Accountability and Transparency: Country Studies — Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status: Not Free. Freedom Ranking: 5.5; Political Rights: 6; Civil Liberties 5.



In modern times, most of present-day Kazakhstan was part of the Russian empire until the Russian Revolution overthrew the Tsars in 1917. An independent republic was briefly formed, but the Bolshevik Red Army gained control of the territory in 1920 and Kazakhstan was incorporated into the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. After the Soviet Union was formed, it was made a separate autonomous Soviet republic in 1925 and a full republic in 1936. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, Kazakhstan declared its independence, however it retained close ties to the Russian Federation as a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Recently, Kazakhstan was one of four former Soviet republics to join the Eurasian Union, established by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a counter-force to the European Union.

Since 1991, Kazakhstan has been ruled by a single leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the republic’s former Communist first secretary. As president, Nazarbayev replaced the former Communist dictatorship with an increasingly authoritarian one. Under the constitution, the president has full control over the government, the legislature, the courts, and elections. Genuine opposition parties and independent media have been suppressed; independent trade unions are illegal; and most social or civic organizations are controlled by the government. Freedom House has ranked Kazakhstan as “not free” since 1994.

Kazakhstan is the world's ninth-largest country in area, at 2.7 million square kilometers (about one-third the size of the United States), and has the second longest land-border in the world (with Russia at 4,254 miles). Kazakhstan is also one of the world’s least densely populated, with only 17.5 million people (2016 estimate). During the Soviet period, heavy Russian migration made ethnic Kazakhs a minority in their own country. Since independence many ethnic Russians returned to Russia, and today the population is 64 percent ethnic Kazakh. Most of the population lives in large industrial cities, built up during the Soviet period. Rich in resources, Kazakhstan has the tenth-highest reserves of oil and gas in the world and leads the world in uranium production. In 2014, it had a nominal GDP of around $217 billion, ranked 47th in the world according to International Monetary Fund (IMF). In nominal GDP per capita measurement for 2015, Kazakhstan ranked 60th (at $11,028 per year), a decline from previous years. In addition to having a high level of repression, Kazakhstan is highly corrupt. It is ranked 131st in the world out of 176 countries in Transparency International's 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index.


Kazakhstan, a vast land of mountains and desert, was populated starting in 8000–10,000 BC by pastoralists and nomads. The earliest state in Kazakhstan was the Oghuz Turkish Kaganate, which was established in the sixth century AD. For the most part, however, Kazakh territory was under foreign domination. Arab invasions from the 8th to the 11th centuries led to the adoption of Sunni Islam as the dominant religion. After the invasion of Genghis Khan between 1219 and 1221, the Mongols introduced more formal territorial boundaries and administrative structures (khanates) to facilitate the payment of tributes. Both Turkic and Uzbek clans maintained these structures under succeeding khanates.

Russian Conquest, Soviet Domination

Russia exerted control over Kazakh territory starting in the 18th century and Kazakhstan was made part of the Russian Empire in the mid–19th century into the Russian Empire. An independent Kazakh state was established following the Russian Revolution in 1917 but was short lived. The Bolshevik Red Army reconquered the territory fully in 1920 and Kazakhstan was incorporated into the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic in 1920. It became an autonomous republic in 1925 and then a full Soviet Socialist Republic in 1936.

In the period of Sovietization and collectivization, an estimated 3 million people starved to death and 1.5 million Kazakhs fled to Mongolia and China. In addition to sending millions of people to forced labor in Gulag camps and forced exile on Kazakh territory, the Soviet government encouraged Russian immigration to Kazakhstan as part of an industrialization program to take advantage of the Republic's large coal deposits. Huge industrial cities were established around coal and steel production in order to create a "working class" in territory previously dominated by agriculture. The largest city, Karaganda, is considered to be one of the most polluted and environmentally dangerous cities in the world. The Soviets also used Kazakhstan for most of its nuclear testing in the Semipalatinsk region: a total of 752 nuclear tests, 152 aboveground, were carried out between 1948 and 1989. A massive space and nuclear missile launching site was also established at Baikonur, located in south-central Kazakhstan, which was the site of the Sputnik launch and still launches Russian and international spaceships. Under Stalin's iron-fisted rule, many non-Kazakhs were resettled in Kazakhstan (such as prisoners released from the Gulag labor camps and ethnic groups of non-Kazakh origin that were forcibly relocated to the territory). By 1991, ethnic Russians were a majority of Kazakhstan's population. Initially, this period of change saw the rise of new and independent political parties, trade unions, and independent media . . . but the democratic movement was not as strong as in the Baltic States or other [Soviet] republics.

Independence Without Freedom

As in other Soviet republics, Popular Front organizations arose in different cities in Kazakhstan to press for democratic change and greater sovereignty in the late 1980s, but the pro-democracy movement was not as strong as in the Baltic States or other countries (see, for example, Estonia Country Study). In Supreme Soviet elections held in March 1990, 342 of 360 seats went to members of the Communist Party. Still, public demands and events in the rest of the Soviet Union led the Supreme Soviet to declare Kazakhstan’s sovereignty in October 1990. It selected the first secretary of the Communist Party, Nursultan Nazarbayev, as the republic’s president. After the failure of a coup in Moscow in August 1991, the process of the Soviet Union’s collapse was swift. Nazarbayev arranged an uncontested election for president of Kazakhstan in December 1, 1991, just before the USSR’s formal dissolution. The Kazakhstan Supreme Soviet then formally issued a declaration of independence on December 16. The Constitutional Law recognized Nazarbayev as its President.

Initially, this period of change saw the rise of new and independent political parties, trade unions, and independent media, but operating under authority of the new state’s Constitutional Law and then a temporary constitution adopted in 1993, President Nazarbayev consolidated control over the state’s inherited security services (the old KGB), the military, the economy (especially newly discovered oil and gas fields), and political structures.

In foreign policy, Kazakhstan was an original member of the Commonwealth of Independent States formed in late December 1991 by eleven former Soviet republics. Since then, it has hewed closely to the Russian Federation in its foreign policies. In 1993, Nazarbayev signed the Budapest Memorandum in which Ukraine and Kazakhstan agreed to the removal of all nuclear weapons and weapons material in exchange for guarantees of territorial integrity. In 2014, it was one of three other countries to join the Russian Federation’s Eurasian Union.

Accountability and Transparency

The people and territory of Kazakhstan were under foreign domination for much of its history before being incorporated into the Russian empire and then the Soviet Union. Since independence, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a former Communist leader, has systematically replaced the old Soviet dictatorship with an autocracy in which his absolute power goes unchallenged. Accountability and transparency are lacking at all levels. In contrast to Botswana and the Philippines, Kazakhstan has no institutional safeguards against corruption or abuse of power.

Elections and the Constitution’s constitution establishes an absolute presidency without any checks or balances on power. . . . [T]he president himself must approve any modification of the constitution for it to take effect.

Kazakhstan's first parliamentary elections after independence were held in March 1994 under a temporary constitution adopted a year earlier that gave the president essential control over the government, the Central Election Commission, and judiciary. The president’s Party of People’s Unity of Kazakhstan won a plurality of seats, but other parties and “independents” allied to the president gave him dominance over a unicameral parliament, now called the Mazhilis. Pro-democratic parties boycotted the elections due to unfair conditions and lack of transparency.  International observers declared that the elections did not meet international standards.

A new constitution was approved in a referendum conducted in August 1995. By then, the president’s powers were clear. Another staged referendum held earlier in the year had already extended his term to the year 2000. Kazakhstan's constitution establishes an absolute presidency without any real checks or balances on power. The president has the power to appoint and dismiss without parliament’s consent all members of the government as well as all judges and senior court officials. He can also dismiss the parliament at any time. To make Nazarbayev's powers complete, the president himself must approve any modification of the constitution for it to take effect (one amendment was to formally identify Nazarbayev as “father of the nation”). In September 2002, Nazarbayev created the position of human rights ombudsman, but he is not authorized to investigate complaints concerning the president, parliament, cabinet, prosecutor’s office, Central Electoral Commission, or the courts.

The president appoints (and can dismiss) all members of the Central Electoral Commission, thereby ensuring control over the electoral process. President Nazarbayev himself heads the governing party, now called Nur Otan (“Fatherland’s Ray of Light”). The 2004 parliamentary elections established near complete control over the Mazhilis, now with 107 seats (only one seat went to a non-presidential party). In May 2007 elections, which were called ahead of schedule, the threshold required for entering parliament was raised to 7 percent, which no other parties reached. Nur Otan won 88 percent of the vote and all seats (a stipulation in the constitution requiring opposition parties in parliament was ignored). It has also secured all seats to the Senate, a second legislative chamber established in the 1995 Constitution, now with 47 members chosen through indirect elections.

In similar fashion, Nazarbayev has “won” every presidential election since 1991. Only token opposition has been allowed and any real opposition candidates have had their campaigns highly restricted or repressed. Nazarbayev declined the parliament’s “offer” to be named “president-for-life” in 2009, but then had the constitution changed to eliminate term limits. Snap presidential elections in 2011 for another five-year term for Nazarbayev resulted in a Soviet-like 96 percent favorable vote.

A clear example of how power is wielded was Nazarbayev’s decision to move the capital in 1998 from its major city, Almaty, to a city renamed Astana (meaning “capital” or “governing city”) in a remote area with few transportation services. The parliament approved the president’s desire without any debate. The ostensible reason for this costly move was to remove political decisions further away from public scrutiny. addition to having a high level of repression, Kazakhstan is also considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world. . .

Civil Society Under Control

There are few independent non-governmental organizations (NGOs) willing to criticize the regime. Most civic or social organizations are generally known as GONGOs (Government Organized Non-Government Organizations). Among the few critical NGOs are the Kazakhstan Bureau for Human Rights and Transparency Kazakhstan (the Kazakh chapter of Transparency International), which have provided thorough reports on both human rights abuses and the rampant corruption that pervades the regime (see Resources for links to their web sites). As a result, both organizations are under the constant threat of deregistration and surveillance, and its members face arrest. In 2009, Evgeniy Zhovtis, the director of the Bureau for Human Rights, was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment on dubious charges of vehicular manslaughter stemming from a car accident. International human rights organizations determined that the court process was seriously flawed and that Zhovtis was denied the right to defend himself. After serving two-and-a-half years in prison, Zhovtis was granted amnesty and released, but his civil rights remain curtailed.

Freedom of association for workers is guaranteed by law but not in practice. The largest trade union federation is the successor to the old communist federation and cooperates fully with the government and governing party. Independent unions arose in the early 1990s, especially in large industries like mining, but were weakened by lack of resources and repression. Today, worker actions tend to be organized spontaneously, without a formal structure. The government similarly tightened controls, already strict, on the registration of religious organizations following several 2011 bomb blasts that the government blamed on religious extremists. Most “non-traditional” religions, namely those outside Sunni Muslim practice, are not allowed to practice freely.

Transparency Is Nonexistent

The constitution also provides for freedoms of speech and the press, but in practice the media are tightly controlled by the government. There was development of independent media in the late 1980s and early 1990s, first under the Soviet policy of perestroika and then in the early period of independence, when there was not yet institutionalized repression. At that point, television and radio frequencies were limited in favor of private companies that were allied to the government. The largest independent newspapers were bought and taken over. A holding company controlled by Nazarbayev’s family ended up owning the largest newspaper, television, and radio.  The state-controlled or -influenced media outlets avoid criticism of the ruling party or the president. The country's remaining independent and opposition media outlets faced harassment while journalists faced fines or imprisonment. Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch all report numerous cases of independent journalists facing physical attack, arrest, and libel suits for bringing to light issues of corruption and abuses of power or reporting on such events as the Zhanaozen worker protests (see Current Issues below).

Corruption, Human Rights, and International Legitimacy

In general, the economy, dominated by oil and gas production, is controlled by a network of clans tied to President Nazarbayev, who has built a vast financial empire of money-making enterprises around family members. Nazarbayev regularly purges members of the economic elite who attempt to use their wealth to maneuver for power, including a son-in-law. Nearly all agreements involving the government, including all energy agreements, require bribes. One confirmation of the government’s corrupt practices has come from Akezhan Kazhegeldin, Kazakhstan's former prime minister who resigned in 1997 and later went into exile. He has alleged that direct payments were received by Nazarbayev and other officials from Western energy companies and that Nazarbayev and other top officials maintain secret Swiss bank accounts to hide and siphon off money from the government. Independent journalist Sergei Duvanov, who had exposed details of the “Khazakhgate scandal,” was arrested in 2002 on trumped-up charges of rape. He was found guilty without any evidence and sentenced to a three-and-a-half year prison term. Duvanov was released on parole in 2004 after serving over a year of his jail term, but his civil liberties remain curtailed. Nazarbayev has, through both domestic and foreign policy maneuvering, effectively muted any ramifications from the case and thwarted a domestic investigation. In 2010, a constitutional amendment was passed protecting the property and assets of himself and his family and granting immunity from any charges of wrongdoing.

