The pro-democracy group Freedom House says in an annual report on global freedom that the number of countries ranked as free has risen to 90, but about 27 nations have suffered significant setbacks.
Wednesday's report titled "Freedom in the World 2013" notes that political and civil liberties improved in Libya and Egypt, but declined in Russia and Nigeria.
Striking Gains in Libya
The Freedom House assessment indicates Libya registered one of the most striking gains for freedom. The report said that while under Moammar Gadhafi, Libya ranked among the world's worst tyrannies for decades, but recorded major gains last year, especially on political rights indicators. It said, however, that Libya continues to suffer from insecurity and a lack of clear government control over many parts of its territory, a problem compounded by the actions of autonomous local militias and radical Islamists.
Larry Diamond, a professor and senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, said during a discussion Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington that it is premature to call Libya a democracy.
"Political order is still so fragile there," he said. "The command by the state over the means of violence is still so inadequate that I think state building remains a major challenge. And until the militias can be reined in and the authority of the democratically elected state now, Freedom House judges, can be firmly established, there's still tremendous fragility and vulnerability in the unfolding story in Libya."
Modest Progress in Egypt
Freedom House said Egypt experienced relatively modest progress, holding a flawed but competitive presidential election. Researchers also noted the end of direct military rule in the Middle Eastern country, but added the elected parliament was dissolved and that President Mohamed Morsi pushed through a new constitution under deeply problematic circumstances.
Freedom House said that since the reelection of President Vladimir Putin, Russia's government has moved to stifle free expression and public protest. The pro-democracy group noted that since Mr. Putin returned to the presidency, he has enacted a series of laws meant to squelch a burgeoning societal opposition.
'Freefall' of Rights in Russia
Arch Puddington, vice president for research at Freedom House, said during the Wednesday discussion that the Eurasia region has steadily declined over the past decade. He said the region as a whole has been in what he called "freefall," led by Russia.
"Russia has set the tone for the other countries in the region, has acted as the model for those countries, has implemented laws that have then been copied by other countries, both in Eurasia and other parts of the world to restrict civil society, restrict the press," he said.
Regarding Africa, Freedom House said the continent's sub-Saharan area ranked as the world's most politically volatile region, noting significant declines in the situation in Mali. The report said Mali was once seen as a model African democracy, but was battered by a reinvigorated Tuareg which triggered a coup against the elected government.
Elsewhere, Freedom House said Burma continued to move forward with a process of democratic reform launched in 2010, and that Burma recorded improvements in both its political rights and civil liberties ratings. It said freedoms of expression and association have improved markedly in the past two years but depend more on current government policy than deep institutional changes. Freedom House noted the conflicts in Burma involving the military and ethnic minority militias.
On Latin America, Freedom House's Puddington said a major story has been the coming of the post-Chavez era, referring to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is hospitalized in Cuba for cancer treatment. Puddington said the end of the Chavez era may bring change for the better because it may have an impact "on the constellation of countries run by demagogic left-wing presidents who have followed in Chavez's footsteps."