia and Bosnia were ranked partly free. Of our developing conflict areas, Mali and Russia were ranked not free, Turkey was ranked partly free, and Brazil was ranked free. Though in these places the risk of mass atrocity is low, other problems persist that are not addressed by this report.

What does this all mean? Personally, I’m not sure I completely agree with Freedom House’s rankings or definition. The US is not the perfect model of freedom, and to receive the best rankings with little critical discussion seems a little too idealistic. I also feel there are factors left out of the definition of freedom – social mobility and economic rights are just two things I would include in my definition. Societies that prioritize the wealthy and don’t allow for personal growth are not free in my mind, nor are nations that don’t strive towards equality and protection for all citizens, economically and politically.

What does freedom mean to you? We asked a few members of STAND:

To me, freedom is, and always will be a process rather than an end-goal.  There is always more work to be done and more ways to become more and more free.  Boiling lived experiences of entire nations to “free,” “partly free,” and “not free” can minimize the nuances of what it truly means to be free, not to mention how it implies sweeping generalizations and comparisons.  Political rights and civil liberties are certainly important when discussing freedom, but there are so many other dimensions that go into it.  Do social conventions inhibit or promote the political rights and civil liberties that exist in a society?  Does socioeconomic status?  Are people aware of these rights and liberties?  Designating a country as “free” makes it seem as though work is complete, when in fact it is always ongoing, even in nations that have perfect scores.”- Haley Aubuchon, Development Intern

“Liberation from oppressive systems including those that privilege a few and marginalize most and a realization of complex human security in the context of a positive peace.” – Sean Langberg, Education Coordinator

“Freedom, in it’s purest form, is a lack of all types of oppression from hierarchies of power in conjunction with a societal effort to level inequalities and provide the conditions for individuals to pursue the way in which the wish to live.” – Danny Hirschel-Burns, Policy Coordinator

Do you have thoughts on the meaning of freedom? Or an opinion on the Freedom House report? Feel free to write something and email us at

To see the full report, visit the Freedom House website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>