Nazarbayev has escaped much international scrutiny regarding corruption or his government’s dictatorial record. In the fall of 2006, for example, he was granted a state visit to the United States by President George W. Bush. Nazarbayev was given an even higher mark of legitimacy when Kazakhstan was awarded the rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for 2010, a clear sign that the OSCE had diminished the importance of human rights in making its decisions.

Current Issues

In the past five years, the Nazarbayev regime has responded to protests, independent political activity, and independent reporting with continued repression. One case is indicative. Vadim Kuramshin, a prison rights activist, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in December 2012 after violating travel restrictions imposed as part of an earlier release from a one-year sentence. He had challenged the restrictions to attend an international human rights conference where he delivered a speech critical of the government. According to Freedom House, in March 2013, he was transferred to the same facility he had most criticized for mistreatment of prisoners in his reports, the Petropavlovsk maximum security labor camp.

A serious protest occurred in May 2011, when several thousand oil workers went on strike in the city of Zhanaozen to protest low wages and poor working conditions. Workers there and in other cities carried out ongoing protests through December of that year. At that point, internal security forces attacked protesters and at least 15 persons were killed. The government declared a state of emergency in the region, journalists were arrested and independent media outlets shut down, and there was a large increase in web sites being blocked on the internet. Dozens of leaders and supporters of the strike were tried and sentenced. In March 2013, the government introduced a new labor code that restricted registration of independent unions. Despite these actions, independent worker organizations stemming from the strikes have joined with others to create a trade union information agency.

Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the opposition political party Algha (Forward), went to Zhanaozen to investigate independently the protests and charges of human rights violations. After reporting on his findings to European Parliament members, he was arrested on his return, tried, and sentenced to seven and one-half years in prison for “inciting social hatred,” advocating the “overthrow of the constitutional order,” and leading a “criminal organization.” After his sentence, the courts banned Algha and another party, People’s Front, from participating in the 2012 parliamentary elections.

In those elections, held in January 2012, two other parties, Ak Zhol and the Communist Party, were allowed to surpass the 7 percent threshold and gained 15 of the 98 directly elected seats (the remaining nine seats are reserved for ethnic communities). Both parties are what may be called part of the “controlled opposition” and collaborate openly with Nur Otan, which claimed 80 percent of the vote and retained 83 seats. In 2015, responding to “spontaneous” calls from “the people,” Nazarbayev again held elections ahead of schedule, on April 26, and received an even higher percentage of the vote than in 2011, 97.5 percent. The two “opposition” candidates from Ak Zhol and the Communist Party both endorsed Nazarbayev.

Accountability and Transparency: Country Studies - Philippines

 Philippines Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status: Partly Free. Freedom Ranking: 3; Political Rights: 3; Civil Liberties: 3. 



 The Philippines, a large archipelago country in the South Pacific, was under Spanish colonial rule for more than 300 years until the establishment of the First Philippine Republic in 1898 following the Spanish-American War.  President McKinley, however, suppressed the Republic and imposed a US administration by force. The US Congress granted the Philippines self-administration and autonomy in 1916 and made it a commonwealth before World War II. After liberation from Japanese occupation, the Philippines gained full independence in 1946 and instituted a constitutional democracy. But in 1972, Fernando Marcos imposed martial law and the country suffered 14 years under a corrupt and repressive dictatorship. The People Power Revolution of 1986 forced Marcos from power and a new constitution was quickly adopted re-establishing electoral democracy.

The constitution establishes a presidential system with a bicameral legislature and an independent judiciary. The president is elected to a single six-year term in office. The House of Representatives has 290 members who serve three-year terms, with 234 chosen directly by district and 54 by party list. The Senate has 24 members elected to six-year terms in national elections, half chosen in each three-year election cycle. After two disastrously corrupt administrations from 1998 to 2010, Benigno Aquino III won presidential elections in 2010 on a decisive platform to clean up government. The Philippines has earned an improved score and freedom rating in Freedom House’s Survey of Freedom, but it remains in the “partly free” category. The Philippines has also significantly improved its ranking in Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perceptions index (101st out of 176 countries, up from 141st in 2008 and 105th in 2012).

The Philippines, made up of 7,107 islands, is the 72nd largest country in the world with a total area 300,000 square kilometers. Total population is nearly 103 million, with the biggest and most populous islands being Luzon in the north and Mindanao in the south. Ethnicity is highly diverse but the majority of Filipinos are Catholic (85 percent). Muslims, living mostly on Mindanao, account for 5 to 10 percent of the population. The Philippines averaged more than 5 percent growth in GDP over the previous decade, making it among the fastest growing economies in the world. In 2015, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) ranked the country 39th in the world in nominal GDP with around $275 billion in total economic output. By Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, the Philippines ranking is worse, 121st in the world at $2,950 per annum, indicating a continued high level of economic disparity within the population.



The first inhabitants on the islands of the Philippines arrived approximately 30,000 years ago from Borneo and Sumatra. They are considered the ancestors to aboriginal Filipinos. Other settlers arrived from Indonesia (the Nesiots), southern China (Austronesians), and Malaysia, among other regions. Initially, Philippines tribes formed city-states (known as barangay) of freemen ruled by a chief. Many barangays were subjugated in varying degrees to different Indian and Bornean empires in the first millennium. Starting in the 13th century AD, the Chinese Ming Empire dominated the island chain. In 1380, the first Islamic missionary, Makhdum Kharim, arrived on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.  

Spanish Conquest 

Ferdinand Magellan landed in the Philippines in 1521 and claimed the islands for Spain. In 1565, Spain formally declared the Philippines a colony after defeating the army of the King of Cebu. The Spanish conquered Manila on the island of Luzon in 1570–71. Subsequently, King Phillip II sent hundreds of missionaries to convert the population to Christianity and to teach Spanish, which was imposed as the official language. Under Spanish rule, the Philippines became an important trading center, particularly the area around Manila, due to its favorable harbor. The Philippines, however, remained largely agricultural. Slavery and peonage were introduced in the Spanish-controlled estates. 

Victorious Japanese troops in the Philippines during WWII

Wars and Independence 

Spanish colonial administration in the Philippines weakened as its empire collapsed over the course of the 19th century. When the US government declared war on Spain in 1898 in support of Cuban independence, US troops fought Spanish forces throughout Spain’s remaining territories, including Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Spanish forces, already driven from many of its positions due to Filipino insurrection, withdrew from the Philippines in mid-1898. In the Treaty of Paris ending the Spanish-American War, the US agreed to pay Spain $20 million for the island territories.

Filipino leaders who had fought against colonial rule declared independence, forming the First Philippine Republic, but President William McKinley refused to recognize the government and imposed a US administration with limited self-government. A guerrilla war broke out in 1899 against US troops that resulted in more than 200,000 deaths from conflict, famine, and disease. The war formally ended with a Peace Proclamation in July 1902, but hostilities continued on a smaller scale until 1913, when President Woodrow Wilson declared the US government's intention to establish self-government in the Philippines. The Autonomy Act of 1916 passed by Congress provided for an elected national assembly for the Philippines. In 1935, the Philippines became a commonwealth, but the process for establishing independence was interrupted by the Japanese occupation beginning in late 1941. 

A strong Philippine-American friendship was forged as an indigenous army fought side by side with US forces to defeat the Japanese occupation. After heavy lobbying, Filipino leaders succeeded in convincing the US Congress to grant formal independence to the archipelago in 1946, although with specific economic conditions limiting trade competition with the US. The Philippines declared its full sovereignty and established a constitutional democracy. remarkably peaceful “People Power” revolution is celebrated in the Philippines in a national holiday and stands as a model worldwide for how citizens can overthrow dictatorship and take back their government through non-violent means.

Independence, Dictatorship, and People Power 

Free elections were held in the Philippines without interruption from 1946 until 1972, with a wide range of political parties. But high levels of corruption, a high concentration of wealth, and ethnic conflict weakened democratic institutions. In 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law near the end of his term. He imprisoned his opponents, restricted political liberties, and established a personal dictatorship that lasted a total of 14 years. During this time, he and his wife Imelda plundered many billions of dollars and encouraged a general culture of corruption within all levels of government, the economy, and society. 

In 1981, Marcos lifted martial law as a precondition for a visit by Pope John Paul II. The visit opened up greater space for the political opposition, which gained greater public support after the 1983 assassination of the opposition’s most prominent leader, Benigno Aquino. A government commission blamed the assassination on military rogues planning a coup, but evidence suggested that the murder was committed on Marcos’s orders. 

In early 1986, sensing that political support for his rule was weakening, Marcos called a snap presidential election well before the end of his scheduled term. The government election commission declared Marcos the victor with highly improbable figures. An independent electoral observation group accredited by the government known as NAMFREL declared the opposition candidate, Corazon Aquino, the wife of the slain opposition leader, the winner with 52 percent of the vote. Massive demonstrations broke out that were publicly supported by the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Jaime Sin. When Marcos ordered the defense minister and the head of the police and armed forces to suppress the demonstrations, the two resigned their posts and declared their support for Aquino. As military units defected to the opposition, two million people filled the streets to demand recognition of Aquino’s election victory. Rival inaugurations were held on February 26, but Marcos fled the country the same day after US officials publicly encouraged him to resign. The “People Power” revolution is celebrated in the Philippines in a national holiday and stands as a model worldwide for how citizens can overthrow dictatorship and take back their government through non-violent means. 

Accountability and Transparency 

The issue of accountability and transparency in the Philippines is interwoven in its post-independence history and especially in the people’s struggles over the last thirty years to overcome the Marcos dictatorship. Part of the difficulty lies in the Philippines’ constitutional tradition that limits presidential terms and thus the possibility of establishing longer-term political stability. The main difficulty, however, was the embedded nature of the corruption instituted under the Marcos dictatorship at all levels of administration. Corruption was a tool both for Marcos maintaining power and for personal enrichment (both Marcoses amassed billions of dollars in foreign bank accounts, only some of which was found and returned). A second impediment was the entrenched repressive practices of the police and army in serving the dominant political authority. Establishing accountability and transparency has not been a simple matter. After two successful democratic presidencies, the next president was forced from office by public protest due to corruption, while his successor became mired in a series of corruption scandals and faced three impeachment proceedings. Only in the administration of President Benigno Aquino III (2010-2016) have endemic corruption and police and army abuses been more seriously addressed, but recent elections threaten to undermine those gains (see Current Issues).  

Democratic Rebirth 

President Corazon Aquino, who represented the democratic opposition coalition of her late husband, oversaw the Philippines’ democratic rebirth. She restored the previous constitution, its democratic institutions, and the basic mechanisms for public accountability. She struggled, however, to reduce endemic corruption within government and the security services and was challenged by the resumption of a range of separatist, religious, and ideological insurgencies in the south and north that had emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s. These had festered during the Marcos era and resumed violent resistance during Aquino’s administration. 

Aquino was not allowed to run for re-election but she surprised the public by breaking with her own party to endorse Fidel Ramos, the candidate of Lakas-National Union of Christian Democrats (Lakas means “people power”), an historical party reconstituted after 1986. Ramos’s defection as head of the police and army under Marcos had been widely credited with helping the 1986 revolution succeed. He then served President Aquino as military chief of staff and defense minister. In these positions, he showed loyalty to the new democratic regime by foiling several coup plots against Aquino. In the 1992 election, Ramos won the office of presidency with just a 23 percent plurality against five opponents, nevertheless he undertook significant economic reforms, granted amnesty to armed insurgents, and achieved tentative agreements with a communist rebellion in the north and an Islamic rebel movement in Mindanao in the south.[F]or the second time   . . . a popular movement against a corrupt leader brought down a government. . . . The events highlighted the ability of citizens to hold their leaders accountable, but they also showed the difficulty democratic institutions have had in addressing systemic corruption.  

Corruption vs. People Power II 

The next administrations, however, were less successful and showed how easily both incompetence and corruption could significantly impede democratic progress. Joseph Estrada, an actor-turned-politician, had won the vice presidency in 1992 running against Ramos’s running mate — the vice presidency was competed for separately. From this position, Ramos won the June 1998 presidential election, but again voters chose a vice president from an opposing party, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a member of a prominent political family who succeeded Ramos as head of Lakas-NUCD. Estrada's tenure was marked by high inflation, low growth, the resumption of the insurgencies, and rampant corruption. In October 2000, Estrada was accused on a wide range of corruption charges (including taking bribes, profiting from illicit gambling, and plundering the state coffers), prompting House impeachment proceedings and a trial by the Senate. 

When the trial panel refused to consider crucial evidence — indicating its intent to acquit Ramos — another People Power movement emerged in January 2001. Two million people again filled the streets to demand Estrada’s ouster and he was forced to resign. For the second time in 14 years, a popular movement brought down a government, in this case a democratically-elected one. The events highlighted the ability of citizens to hold leaders accountable, but also showed the difficulty democratic institutions have had in addressing systemic corruption. Those institutions were challenged again by the new president. 

Sunshine Turns to Political Storm 

Estrada was succeeded by Vice President Arroyo. Immediately, she put together a “Sunshine Coalition” with two other major parties, the National People's Coalition and the Liberal Party. Ending the corruption of the Estrada years was put at the top of the political agenda. A number of high-level officials were investigated and prosecuted, including former President Estrada (he remained in detention during a six-year court battle until being convicted in 2007). Arroyo also undertook a campaign to end widespread tax-evasion by private businesses. But the Sunshine Coalition divided when Arroyo decided to run for president in the regularly scheduled May 2004 election. She had pledged not to take advantage of the constitutional exception to one-term limit for an incumbent president who served less than four years of a succession term. Despite breaking her promise, she remained popular with the public and was elected president with 40 percent of the vote against several candidates. The Christian Democratic Lakas party won a large plurality of seats in the House. But the party split between supporters of Arroyo and those of former president Fidel Ramos, who opposed her candidacy. 

The split deepened when Arroyo proposed amending the constitution to create a unicameral parliament, end mid-term elections, and eliminate term limits. Initially these reforms seemed to address the country’s chronic political instability, but quickly they were seen as an attempt by Arroyo to maintain her hold on the country’s political institutions. Ramos, joined by Corazon Aquino, led the opposition to the constitutional changes, which foundered as Arroyo became embroiled in her own scandal. Tape recordings surfaced of conversations in which Arroyo is heard ordering the head of the election commission to commit massive election fraud in the 2004 presidential elections. She denied illegally influencing the elections and claimed her victory was won fairly, but the affair sparked large protests and two failed impeachment proceedings in 2005 and 2006. The country’s political stability was further challenged by Arroyo’s imposition of a state of emergency in 2006 in response to a purported coup plot. Although the state of emergency was brief, Arroyo used emergency powers to conduct searches of critical newspapers. Aquino  acted to strengthen the Office of the Ombudsman and the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission — undermined during the Estrada and Arroyo presidencies — and gave them renewed powers to pursue high-level malfeasance.  

Then, in 2007, Arroyo’s husband and other political allies (including the head of the election commission) were accused of taking large sums to lobby the government to award a large broadband contract to a Chinese firm over a Philippines company.  In the midst of this new scandal, Arroyo inexplicably pardoned and freed former President Estrada despite his recent conviction. The Senate, frustrated at presidential stonewalling of investigations into both the election and broadband scandals, impeached Arroyo a third time, but she again was acquitted. In 2009, Arroyo declared a second state of martial law following a grisly act of political violence in Maguindanao province in which 57 people were murdered by a private militia, including 34 journalists. Arroyo finished her term but left in disgrace. 

Current Issues: A New Start? 

In 2010, Benigno Aquino III, the candidate of the Liberal Party, won the presidency with 42 percent of the vote against several candidates running on a platform to end corruption and restore confidence to democratic institutions. His candidacy was propelled after the death of his mother, Corazon Aquino, in August 2009 as millions of people publicly mourned the passing of the symbol of the People Power Movement. Before the election, the new head of the election commission (COMELEC), a respected jurist named Jose Melo, worked to regain the trust of the public by improving and automating registration and voting procedures and taking other initiatives to ensure against fraud. A ban on firearms sales during the election period helped reduce the high level of political violence associated with Philippine elections.

President Aquino quickly acted to strengthen the Office of the Ombudsman and Presidential Anti-Graft Commission — neutered during the Estrada and Arroyo presidencies. He gave them renewed power to pursue high-level malfeasance. He also increased the budget for the judiciary to reduce the backlog of cases that had prevented action on thousands of lower-level corruption cases. In addition, the president established a Truth Commission to independently investigate the wide range of corruption charges from the Arroyo years. Its first determination was that former President Arroyo had indeed committed election fraud in 2004. She was arrested and charged in November 2011. New discoveries brought new charges: in 2012 she was indicted for conspiring to steal money from the National Lottery and in October 2013 she was accused of diverting government funds intended for victims of torrential storms during 2009 as graft for private companies. Several former Cabinet secretaries and 20 others were also charged in the latter case. The chief justice of the Supreme Court (an Arroyo appointee) was also pressed to resign. 

In August 2013, the Commission on Audit released a report detailing misuse of Priority Development Assistance Funds (PDAF), which provides an annual budget accessible to all Congressmen and Senators intended for development projects in their districts. The report alleged that funds were often illegally diverted by fabricating projects and channeling the money allocated for them through bogus NGOs. The Supreme Court subsequently found the PDAF to be an unconstitutional use of public funds. Police investigations resulted in at least 31 arrests of Senators, Congressmen, and other officials in 2014. 

President Aquino III also continued efforts to end the Philippines’s armed conflicts, which have cost tens of thousands of lives over four decades. In 2014, the government signed a comprehensive peace treaty with the country’s largest rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MNLF), which began its insurgency in 1972. The two sides agreed to a power-sharing arrangement in a new self-governed region, Bangsamoro, that expands an autonomous Muslim region established from a previous agreement under the Ramos administration. The Congress, however, has not approved the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, delaying the referendum within Mindanao on the agreement, the decommissioning of weapons, and the establishment of peace zones. The peace process is complicated by splinter groups that rejected the agreement and have resumed fighting as well as by the indiscriminate terrorist attacks and kidnappings of the Abu Sayaaf organization, an al Qaeda-affiliate. The Armed Forces arrested the leader of Abu Sayaaf in 2014, but attacks and kidnappings continued. In the north, the Aquino government pursued ongoing peace negotiations with the New People’s Army (NPA), the military wing of the Communist Party, but the NPA, in its fifth decade of armed conflict, has continued to engage in deadly clashes. The Armed Forces, however, apprehended the chairman of the Communist Party, and his wife, also a senior party official. They are expected to stand trial for kidnapping and illegal detention. 

Half-way through Benigno Aquino III’s six-year presidential term, his Liberal Party was given a solid majority in the May 2013 mid-term elections in both the House of Representatives and the Senate — the first time since 1986 that a single party had controlled both houses. The same elections, however, indicated the continued dominance in politics of a small number of elite political families (Imelda Marcos, a number of Marcos relatives, former President Arroyo and several of her relatives were all returned to the Congress, while Former President Estrada was elected mayor of Manila). Wealthy businessmen continued to play a large role in bankrolling political campaigns. Although given a clear mandate in the mid-term elections, Aquino’s reputation for good governance was tarnished by the government’s slow and ineffective response to Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, one of the worst natural disasters to hit the country in decades. Hundreds of thousands of residents were left without homes. 

Overall, the country continues to struggle with the legacy of Ferdinand Marcos: the continuation of insurgent and terrorist organizations that began under his rule; the continuation of rogue militias and official police and military abuses against civilians; high concentrations of wealth built up during the dictatorship that allow a small number of families to dominate politics and influence the media; and corruption in public life and the economy. Reflecting these ongoing problems and the declining effectiveness and popularity of Benigno Aquino III, an insurgent and controversial candidate, Rodrigo Duterte, won the presidential elections in May 2016 with 38 percent of the vote, the highest percentage received under the new Constitution. Duterte, the former mayor of Davao, Philippines’ second largest city, is renowned for his “toughness” in dealing with crime — including documentation by Human Rights Watch of 1,000 extrajudicial deaths in his 20-year term. He pledged during the campaign to address the Philippines’ ongoing problems of corruption, insurgency, and the foreign challenge posed by China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea with similar “toughness” — raising both domestic and international concerns about his assumption of power. Since his election, it is estimated that there have been nearly 6,000 killings.

The Philippines has established a strong record of democratic governance and an active citizenry that has challenged abuse of power, both by dictators and elected presidents. Individual politicians as well as the citizenry have demonstrated their ability to hold corrupt public officials accountable and defend democratic governance in the face of repeated betrayals of the public trust by politicians. The recent presidency of Benigno Aquino III restored some measure of accountability and transparency to the Philippines and showed the positive results that can be achieved through democratic elections. The next president will again test Philippines democracy.

Accountability and Transparency: Country Studies — Botswana

Botswana Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status: Free. Freedom Ranking: 2.5; Political Rights: 3; Civil Liberties: 2.



Botswana is Africa's longest continuous multiparty democracy, holding uninterrupted free elections since gaining independence in 1966. While the political system has been dominated by one party during this time, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), opposition parties function relatively freely. The elections in 2014 were the most competitive in the country’s history and the opposition has gained a strong minority position in parliament. The country's political, legal, and economic institutions and policies have generally been open and seen as positive examples for the continent. Freedom House’s Survey of Freedom reports that there is growing concern over centralization of power and increased cases of government abuse, however Botswana has a well-regarded record in terms of respect for human rights, the rule of law, and government accountability. Trade union rights are also generally respected, although with some restrictions on the right to strike and bargain collectively in the public sector. Transparency International (TI) has consistently ranked Botswana as the least corrupt country in Africa (and among the least corrupt in the world). (In 2016, it was 35th out of 176 countries in the annual Corruption Perceptions Index.) Although recent acquittals of high officials in corruption cases raised questions about government intimidation of the judiciary, the World Justice Report’s 2015 Index on Rule of Law also places Botswana at the top among African countries.

Botswana is a landlocked country located directly north of South Africa. It is moderate in size (ranked 45th in the world at 600,370 square kilometers) but is among the world’s least densely populated countries (with just 2 million people). Botswanans were extremely poor and largely uneducated at independence in 1966, however today the country boasts among the highest rates in Africa in education and per capita income. The literacy rate was 84.5 percent of the population over age 15 in 2011. With a small economy of $15 billion in total output (119th in the world), the nominal GDP per capita for 2015 was ranked much higher, at 83rd in the world, at $6,100 per annum, the 5th highest in Africa (behind several island nations) according to the International Monetary Fund. The World Bank’s ranking for Botswana is higher at 74th. And measured by PPP (Purchasing Power Parity), which takes into account inflation and currency fluctuation, the IMF’s ranking is 71st (at $17,050 per annum). But income inequality remains significant and Botswana’s unemployment rate is consistently around 17.5 percent. 


Origins and Development 

Botswana's original inhabitants lived on its general territory from approximately 17,000 BC to AD 1650. During the earliest period, groups subsisted through hunting and gathering, and turned toward animal herding only during the last few centuries BC. The original language group was Khoisian, spoken by both Khoe and San ethnic groups. In the last centuries BC, Bantu-speaking groups migrated from north to the southern part of the continent, bringing with them the farming of grain crops. In the 13th and 14th centuries, ethnic Tswana, Bantu speakers living in Botswana and South Africa, established an increasingly powerful dynasty. Over time, the Tswana divided. Those living in South Africa were known as Tswana, and those in Botswana were known as Batswana, although both groups retained the common language of Setswana. The term "Batswanan" was also used to refer to all people living in Botswana regardless of ethnicity. 

Conflict with the Boer and British Colonial Rule

The famous British explorers and missionaries Robert Moffat and David Livingstone established religious settlements among the Batswana in the 1820s in order to convert the local communities to Christianity and today approximately 70 percent of Botswana's citizens are Christian. Also in the 1820s, the Batswana and other ethnic groups started to come into conflict with both the Boer “tribe” (white Dutch settlers escaping British administration of the Cape Colony) as well as the Zulu and Ndebele nations, who were expanding their territory (see Country Study of South Africa).'s reputation for accountability and transparency has been formalized through mechanisms such as the constitution and legislation requiring open government, accountability, and transparency.

In 1876, under threat of resumed hostilities with the Boer, Chief Khama III, the leader of the dominant Tswana community within Batswana, appealed to the British government to take their lands under British protection. In agreement with Khama III and the other chiefs, the northern territory was proclaimed a British protectorate in 1885 under the name Bechuanaland, while the southern territory was absorbed into the Cape Colony. In general, the British colonial period was less harsh for Bechuanaland since it fell under indirect administration, meaning that local law and customs were applied in most matters. 

The Evolution to Independence

Local demand for government services led to the creation in 1920 of two advisory councils, one for Africans and one for Europeans, a system giving Bechuanaland's chiefs more direct access to the British administration. In 1934, British authorities also regularized tribal powers and rule. Unlike a number of British colonies, Botswana had a more peaceful path to independence (see, by contrast, Country Studies of Malaysia and Kenya). In 1951, the British initiated the process of self-determination by establishing a joint African-European advisory council. In 1959, a constitutional committee was established, followed by the election of a legislative council in 1961 and finally adoption of a national constitution in 1965. Independence was declared on September 30, 1966, with the country’s capital in Gaborone. 

Democracy With One-Party Dominance 

The main political force in the country, both before and since independence, has been the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). Botswana’s independence leader, Seretse Khama, led the BDP to its first election victory in 1966 and in two subsequent victories (in 1971 and 1976). The National Assembly, which selects the president, chose Khama three times until he resigned before the end of his last term in 1980. He was succeeded by his vice president, Quett Ketumile Masire, who was also elected three times and resigned before the end of his final term in 1998. Festus Mogae, the vice president, served out Masire’s term and was elected by the National Assembly in 1999 and again in 2004. 

In 2008, Mogae continued the practice of resigning before completing his term and was succeeded by Vice President Seretse KhamaIan Khama, the son of Botswana’s independence leader. While the practice was initiated by Seretse Khama to ensure a peaceful transfer of power, unusual in Africa, Mogae’s resignation gave rise to criticisms from a growing opposition that the ruling party was manipulating the electoral system to prevent real competition. Still, as in previous elections, the BDP maintained a decisive edge in 2009, winning 53.3 percent of the vote and 45 of the 57 elected seats in the National Assembly. Predictably, parliament confirmed Ian Khama for a full presidential term.

The main opposition party after 1969 was the left-leaning Botswana National Front (BNF), which had a social democratic platform. In the 2009 elections, it won six seats, down from 12 in 2004, while a splinter party, the Botswana Congress Party (BCP), took four seats. Two newer parties captured one seat each. Predictably, parliament confirmed Khama for a full presidential term. International observers deemed the elections free and fair. In the latest two elections, the opposition has become more competitive (see Current Issues). 

Accountability and Transparency 

Botswana has the longest period of uninterrupted free elections and democratic parliamentary rule in Africa, generally respects human rights and the rule of law, and has among the most accountable and transparent legislative systems and government on the continent. At the same time, the long-term dominance of the political system by the Botswana Democratic Party has led to the concentration of political power, increasing government abuse and corruption, and attempts to limit free media. As a result, opposition parties have gained strength in the last two elections. 

A Parliamentary Democracy Based on Consensus Building's laws also establish civilian supervision over the police and an ombudsman to whom civilians may lodge complaints. . . .

The National Assembly has dominant legislative powers in a bi-cameral parliament. Fifty-seven seats are elected by district in a British-style “first past the post” system. Four seats are nominated by the president but must be approved by the elected members of the National Assembly. The president, who has authority over military and security industries and is head of state, and either the attorney general or vice president fill the two remaining seats as ex-officio members. Botswana’s second chamber of parliament is an advisory body called the House of Chiefs, having 35 members. This body includes representatives of the country's eight major Setswana-speaking groups, making up nearly 80 percent of the population, as well as several representatives of smaller ethnic groups. The House of Chiefs and the overall political process tends to favor the majority Setswana-speaking groups and marginalize smaller ethnic groups, especially the San, the territory’s indigenous inhabitants who make up 3 percent of the population.

The BDP's overall support in both houses of parliament is based on consensual agreement among the eight major Setswana-speaking groups, whose traditions include limiting the power of traditional leaders and holding local consultative assemblies, thus offering a foundation for consensus and accountability within the party. Initially, Botswana's presidents incorporated this tradition into their style of leadership, insisting on government accountability mechanisms (see below) and limiting corruption within the government and party. The current president, however, has exhibited a more authoritarian style and there are several recent cases of high-level corruption (see Current Issues). 

Fiscal Accountability and Anticorruption Powers 

Botswana's constitution and legislation require open government, accountability, and transparency. The constitution specifies the responsibilities of the Office of the Auditor General, who is required to conduct an annual audit of all public accounts, including expenditures of office-holders, the courts, and partially owned government entities known as parastatals. The auditor general must submit audits to the minister of finance, who in turn must present them to the National Assembly. The auditor general may also report directly to the Assembly’s Speaker. The auditor general is appointed by the president with a fixed term and cannot be removed. 

Botswana's Finance and Audit Act specifies that the auditor general must ensure that the collection and custody of public funds is safeguarded and that funds are disbursed with proper legislative authorization and according to intent. In addition, the law requires that all fiscal officers remain responsive to the public. This function is particularly important since Botswana’s economy relies largely on diamond mining and the government has established the practice of building high foreign reserves to safeguard the budget in the event of the commodity price for diamonds falling (the case in recent years) as well as to prepare for the period of declining production (diamond reserves are expected to be exhausted by the year 2050). 

In addition to extensive public accounting and transparency, the government passed a bill in 1994 that set up an anticorruption body with the powers to conduct investigations and make arrests. There have been regular arrests and convictions of government officials for corruption. The acquittal of some high-level ministers, however, has given rise to fears of government interference in the traditionally independent judiciary (see below). Botswana's laws establish civilian supervision over the police and an ombudsman who acts on civilians’ complaints regarding police abuse or other human rights violations. Despite these mechanisms for public accountability, however, there is no freedom of information law. Government critics assert that this lack allows the government to maintain excessive secrecy and limit the scope and effectiveness of the office of ombudsman. 

Human and Minority Rights 

As noted in the Essential Principles section, accountability of government necessarily entails respect for human and minority rights in order to ensure that citizens and minority groups have the ability to monitor, be informed about, publicize, and respond to government policies and actions. 

The constitution of Botswana guarantees freedom of expression and the country has a free and vigorous press, with independent private broadcast networks (one television channel and two radio stations) and several independent newspapers and magazines. While the government generally respects media freedom, there are notable exceptions. In one case, two Zimbabwean journalists were expelled for their coverage of the government’s conflict with the San ethnic group (see below). In 2008, the National Assembly passed the Media Practitioners Act, which established a media regulatory body and mandated the registration of all media workers and outlets. The high court upheld the law’s constitutionality in 2010 in a lawsuit by media and civil society groups. Under the Act, the government has censored coverage it deems inappropriate and prosecuted individuals for insulting the president. While self-censorship is practiced among some journalists on the major state network, strong critiques of the government appear in the press and on both government-owned and private broadcast networks. There is also access to South African broadcast and print media, which provides another flow of independent. 

Freedom of association and assembly are generally respected, but not without difficulty. In a landmark ruling in November 2014, the Botswana High Court ruled that the government could not deny registration to LGBT organizations and ordered the registration of an organization previously denied it by several government ministries, the Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (known as LEGABIBO). In respect to trade unions, however, the government deregistered the Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions and in 2011 responded harshly to an eight-week public sector strike involving 100,000 workers that closed down schools, health centers, and other public facilities. A contract settlement was imposed with a minimal wage increase and 2,600 health care workers were summarily dismissed. The Court of Appeals upheld the government’s decision, but the High Court ordered the reinstatement of many of the workers. A complaint filed in 2012 with the International Labor Organization regarding the 2009 deregistration and other restrictions on worker rights is pending. 

The main minority rights issue in Botswana concerns the indigenous population called San, numbering about 50,000 people. Since 1985, 5,000 San have been removed from their homes on the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, where most San live, to other settlements with fewer services. Most others living on the reserve left after water resources were cut off. The government claimed it was too expensive to maintain the San's traditional hunter-gatherer subsistence culture on its historic territory and that it wanted to offer greater educational and economic opportunities to the group. Critics of the government suspected that it wanted to exploit diamond deposits on the Reserve following a decline in diamond production. More than two hundred San petitioned the courts to return to their homes. In 2006, after a three-year-long court battle, the High Court ruled in favor of the San, ordering the government to allow those evicted to return to their ancestral lands. Another favorable court ruling in 2011 allowed San access to subsurface water sources and a larger number of San began to return to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. 

Current Issues 

There are concerns generally about the concentration of power by the ruling party and its implications for Botswana’s democracy and the accountability and transparency of government. This has been especially so since 2007, when President Festus Mogae created a new Directorate of Intelligence and Security in the president’s office with the power to arrest without warrants. The DIS functions without parliamentary oversight and it has been implicated in several extrajudicial killings in the last few years under President Ian Khama, the most prominent involving members of a family associated with organized crime. 

There are also increasing concerns about corruption, including nepotism and personal enrichment. Two cases were telling. Ramadelka Seretse, the Minister of Justice, Defense, and Security (a single ministry), and the president’s cousin were charged by the Directorate for Public Prosecutions (DPP) with corruption and conflict of interest. Seretse had supervised the awarding of a government police contract to a company he held shares in and that was reportedly controlled by his wife. Seretse resigned his post after being indicted, but was reinstated after being acquitted. Demonstrating its independence, the DPP challenged the verdict in the Court of Appeals, but Seretse’s acquittal was upheld in April 2012. In another case, Kenneth Matambo, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, was cleared in November 2011 on charges of having a personal interest in a development agency awarded a government contract. While the courts are generally considered independent, these and several other cases have raised questions about government influence over the judiciary. 

In 2009, President Khama suspended his main rival within the BDP, Secretary General Gomolemo Motswaledi and excluded him from parliamentary elections. The next year, Motswaledi and other leaders left the BDP to form a new opposition party, the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), and accused Khama of “violating the party’s constitution by concentrating power in the presidency.” The faction initially had 20 MPs from the BDP, but by the end of 2011 all but seven had returned to the governing party. To contest upcoming parliamentary elections, the BMD then decided to join with the country’s traditional opposition party, the Botswana National Front, and the newer Botswana Peoples Party, to form a coalition called the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). Motswaledi was elected the UDC’s Secretary General, but in June 2014, four months before the elections, he was killed in a car crash. Suspicions about possible DIS involvement in the accident were fueled by President Khama’s veto of a parliamentary inquiry, but an independent investigation by the UDC concluded that no foul play was involved. 

In September 2014, President Ian Khama directed the public prosecutors to arrest Outsa Mokone, the editor of Botswana’s leading independent newspaper, the Weekly Standard. He was charged with violating the sedition law for articles run in the newspaper about a previously undisclosed incident in which the president was involved in a car crash in June while driving above the speed limit. The newspaper also ran a number of articles about corruption within the DIS. Mokone fled to South Africa and was granted temporary asylum. Freedom House reports that the arrest and legal case against Mokone had “a chilling effect” on reporting for parliamentary elections held the next month. 

In the October 2014 elections, the ruling BDP received less than 50 percent of the national vote for the first time since 1966. It still won 37 of the 57 contested seats in the “first past the post” system, but the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) won a sizable 17 seats, largely with the support of younger and urban voter. The center-left Botswana Congress Party (BCP) won the remaining 3 seats. The UDC’s new leader, Duma Boko, a popular Harvard-trained human rights lawyer, has used the opposition’s position to challenge the governing party on a number of issues.

A particularly critical issue for Botswana is the spread of the HIV virus. Botswana is one of the hardest hit African countries, with only Swaziland having a higher incidence of HIV infection. By 2011 more than 27 percent of the adult population aged 15-64 was infected — over 300,000 cases in a population of less than 2 million. The consequences have been severe in the number of HIV-related deaths, the orphaning of children, and health costs. To its credit, Botswana responded to the crisis earlier, and with greater resources, than other African countries (see, by contrast, the Country Study of South Africa). As infection rates rose, the government quickly put in place thoroughgoing education, treatment, and drug programs, including providing access to anti-retroviral medication starting in the early 2000s. Today, more than 80 percent of HIV-infected persons receive anti-retroviral medication, dramatically reducing the rate of deaths due to AIDS. In 2010, the Employment Act was amended to outlaw discrimination in hiring and firing based on HIV status or sexual orientation.

Accountability and Transparency: History


Citizen Oversight in Athens and Rome

One of the most notable achievements of Athenian democracy in ancient times was its establishment of civilian oversight of public funds as well as of the wealth and incomes of all public figures (including generals) so that they did not benefit from their public positions. Auditors, financial controllers of the treasury, and judges were chosen annually by lot. This system of accountability stood in stark contrast to nearly all other governments in the ancient world, most of which were despotic and marked by corruption, personal enrichment, and self-aggrandizement. In the Roman Republic, there were elected quaestores from both the patrician and plebeian classes who oversaw the public finances. A quaestorship for either a patrician or plebeian was often the first step in a series of offices that characterized a career of public service. Many times, however, a quaestor would overlook public corruption in order to gain favor with a higher official.

Two Precedents of Accountability

In England, the Magna Carta, which was signed in 1215, introduced one of the first standards of accountability in government by forcing King John to accept the basic principle that taxes should not be raised without first consulting feudal barons, and later, by extension, all property owners of a certain wealth. Representative councils had to be called to review the monarch's expenditures. Out of this historic agreement grew a form of constitutional monarchy in which the parliament asserted increasingly greater powers. Another significant precedent was set in 1517 when Martin Luther, a doctor of theology at the University of Wittenberg, distributed his “Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” Among other clerical abuses, Luther challenged, on both temporal and spiritual grounds, the common Church practice of selling indulgences (absolution from eternal punishment for forgiven sins). Selling indulgences was a long-standing fund-raising strategy, approved by the pope, which enriched the clergy and the Church proper.  In challenging both the spiritual and the temporal authority of the pope, Luther was asserting the right of believers to demand accountability from religious authority. In doing so, he sparked the Reformation, the beginning of a schism within Christianity between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.

Embedded in the Constitution

With the rise of representative government, accountability and transparency became much broader in scope. Government in a democracy, as an expression of the people's will, is accountable to all of the country's citizens, not just the wealthiest or most propertied among them. In the United States, concepts of accountability and transparency were embedded in the Constitution, its provisions often directly responding to prior abuses of authority by the British crown, such as arbitrary arrests and the confiscation of property by the king. The US Constitution requires the legislative and executive branches to publish laws, regulations, and proceedings and prevents government’s seizure of private property without a clear public interest and proper compensation. The Constitution also requires the president to report periodically to Congress on the state of the union and to fully account for the national government's expenditures. All of these constitutional obligations were intended to ensure that the public was made aware of the government's actions and could hold the government and its elected representatives accountable for those actions. Ultimately, however, it was the protection of free speech in the Bill of Rights that James Madison believed would “arm” the people with the “power” of knowledge to hold their public officials accountable.

The Powers of Congress

In the United States, elections are the most basic power of accountability: voters have the power to replace or recall their own representatives (either through regular or special elections) in cases of abuse of power, illegality, or simply not living up to the expectations of voters. In addition, the House of Representatives has the power to impeach (that is, to indict), and the Senate has the power to convict and remove from office, the president, vice president and other “civil officers” (especially those whose appointments are approved by the Senate, such as judges). This occurs in cases of "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Each chamber of the Congress also has the power to remove its own members by a two-thirds vote. Yet, these powers are not used often. Since 1789, the House of Representative has initiated impeachment proceedings against federal judges only 60 times and just 15 federal judges were actually impeached (all were convicted and removed from office by the Senate). There have been three impeachment proceedings initiated and two impeachments of sitting presidents, with none convicted. Only one senator has been expelled from office by his colleagues.

Public Accountability

Until the late 1800s, there was little true public accountability for US government officials beyond ineffective anti-bribery statutes. Government operated according to the spoils system, in which the winner doled out jobs according to party and candidate loyalty. The first comprehensive civil service law governing federal employment, the Pendleton Act, was passed in 1883, following President James Garfield's assassination by a disgruntled office seeker in 1881. The Pendleton Act established minimum standards as well as competence and qualification examinations for employment, a merit-based promotional system, and job and pay classifications within the civil service. The aim of the Pendleton Act was to ensure that the executive branch “faithfully execute the laws” of the United States as required by the Constitution rather than respond to the needs of political parties or individuals. The act still forms the basis for civil service standards today.

As noted above, the US Constitution includes specific provisions for the publishing of all laws and proceedings of the Congress together with an annual report on the “state of the union” by the President. These provisions have been faithfully followed since the meeting of the First Congress. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed the precedent-setting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which opened up the government’s business more fully to public view and gave citizens the right to request information from the executive branch (except documents that have a “secret” classification for national security reasons). FOIA requests to government agencies are now a standard part of the professional toolkit of journalists, historians, and citizen activists, as well as a way for ordinary citizens to obtain information about governmental actions, including the abuse of power.

Other laws designed to ensure public accountability were enacted in the wake of the Watergate scandal. The scandal involved a botched break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in a building complex called Watergate. The break-in was ordered by aides to President Richard Nixon seeking to weaken Nixon’s political opponents and thus help secure his 1972 re-election. The Watergate investigation uncovered other illegal activities by members of the Nixon Administration and his re-election campaign as well as the President’s complicity in covering up the crimes afterwards. President Nixon's protracted challenges to the authority of Congress and the judiciary caused a constitutional crisis leading to an impeachment proceeding by the House of Representatives that ultimately forced President Nixon to resign from office. It is the only such case in US history. In the end, Congress, the media, the public, and the Supreme Court acted to expose the scope of the president's transgressions and protect the US Constitution.

The Watergate crisis led to the enactment of a series of laws to expand public access to information, such as the Sunshine Act of 1976. This law obliges all government agencies to publish a schedule of its planned meetings, which must be open to the public. The Ethics in Government Act, adopted in 1978, establishes basic standards of behavior of public officials, such as limiting gifts and requiring public disclosure of income.

The Role of the Media and the Supreme Court

The role of investigative journalism is one of the most well-known and celebrated aspects of the Watergate scandal and points to the crucial importance of a free media in exposing wrongdoing and keeping the public informed of the actions of the government and elected officials. Washington Post journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, in addition to other journalists, uncovered many of the facts of the case through their investigations and reporting. Up until 1964, the media actually had few rights to investigate government actions. Two US Supreme Court decisions were essential in strengthening the media's position: New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) and The Pentagon Papers Case (1971), which also involved The New York Times. The Supreme Court decisions in these two cases strengthened the media's rights to obtain information from government, publish material about officials (even when they are not fully accurate), and print materials that the government has kept secret from the public (for a fuller discussion of these and other cases see History in Freedom of Expression).

Nevertheless, journalists often find themselves in conflict with government and legal authorities over such reporting, especially in protecting the sources of classified or sensitive information. Such sources are usually government employees pledged by a public oath not to reveal the government’s secrets. In the case of federal secrets, journalists are subject to imprisonment for keeping the identities of their sources anonymous, if ordered by a court to reveal them. At the state level, forty-nine states have adopted shield laws protecting journalists from being forced to reveal sources, but on the federal level no such law exists. In Branzberg v Hayes (1972), the Supreme Court ruled that journalists do not possess a right above other citizens to protect sources in cases involving information about criminal acts, including the revealing of classified information by government officials. In 2003, a New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, was sentenced to 18 month’s imprisonment for not revealing the source for a story that revealed the name of covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame. After failing in a legal challenge, Miller went to jail for 85 days and was released only after agreeing to name the source, the chief of staff to the Vice President). In response to the “Plame affair” and Miller’s imprisonment, several news organizations renewed their efforts to adopt a national “shield law” that would protect journalists from having to reveal their sources in criminal or federal cases. Similar laws have been adopted in many other countries.

In the US, the issue of accountability and transparency in areas of national security remains contentious. In 2013, a former CIA contract hire, Edward Snowden, revealed documents detailing the National Security Agency’s broad data mining program, which targeted both foreign nationals and American citizens. The data was obtained from internet and telephone companies and other means. The Snowden revelations prompted a widespread debate on the government’s collection of information on private citizens.  President Obama has defended the practice of wholesale collection of telephone records, which was done by order of a special court established under federal statute. But he also called for a broader debate about government actions undertaken pursuant to the Patriot Act to investigate terrorist threats and he subsequently initiated a government review of the NSA’s and other government agencies’ practices. In January 2014, he proposed changes to the procedures that would end the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone records but keep these records in private companies’ hands.

The issue of accountability and transparency has gained greater attention as a result of the decision of the US Supreme Court in the case Citizens United v. FEC (2010). In that case, a 5-4 majority ruled that “political speech” by individuals, corporations, or non-profit organizations, including speech aimed at trying to support or oppose political candidates and influence election results, could not be limited or banned within the framework of laws governing campaign finance. The ruling invalidated as unconstitutional certain provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (often referred to as McCain-Feingold) banning specific election-related expenditures by corporations and held that no such expenditures could be restricted under the First Amendment’s broad protection of free speech. Although restrictions on fund-raising and expenditures for individual campaigns remain valid, the Citizens United decision has given rise to “super PACs,” or Political Action Committees that now can raise unlimited sums — often without any transparency as to the donors — in order to influence election results so long as they remain independent of the individual campaign expenditures of candidates. Since the Citizens United ruling there has been a large increase in the level of financing for all election campaigns — from the lowest judgeship to the presidency — by the most wealthy individuals and corporations, according to The New York Times (see Resources). An earlier Supreme Court decision on which Citizens United was based (Buckley v. Valeo in 1976) allows unlimited self-financing of individual campaigns, giving rise to millionaires and billionaires financing their own campaigns for many offices, including the presidency. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, one result of the Buckley decision is that in 2014 — for the first time in US history — a majority of the 534 Representatives of the House and Senators are millionaires. Ultimately, citizens retain the power of accountability through the ballot box and have used that power to reject a number of wealthy candidates and candidates backed by well-funded super PACs. Nevertheless, there continues to be large concern — as reflected in recent presidential and other elections — concerning the impact of these Supreme Court decisions that have equated the spending of money on politics and free speech. Many politicians and public civic organizations have called for the reversal of the Citizens United decision.

Beyond the United States

Today, most democracies (presidential, parliamentary, or mixed) have established principles of transparency and accountability. and the lack of accountability have become important factors in world events.

Western European countries, most of which have parliamentary systems, began to adopt domestic legislation for accountability and transparency in the 1950s. Now, accountability and transparency laws are basic qualifications for membership in both the Council of Europe and the EU. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has adopted standards and proposes model legislation to govern institutions, such as corporations, nonprofit organizations, and trade unions. The United Kingdom has also enacted comprehensive freedom of information legislation for the public sector (see Resources).

Elsewhere in the world, the achievement of accountability and transparency in government has been mixed. Many electoral democracies have moved decisively to end corruption and introduce standards of accountability, but a number have not, leading to high levels of malfeasance and lack of transparency in government. Newer democracies, like Philippines and Indonesia, struggle with overcoming the corrupt practices that became entrenched during long periods of dictatorship. Many other countries remain mired in dictatorship and their leaders rule corruptly, in an environment of impunity. They are simply immune from public accountability (see, in this section, Country Study of Kazakhstan).

Corruption and the lack of accountability have become important factors in world events. "People power" was the term used to describe the hundreds of thousands of people who demonstrated in the Philippines in 1986 outraged by the rampant corruption and abuse of power by the government and family of longtime ruler, Ferdinand Marcos. He was forced to resign (see County Study of the Philippines in this section). Recently, corruption was a significant issue in the formation of popular movements against nondemocratic governments in Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003 and 2012), and Ukraine (2004 and, more recently, 2013-14). In these countries, and many others, the public's disgust at pervasive corruption has been a force for democratization.


Accountability and Transparency: Essential Principles

Essential Principles

"A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue
to a Farce or a Tragedy  or perhaps both.
Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people
who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives."
James Madison, Letter to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822 

"[T]he concentration of power and the subjection of individuals will increase
amongst democratic nations . . . in the same proportion as their ignorance." 

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 2, 1840

In a democracy, the principle of accountability holds that government officials — whether elected or appointed by those who have been elected — are responsible to the citizenry for their decisions and actions. In order that officials may be held accountable, the principle of transparency requires that the decisions and actions of those in government are open to public scrutiny and the public has a right to access government information. Both concepts are central to the very idea of democratic governance. Without accountability and transparency, democracy is impossible. In their absence, voters are necessarily ignorant in their electoral choices; elections and the notion of the will of the people lose their meaning and government has the potential to become arbitrary and self-serving.

The People's Right to Know

Elections are the primary means for citizens to hold their country's officials accountable for their actions in office, especially when they have behaved illegally, corruptly, or ineptly in carrying out the government’s work. For elections — and the people's will — to be meaningful, basic rights must be protected and affirmed, as through the Bill of Rights in the United States. James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights, believed that the very basis for government's responsiveness was the assurance that citizens would have sufficient knowledge to direct it. If citizens are to govern their own affairs, either directly or through representative government, then they must be able to have access to the information needed in order to make informed choices about how best to determine their affairs. If citizens and their representatives are not well informed, they can neither act in their own self-interest, broadly speaking, nor can they have any serious choice in elections, much less offer themselves as candidates.

A free media is the essential guarantor of the public's access to information. The media must have broad protection against infringements of its rights and responsibilities under the Constitution, and must have the freedom to be able to search out information when the public interest is concerned and be able to publish information relevant to the public’s interests (see also Freedom of Expression).

The people must also have the right to know about government proceedings and have the right to gain access to government information. The US Constitution established that the proceedings of the Congress must be published regularly (and the US President must report regularly on the “state of the nation”). In general, however, the right to access government information has been entrenched in the law only with the passage of the Freedom of Information Act in 1966. In signing the precedent-setting law, US president Lyndon Johnson stated:

[T]his legislation springs from one of our most essential principles: a democracy works best when the people have all the information that
the security of the nation permits. No one should be able to pull the curtains of secrecy around decisions which can be revealed without injury
to the public interest. citizens are to govern their own affairs, either directly or through representative government, they must be informed about how best to determine their affairs and how best to represent and execute them.

Absent these instruments for accountability and transparency, government is likely to succumb to corruption and the general abuse of power. This has occurred throughout history when no controls have been placed on governmental actions and leaders have sought merely to retain their positions of power and privilege.

Separation of Powers

Accountability also involves the separation of powers, which is the principle that no branch of government may dominate another, and that each branch has the power to check fundamental abuses by other branches (see also Constitutional Limits). For example, Congress's authority, granted by the US Constitution, gives it the power to hold the other branches accountable for breaches of the public's trust through impeachment and expulsion. US federal courts, especially the Supreme Court, have the authority to judge the constitutionality of congressional laws and the executive branch’s actions to faithfully carry out those laws. Parliamentary systems do not have separation of powers in the same way, since the executive branch is appointed by the legislature. In such systems, standards of accountability are established through tradition, laws, and oversight by opposition political parties, an independent judiciary, public commissions, and a free press. Ultimately, however, accountability is found in parliament’s power to withdraw its majority support for a government in power through votes of no confidence.

A federal system of government provides additional separation of powers by delegating power to states or regions to have control over the public’s affairs that are not determined at the national level. In the US, the 10th Amendment of the Bill of Rights reserves to  the individual States (or the people themselves) all public matters that are not delegated to the United States — the whole of the country embodied in the structure of the national government — or prohibited to the States (such as the making of money). A similar principle is subsidiarity, found in the laws of the European Union (EU), which establishes that decisions should be made at the lowest level of government possible so that citizens are closest to the decision-making structures, thereby allowing for greater accountability. Principles of federalism or subsidiarity often conflict in significant ways with the setting of national priorities or the protecting of individual rights. In US history and contemporary politics, such built-in tensions have been constant. Yet, the basic principle remains central to the idea of accountability — it is difficult for national governments to be accountable to all local needs.

The Advantages of Democracy over Dictatorship

Governments that are truly accountable can more effectively prevent corruption, which involves the use of positions of power or privilege for personal, corporate, or group enrichment. Corruption, of course, is possible in all systems of government and democracies are not immune to it. Still, democracies have several advantages in dealing with corruption. One is that elected representatives in a democracy have a direct relationship with the country's citizens. Indeed, the various laws, constitutional provisions and internal regulations found in democracies reflect the idea that those who work for the government, whether appointed, elected or hired, owe a high level of accountability to the people, namely the taxpayers who pay their salaries.

By contrast, dictatorships have no such protections or safeguards. Leaders in a dictatorship do not have the same incentives as leaders in a democracy to avoid violating the law and abusing power to their own advantage. Government positions are owed to the dictator (or those serving a dictator) and indeed often dictators encourage officials to abuse their power through corruption in order to gain their loyalty.

The correlation of dictatorship and corruption is certainly much higher than in democracies. The 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International (TI), a global organization committed to fighting corruption, demonstrates the connection. On one end of the scale, out of the top 50  countries ranked least corrupt in TI’s “perception surveys” (out of a total of 168 surveyed), 40 are categorized as "free" in Freedom House's Survey of Freedom in the World 2015, four as "partly free," and six as "not free." At the opposite end of the spectrum, of the 50 most corrupt countries in the TI index, 30 are in the “not free” category in Freedom House’s survey and 20 are “partly free,” with most of these bordering on the “not free” category.

Accountability and transparency tends to help create better policies and stop the abuse of power. The more the public knows about the government’s actions, the better judgements it can make about public policy. This is especially so in the case of abuse of power. In the United States, the media, the courts, and the legislature all played key roles in uncovering a conspiracy by President Richard Nixon and his staff to use illegal means to undermine his opponents and tip Nixon’s 1972 re-election bid in his favor. In democracies, leaders have resigned or been removed from office when it was made public that they used their power and privilege to financially benefit themselves and their friends, repaid election gifts with legislative favors, or engaged in disreputable personal behavior. Even if leaders are not forced from office, the uncovering and investigating of malfeasance or inappropriate actions can sometimes bring about positive changes in leaders’ governance or behavior. Still, there is significant concern within democracies about the corrupting and corrosive impact of private interests in the funding of elections and how this affects public policy and laws. This is especially so in the United States (see History in this section and also in Free Elections).

Representative and Private Organizations in Democracies and Dictatorships

In democracies, standards of accountability and transparency affect not only government, but also businesses, groups, and organizations that operate under public laws. When one speaks of corruption in this context, it usually involves the payment of bribes to powerful government officials in exchange for special treatment or favors regarding lucrative business transactions or other economic activities. But corruption can exist within corporations, trade unions, humanitarian organizations, civic groups, schools, hospitals, political parties, and other voluntary organizations. Democracies generally adopt laws that require all such public, corporate, civic, or representative organizations to conduct their operations in a manner designed to ensure that the interests of the members, stakeholders, and the general public are properly served and that these institutions do not violate the public's trust.

In addition, international groups often attempt to establish universal standards designed to prevent corruption, such as the UN Convention Against Corruption. The OECD and Council of Europe have adopted even more specific measures that are used in regional initiatives, such as in Eastern Europe, while the United States has backed the Open Government Partnership, which is committed to providing data about the way public money is spent.

In dictatorships, while private organizations may exist, many become instruments of the state and are used to control the broader society, enrich the ruler, or benefit his or her closest associates. In communist states, trade unions are controlled by the official structures of the Communist Party. While membership is obligatory, the unions generally do not operate on behalf of the workers, their members, but to serve to centralize control over the workforce (see, for example, Country Studies of China, Cuba, and Vietnam). In some countries, the purpose of privately-run, state-owned companies is to enrich government officials while strengthening the powers of the state (such as Gazprom in Russia). In dictatorships, all of these entities generally fuel a high level of corruption (see Resources).

Majority Rule/Minority Rights: Study Questions

Suggested Study Questions and Activities

Teachers: The following are questions and activities that can be given to your students after they read the materials in each section. The questions are meant to be asked as a review exercise, although some encourage critical thinking as well. The activities can be presented as classroom exercises or as individual homework assignments. Unlike the questions, they tend to require additional research. Some call for students to create mock trials or debates that would engage the entire class. Both the questions and the activities are formatted so that they might be used directly by students, although you may rewrite them as you feel necessary.

Essential Principles


If the majority always rules, what real protections for minority rights exist within a democracy? Why does the majority have a stake in respect for minority rights?

Why do individual rights protect minority rights? When are individual rights insufficient for the protection of minority rights? Are UN guarantees protecting minority groups from discrimination superfluous or necessary?


When the majority decides to oppress, drive out, or exterminate a minority group, often the minority has no option but to appeal for help from outside the country. Using sources such as the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council, identify recent international actions aimed at defending minorities against oppression or extinction. Have any succeeded in protecting the minority? For those that did not, what caused them to fail?

The African American experience in dealing with majority oppression is presented here as a model for how to achieve minority rights from an intransigent majority using non-violence and civil disobedience. What other examples can you identify from American or international experiences where minority rights were achieved through non-violent strategies and actions. Compare these to the African American experience. What was similar? What was dissimilar to these civil movements?



What issues of minority rights regarding ethnic and religious groups have arisen in the Netherlands in the last decade? How has the traditional policy of multiculturalism conflicted with recent immigration, especially in Muslim communities? How have political parties reacted to these issues?


The Netherlands today is addressing both political and ethnic minority issues at the same time. Review the Social and Cultural Planning Office Report in 2004 (search title for PDF). What issues are being confronted in the report? What are barriers preventing integration of immigrants? How has the Netherlands responded to minority issues in recent years and how has the minority community responded? What avenues do minority communities and minority political opinions have for expressing opinions?



Why is Turkey designated as Partly Free by Freedom House’s Survey of Freedom in the World? What characteristics make it free? What characteristics make it less free?

What essential principles of majority rule and minority rights are at issue in Turkey’s recent elections? Did the governing party respect the rights of political, individual, and ethnic minority groups? Were elections in November 2015 fair?


Recent events (the crackdown on the Gezi park protest movement in June 2013, the controversy over the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer conspiracy verdicts, and restrictions on social media) have raised fears that the Justice and Development government under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is becoming increasingly authoritarian. Read the three opinion pieces from the New York Times in the Resources section and examine what essential principles of majority rule and minority rights in a democracy the authors think are not being adhered to in recent government actions and the re-holding of elections? Do the authors expect greater respect for democratic freedoms or the continued exercise of majority rule over minority rights? How has the Syrian conflict affected these issues?



What factors contributed to Sudan's disunity following independence? How are minority rights violated in Sudan? How does repression of political and ethnic minorities prevent majority rule? Why is the repression of Darfur considered genocide by the US and other governments? After more than 30 years of armed conflicts, what are the current issues facing Sudan? Is there any civil or political opposition to the current ruler?


In the Country Studies of Turkey and Sudan, compare the treatment of the minority Kurds in Turkey and the treatment of minority groups in Sudan. What are the similarities? What are the differences? How has “the majority” ruled over “the minority”? Examine Freedom House’s country reports for the two countries. Do you agree with Freedom House’s designations of Turkey as “partly free” and Sudan as “not free”? Explain why or why not.

Majority Rule/Minority Rights: Resources


Essential Principles

The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy (2008). New Haven: Yale Law School. Contains descriptions of and links to relevant documents, including:

     13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, 1865–70 (link).
     Civil Rights Act of 1964, July 2, 1964 (link).
     Constitution of the United States, 1787 (link).
     Constitution of the United States, Bill of Rights, 1789–91 (link).
     Voting Rights Act of 1965, August 6, 1965 (link).

Human Rights Web, "A Summary of United Nations Agreements on Human Rights" (1997).
     Contains descriptions of and links to relevant documents, including:
     Universal Declaration of Human Rights
     Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
     Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
     Convention Against Genocide

King Jr., Martin Luther.
     "Letter from Birmingham Jail" (April 16, 1963).
     Nobel Peace Prize Speech (December 10, 1964). 

Mill, John Stuart, On Liberty (available online at Project Guttenberg).

Robert, Henry Martyn. Robert's Rules of Order Revised, 1915 (full version / summary version).
     Current revised versions are available on other websites for purchase or in libraries.

“Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” FDR Library.

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (home page).


Economist magazine: Topics: Netherlands. See, e.g., 
     “Enlightened Intolerance?” April 16, 2014.

The New York Times: Times Topics: Netherlands.

Buruma, Ian. "The Final Cut." New Yorker, January 3, 2005 (on the assassination of Theo van Gogh).

Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl (available in several editions). See also Anne Frank Museum web site.

Hirsi Ali, Ayaan. Infidel: The Story of My Enlightenment (2007). New York: Simon & Schuster, Ltd.

Kramer, Jane. "The Dutch Model: Multiculturalism and Muslim Immigrants.” New Yorker, April 3, 2006.

Social and Cultural Planning Office of the Netherlands. Ethnic Minorities and Integration: Outlook for the Future, The Hague: 2004 (Search title for PDF.)

U.S. Dept. of State Human Rights Country Reports (go to current year Country Report drop down menu for Netherlands).


Economist magazine:  Topics: Turkey. See e.g.:
      Special Report: Turkey. “Erdogan’s New Sultanate.” February 6, 2016.
     “No Longer a Shining Example.” January 4, 2014.

The New York Times: World: Times Topics: Turkey. See, e.g.: 
     “What’s in the Refugee Deal With Turkey? Controls, Concessions and Swaps.” March 19, 2016.
     "Turkey: Authorities Take Over Another Opposition News Source.” March 9, 2016.
     “The West Must Stop Giving Turkey a Free Pass.” Opinion, by Behlul Ozkan.” February 2, 2016.
     “Turkey’s Authoritarian Drift.” Opinion, by Mustafa Akyol.” November 10, 2015.
     "Turkey’s Troubling Isis Game, Opinion by Roger Cohen.” November 7, 2015.
     “Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul.” Travel Section, February 2, 2014

Amnesty International: Turkey.

Center for American Progress
     “Freedom of the Press and Expression in Turkey.” by Max Hoffman and M. Werz (May 14, 2013).

Freedom House, “Democracy in Crisis: Corruption, Media, and Power in Turkey (2014).”

Human Rights Watch. Europe/Central Asia: Turkey.

International Crisis Group
     “The Human Cost of the PKK Conflict in Turkey: The Case of Sur.” March 16, 2016.

Physicians for Human Rights
     "PHR Documents Improper Use of Teargas and Unnecessary Force on Protesters in Turkey.” July 11, 2013.

Reporters Without Borders: 2015: Turkey.

New York Times Magazine, “Whose Turkey Is It.” by Suzy Hansen, February 5, 2014.

U.S. Dept. of State Human Rights Country Reports (go to current year Country Report drop down menu for Turkey).

World Affairs Journal, “Erodgan’s War on Independent Media.” November/December 2013.


Economist magazine:  Topics: Sudan. See, e.g.:
     “The International Criminal Court: The Battle Against Impunity Goes On.” October 31, 2015
     “Sudan’s Politics: May the Only Man Win.” April 18, 2015.
     “Under Omar al-Bashir, Sudan in Steepening Decline.” February 1, 2014.
     “Sudan’s Reshuffle: Out With the Old, In With the New.” December 12, 2013.

The New York Times: World: Times Topics: Sudan. See, e.g.:
     “Don’t Forget Darfur.” Op-Ed by Eric Reeves. February 11, 2016.
     “BNP Paribas Admits Guilt and Agrees to Pay $8.9 Billion Fine to U.S..” June 30, 2014.
     “Christian Sudanese Woman and Her Family in Protection of U.S. Embassy.” June 27, 2014.
     “One-Sided Vote in Disputed District [Abyei].” October 31, 2013.

African Center for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
     Declaration of Guiding Principles for Constitution Making, June 6, 2013.

International Crisis Group
     “Hassan al-Turabi’s Islamist Legacy in Sudan” by Magnus Taylor. March 10, 2016.    

New York Review of Books. "Genocide in Slow Motion" by Nicholas D. Kristof. February 9, 2006.

Save Darfur Campaign (home page).

U.S. Dept. of State Human Rights Country Reports (go to current year Country Report drop down menu for Sudan).

Majority Rule/Minority Rights: Country Studies — Sudan

Sudan Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status: Not Free; Freedom Ranking 7; Political Rights: 7; Civil Rights: 7.



Since gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1956, Sudan has been governed mostly by dictatorships and has endured numerous brutal civil wars. For decades, the dominant Arabic government in the north has attempted to impose its “Islamic order” on the whole country, a policy that triggered a vicious civil war with the largely animist and Christian south. An international peace agreement signed in January 2005 ended the main north-south civil war and resulted in the creation of an independent South Sudan in July 2011. Rebellion, however, spread to the southern regions of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where continued conflict has displaced two million people. Separately, in the western Darfur region, government-sponsored violence against non-Arab black Muslims and animists beginning in 2004 has killed an estimated 400,000 to 450,000 persons and forcibly displaced another 2.5 million individuals from their homes. In 2009, the International Criminal Court issued its first arrest warrant of a sitting leader of government, President Omar al-Bashir, on charges of being co-responsible for crimes against humanity in Darfur; in 2010, it added the charge of genocide.

Omar al-Bashir has ruled Sudan as president since seizing power in a coup in 1989. Since 1999, he has exerted absolute control over its political, military, economic and religious institutions. In 2015, Bashir was re-elected president and his National Congress Party gained most seats in parliament in controlled elections boycotted by the national opposition. Freedom House ranks Sudan regularly among its “worst of the worst,” with the lowest scores of 7 in political freedoms and 7 in civil liberties.

Following the separation of South Sudan, the country is now the second largest on the African continent in area, at 1.9 million square kilometers. With a current population of 40 million, Sudan’s dominant culture and language is Arabic. Still, it has one of Africa's most diverse populations. The main cleavages are ethnic (39 percent of the population is Arabic and 52 percent is black African) and religious (70 percent is Muslim, 25 percent animist or indigenous belief, and 5 percent Christian). There are also 70 language groups and 600 distinct ethnic groups, including several whose traditional territories span the Sudan-South Sudan, with the Nuba being the largest. Sudan’s economy relies largely on oil production and foreign investment from China and Russia. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), nominal GDP places Sudan 68th in the world in 2014 (at $75 billion in total output), but Sudan’s per capita Gross National Income is ranked 130th ($2,194 per annum), among the continent's poorest countries. Sudan is ranked 170th out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Survey.


Early History: A Succession of African, Christian, and Islamic Kingdoms

Known in ancient history as Nubia, Sudan was ruled by three Kushite kingdoms from 2500 BC to AD 300. Greatly influenced by Pharaonic Egypt to its north, the Kushite kings of Napta built the famous Nubian pyramids and, for a time, managed to conquer Egypt. After the demise of the last Kushite kingdom, three distinct Christian kingdoms developed along different lengths of the Nile, although much of the population retained its indigenous animist beliefs. Attempts to spread Islam in the seventh century AD were at first rebuffed, but Arab colonization over the centuries made Islam the dominant religion in Sudan's northern territory. Christian Nubia in the south maintained its independence until the 13th century, but northern rule spread across the region as royal Nubians and Muslim Arabs intermarried. Northern Nubia was claimed by Egypt, then under Ottoman rule, and incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. Southern Nubia, in the meantime divided into various sultanates and tribal kingdoms, which later joined in a loose confederation. Sultans who ruled over the Darfur region made this area one of the largest centers for slave trading in the Arab world.

A Washington, D.C. protest against genocide in Darfur.

Egyptian and British Rule

In 1820–21, northern Sudan, which had re-established its own rule, was again conquered by the Egyptian Ottoman potentate, but he could not gain effective control over the south’s and west’s tribal leaders and slave traders. When the British Empire took control of Egypt (following Napoleon’s brief reign), British governors unsuccessfully attempted to halt the increasingly lucrative slave trade. In the mid-19th century, unstable political conditions and an ensuing economic crisis gave rise to an insurrection by the Arab messianic leader, Muhammad ibn Abdallah (known as the Mahdi or "the expected one"). Abdallah occupied Khartoum, the northern regional capital, and established a republic based on Islamic law. The Mahdi state collapsed in 1898 after Great Britain retook Khartoum. In 1899, all of Sudan was placed under joint British-Egyptian authority. In the 1920s, however, north and south were again separated when the British governor instituted different official languages and imposed internal passport controls for travel between the two regions.

Independence and Civil War                                    

During World War II, the Sudan Defense Force fought with the Allies against the Axis powers. After the war, the British initiated a self-government process for Sudan designed to end colonial rule. Independence was declared in 1956, with Khartoum as the capital. The British favored the government in the mostly Arab north, where its colonial administration had been concentrated, and the north dominated the new independent country’s institutions. A group of southern army officers, calling itself the Anyanya movement, rebelled against the northern authorities and waged an armed struggle against the government until 1972, when a peace agreement between the warring sides was signed and a ten-year period of peace was established. But unification attempts failed when Gaafar Muhammad Nimeiri, a former army officer in power since 1969, suspended autonomy in the south in 1982. He declared Sudan an Islamic state and imposed Sharia (Islamic law) throughout the country under what were called the September Laws. Nimeiri was overthrown in 1985 and a moderate Islamic party gained power, but his religious policies remained in place. A southern rebellion representing the mostly black African population resumed the same year with the formation of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

The Long Rule of General Omar

After a brief period of civilian rule, Lieutenant General Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir seized power in 1989 and has ruled Sudan ever since. For ten years, he governed as president through a joint military-civilian regime in alliance with the Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi, who led Bashir's National Congress Party.  As Turabi, who was allied with extreme jihadist movements (including al-Qaeda), began to challenge the dominant position of Bashir, the latter had him fired from his party post and arrested in 1999. With the National Congress Party under Bashir’s full control, he organized patently unfree elections in 2000 and became the country’s undisputed leader. The NCP claimed 85 percent of the 340 seats in the National Legislature. Opposition parties, including Turabi's newly formed Popular National Congress, were barred from campaigning.

Throughout this period, the national government carried out a ruthless military campaign against the SPLA rebellion in the south. While both sides were accused of violating the rules of war, the government engaged in widespread atrocities, including the use of indiscriminate warfare and scorched earth policies that resulted in famine. These deliberate practices caused at least two million deaths and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of others.

John Garang

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement

Following Turabi's dismissal, the Sudan government moved away from its alliance with al-Qaeda, and Bashir attempted to restore relations with Western countries. Acknowledging that the decades-long civil war had resulted in a stalemate, he allowed a US-led international peace negotiation process that resulted in a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 with the SPLA and its political arm, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (or SPLM). Non-SPLA parties and groups were excluded from the agreement. An interim constitution provided autonomy for the southern region and a joint National Unity Government, with Bashir as president and the leader of the SPLA/M, John Garang, who favored continued unity of the country, as vice president. Garang, however, was soon killed in a helicopter crash under unclear circumstances, and Garang was replaced by the SPLA’s more radical deputy leader, Salva Kiir, who favored independence for south Sudan.

Majority Rule, Minority Rights

Sudan is an example of extreme dictatorship in which neither the majority rule, nor the rights of the minority are respected. Indeed, the country has never experienced genuine democracy, either before or after independence. Through coup d’états, military officers have exercised political power for most of the country’s history since 1956, with only brief periods of civilian rule. From before independence, Muslim Arabs in the north of the country have dominated much of the country’s political, economic and social life and since independence the country’s authoritarian leaders have severely repressed both political opposition and ethnic and religious minority groups. Omar al-Bashir has been the dominant leader since overthrowing the last civilian government in 1989 and he has had sole control of the governing party and all governing institutions since 1999. Bashir’s rule has been marked by the brutal use of military force against rebellions and severe repression, including the routine jailing of political rivals, the wholesale restriction of human rights, control over the media and elections, religious and ethnic discrimination, and the imposition of an “Islamic Order” governed by a strict interpretation of Sharia law. After failing to suppress the rebellion of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army in the south, Bashir’s government signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement that led to the independence of South Sudan, one quarter of the country’s original territory. At the same time, since 2003, the government has acted ruthlessly towards the black African Muslim population in Darfur, which has resulted in indictments of Bashir and other officials by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide. Since South Sudan’s independence, the Sudan government in Khartoum has also acted to repress rebellions in remaining southern regions and to prevent the Abyei region from joining South Sudan.

The Interim Constitution and South Sudan

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which was signed in 2005 between the national government and the SPLA, ended the major north-south conflict. It also established an interim constitution that enabled Bashir and the NCP to continue to dominate the military, the national government, and parliament, although the SPLM had representation in each. The CPA also gave the SPLM control over the Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) and its parliament to the exclusion of other parties and groups. Instead of establishing interim political institutions through free elections, both the national and autonomous governments and parliaments were filled by appointment. The NCP was given a majority of 52 percent of the seats in the national parliament and a large majority of government posts, with elections scheduled only by 2009.

While other aspects of the CPA were observed, the multi-party national and regional elections scheduled in the agreement were delayed and finally held only in April 2010. There was an appearance of a multi-party contest (24 political parties participated), but the elections were marred by intimidation, manipulation of the voter rolls, and fraud — the outcome was thus never in doubt. It was clear Bashir never intended to allow a free ballot or actual majority rule. He was elected to another five-year term as president with a reported 68 percent of the vote (the SPLM candidate received 22 percent). Bashir’s National Congress Party took 73 percent of the seats in the national assembly. Meanwhile, the SPLM established a similar dominance over the autonomous Government of South Sudan. Kiir was elected president with 93 percent of the vote and the SPLM took 87 percent of seats in the regional parliament. According to the CPA, a referendum on independence of South Sudan was held in 2011. By then, any hope of maintaining a unified country had vanished. Ninety-nine percent of voters in the south voted in favor of an independent South Sudan.

The Genocide in Darfur

As Bashir’s government was taking part in international negotiations to broker an agreement with the SPLA, it was also directing a ruthless campaign of mass murder and dislocation of black Muslims in the western region of Darfur beginning in 2003. The perpetrators of this campaign were not regular army units but a government-backed militia, called janjaweed, comprised of “Arabized” black Muslims fully loyal to the Arab Muslim government. During their raids on villages, the janjaweed militia groups targeted young males for extermination and women of child-bearing age for mass rape. Between 400,000 and 450,000 people were killed and at least 2.5 million others displaced, many to refugee camps in Chad. Most of the murder and displacement took place in 2003-06, but the violence has continued over time. Troops from the African National Union and later UN peacekeeping forces have been largely ineffective in preventing targeted violence against the Darfur population.  The UN has continuously criticized the Sudanese government for its internal policies, its war practices toward the south, and the mass killings in Darfur.

The UN has continuously criticized the Sudanese government for its internal policies, its war practices in the south, and the mass killings in Darfur. The deliberate and targeted killing, raping, and displacement of Darfurians was declared an act of genocide by many governments, including that of the US. Due to the objections of the Russian and Chinese governments, which have developed extensive investments and trade with Sudan, the UN Security Council did not determine Darfur a case of genocide but it did refer the issue to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In 2009, the ICC issued its first arrest warrant of a sitting leader of government, President Omar al-Bashir, on charges of being criminally responsible as an indirect co-perpetrator in crimes against humanity. In 2010, the Court amended the indictment to include the charge of genocide. Defense Minister Abdelrahim Mohammed Hussein was also formally charged with the same crimes and a warrant issued for his arrest in 2012.

The US government declared the policy of the Sudanese government genocide in 2004, but no serious consequences were tied to the declaration, in part due to the policy of pursuing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to resolve the north-south conflict with the SPLA. In 2006, a UN- and US-sponsored agreement was also signed between the Sudan government and one of the rebel groups in Darfur, but the agreement foundered when other rebel groups refused to accept it. Indeed, shortly after the signing, fighting in Darfur intensified.

Current Issues

In February 2013, a new UN initiative brought hope of a possible accord in Darfur. Two of the main rebel groups in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement and the Liberation and Justice Movement, joined in signing a new peace document with the national government (the “Doha Agreement”). The Sudan government, however, violated the agreement in reaction to further rebellion by groups that did not sign the agreement. The janjaweed militias were reactivated and in the first six months of 2014, approximately 500,000 people were again displaced in the western region. The violence has been ongoing through 2015. Darfurians living in Khartoum are also targeted for repression. In one example, 25 individuals were arrested in retaliation for an ambush in Darfur. In another incident, 125 women from Darfur were arrested and fined for allegedly wearing tight clothes (women are required to obscure their bodies in their dress according to Sharia law). In March 2014, police fired on a funeral procession in Khartoum for a student who had been killed in a police attack. The student had been participating in a peaceful demonstration held earlier in the month to protest the upsurge of violence against civilians in Darfur.

Other peaceful protests in Khartoum in recent years have met with use of force and indiscriminate arrests by police. During student-led protests in 2012 student leaders were arrested and dormitories burned.  In September 2013, police used automatic weapons to attack peaceful protests in Khartoum and other cities in response to the government’s decision to end fuel subsidies. Human rights organizations put the number of killed at between 170 and 200, including at least 15 children.

There remain many sources of tension in the country. For one, nearly one million southerners remaining in Sudan after the secession of South Sudan were stripped of their citizenship with the enactment of the “Sudan Nationality Act.”  In Abyei, a southern region, inhabitants were set to vote on a referendum to join South Sudan as set forth in the CPA, but the Sudanese and South Sudanese governments could not agree on a framework for the vote. When regional authorities prepared to carry out the referendum in 2014, the Sudan government sent in a large military contingent to prevent any ballot from taking place. After the troops pulled out, however, citizens themselves carried out an unofficial referendum that was criticized by the governments of both Sudan and South Sudan.

Meanwhile, the military has acted harshly against rebellions in the South Khordofan and Blue Nile regions in the south and east, both of which object to the Islamic Order. In South Sudan itself a major conflict has emerged between the dominant Kiir government and dissenting regions resulting in a serious humanitarian crisis. Although soon after independence South Sudan and Sudan engaged in military confrontations, the two governments came to agreements in late 2012 and 2013 over the transiting of oil resources, protection of oil fields, and non-interference across borders.

In 2014, armed groups active in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur regions formed the Sudan Revolutionary Front to unite their political demands. Civil society groups from Sudan have asserted their own voices in expressing growing disenchantment with human rights violations and to push constitutional reform.  A Declaration of Guiding Principles for Constitution Making was adopted in July 2013 at a general conference of civil society organizations held in Kenya. A “New Dawn Charter,” based on similar guiding principles, joined together the Sudan Revolutionary Front, political parties in exile, and several civic and youth groups (see link in Resources). Engaging in civic and political activity within Sudan, however, remains difficult. All NGOs must register with the Humanitarian Assistance Commission (HAC) and the law places various prohibitions on all civic and political activities and the media.

After making major changes to his government to deal with dissidents in his own ruling party, Bashir announced that he would step down as president after the completion of his term and announced a reform plan that included a “national dialogue” to replace the 2005 interim constitution, still in effect. The National Dialogue, which included several political parties and civic groups, led nowhere and most participants withdrew complaining that the government had stalled the negotiations (only the Popular Congress Party of Turabi, now reconciled with the NCP, remained). In October 2014, Bashir, reneging on his promise to resign, accepted the nomination of the NCP to run for president and he scheduled parliamentary and presidential elections for April 2015. Political and civic opposition groups issued a new common document in December 2014 declaring a boycott of the elections and calling for resumption of the national dialogue on a new constitution based on democratic principles and the formal recognition of Sudan as a multi-ethnic society. Their demands were ignored. In April 2015, Bashir was “re-elected” to a new five-year term with a reported 93 percent of the vote, while the NCP claimed 84 percent of the vote and three-quarters of the seats in the national assembly. Political, ethnic, and religious repression has continued.

International pressure on the Sudan government has remained mostly ineffective on all human and minority rights issues, including Darfur. Although Omar al-Bashir’s travels are constrained, appeals by the International Criminal Court to have countries he travels to arrest and transport him to The Hague in accordance with its international warrant have not been heeded. In part this is due to the objection of the African National Union and Non-Aligned Movement that the Court is biased against Africa; in part, the Sudan government is protected by Russia and China, which have extensive oil investments and trading arrangements with the government.

Majority Rule/Minority Rights: Country Studies — Turkey

Turkey Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status: Partly Free. Freedom Ranking: 3.5; Political Rights: 3; Civil Liberties: 4.


Turkey's territory — and history — spans two continents. Most of its territory lies in the historical region of Anatolia in Asia, but its largest city, Istanbul (once Constantinople), bridges its western region in Europe to the Near East on the strategic Straits of Bosporus, which separates the Mediterranean and Black Seas.


Following the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, a citizens' parliament declared an independent republic of Turkey in 1923. Although the population is mostly Muslim, Turkey is formally a secular republic. Since 2002, however, Turkey has been led by the Islamist-oriented Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has blurred the strict separation of religion and politics set forth as a constitutional principle by the republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. With a modern economy and democratic politics, Turkey considers itself part of Europe and is a member of NATO. It seeks to join the European Union (EU), but its application stalled due to the objections of several EU members to Turkey’s human rights policies, its policy toward Cyprus, and other issues. Primarily Seljuk Turk in ethnicity, the country has a sizable Kurdish minority (about 20 percent). Turkish security forces have fought an armed Kurdish separatist movement over three decades. The war was suspended following the arrest of the movement's leader in 1999, but fighting has resumed in the traditionally Kurdish southeast part of the country and has intensified as Turkey extended the fight to Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria in 2015-16. Since being elected President in 2014, longtime Justice and Development party leader and former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has adopted increasingly authoritarian policies, both towards the political opposition and the Kurdish minority. In 2015, he manipulated the elections process to parliament in order to maintain the AKP’s hold on power. 

Turkey’s population (76.5 million) and territory (785.5 million sq. km.) are greater than the EU's largest member, France, and rank 18th highest and 37th largest in the world, respectively. Turkey's economy has grown steadily over the last three decades with a mixture of state-interventionist and free market policies. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Turkey’s nominal GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ranked 18th in the world (at $800 billion) in 2014. While Turkey’s GDP ranks in the high tier of European and North American countries, its per capita Gross National Income for 2015, $9,290, ranks only 64th in the world and near the bottom among European countries. In 2015, Transparency International’s Corruption Survey index placed Turkey 66th out of 167 countries, a significant decline from prior years.


The rich history of Turkey reflects the influence of the broad range of civilizations that have settled crossed, or otherwise affected it. In ancient history, the Hittites, Persians, Ionians, Lydians, Greeks, and Romans (among others) inhabited or conquered parts or all of the region. Following the Fall of Rome Anatolia was under the control of the Byzantine Empire, with Constantinople, as its capital. Known as the "Second Rome," it became the center of Orthodox Christianity. In the 10th and 11th centuries, the Oguz Turks, early converts to Islam and followers of the Abbasid (Sunni) caliphate in Baghdad, migrated from Central Asia to Anatolia. The main Oguz tribes formed the Seljuk Empire, whose gazis (horsemen "of the faith") and mamluks (slave soldiers) were renowned warriors. After the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, the Seljuk sultanate gained the allegiance of other Turkish emirates across Anatolia.

Illustration of a Mamluk cavalryman in 1810

The Rise of the Ottoman Empire

The Crusades were organized in large part to counter Turkish Muslim advances into the Byzantine Empire and to retain Christian control over Constantinople. In the 13th century, a new Oguz dynasty arose under Osman I, known in the West as Ottoman, who reconquered Anatolia from the Crusaders and advanced into the Balkans. Mehmet II, the seventh Ottoman sultan, seized additional Byzantium territories in Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, and Greece and surrounded Constantinople, which fell in 1471.

The Ottoman Empire joined together Seljuk Turk, Byzantine, Arab, and Islamic influences under a common rule. Mehmet II declared himself the inheritor of the Byzantium kingdom and protector of the Greek Orthodox Church, while at the same time he made Constantinople (later Istanbul) the center of a revived Sunna caliphate. The Ottoman sultan was accepted as the caliph by the Sunni world after he halted the Persian Safavid dynasty’s spread of the heterodox Shia doctrine. The Ottoman dynasty lasted six centuries, exerting its control and influence over the Middle East, Central Asia, and Eastern and Southeastern Europe. At its height, the Ottoman Empire reached southern Hungary and threatened the Holy Roman Empire. Defeat in the Battle of Vienna in 1683 ended the Ottoman Empire’s advance into Europe. Thereafter, its control over European territory was limited to the Balkans and the Empire entered a process of decline.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

The Rise of the Turkish Republic

 The Ottoman Empire sealed its fate after allying with Germany in World War I. The Ottoman defeat by the Allied forces gave impetus to a movement of "Young Turks," led by Mustafa Kemal Pasha, who rejected the Ottoman Empire and sought to create an independent, modern and secular Turkic nation-state oriented toward the West. Between 1919 and 1923, Mustafa Kemal led a War of Independence that defeated occupying Allied forces. A Grand National Assembly, formed in April 1920, established a provisional government. In 1922, the Assembly abolished the office of sultanate, formally ending the Ottoman Empire, and later abolished the office of caliphate. On October 29, 1923, the parliament issued the Proclamation of the Republic of Turkey and elected Mustafa Kemal its first president (in 1934, parliament anointed him Ataturk, or "Father of the Turks"). Europe recognized Turkey’s independence in the Treaty of Lausanne.

The Main Law

 The 1924 "Main Law" drafted by Mustafa Kemal established a parliamentary democracy (with the president elected by parliament) and instituted a national, social, and cultural policy of "Turkism." The constitution rejected a state religion and was avowedly secular in orientation. The military's National Council had the task of guarding against the influence of Islamism and fundamentalist religion in politics. All education and culture was likewise "Turkified," with adoption of the Latin alphabet, Turkish as the only accepted language, and rejection of Arabic and Persian as commonly used languages. Aspects of Ottoman attire were banned and European attire was encouraged. Politics were based on liberal principles, with freedom of speech, assembly, and association written into the constitution. In foreign policy, Turkey was neutral, including in World War II, until joining the Allies in February 1945. After the war, under threat from the Soviet Union, Turkey rejected neutrality and joined NATO in 1952. Politics and constitutional principles were based on those of liberal democracy, with freedom of speech, assembly, and association written into the constitution.

Turkey's Political Evolution 

During Ataturk's rule, there was effectively single-party rule under the Republican People’s Party. Only after his death, when the shadow of Ataturk’s political dominance receded, did diverse party politics emerge. But Turkey's constitution included some undemocratic aspects. The military constituted a separate branch of government trumping all others and having the duty to safeguard the secular constitution. In response to perceived threats to the state, military leaders carried out coups in 1960, 1970, and 1980, often instituting repressive rule. Still, the army hierarchy showed restraint by returning to democratic government each time (the military's longest rule was three years). Otherwise, politics shifted along a basic right-left spectrum, with parties and alignments often changing. The 1980s and to a lesser extent the 1990s saw an economic boom, taking Turkey's economy to a level closer to that of Europe. 

"Islamist," Pro-EU Party Gains Majority

In 1995, the pro-Islamist Welfare Party, campaigning on a populist economic message but also tapping long-suppressed religious feelings within the population, won a plurality of seats in parliament and formed a coalition government with the Democratic Party. The Welfare Party did not explicitly violate secular principles in its actions, but its platform formally supported creation of an Islamic state governed by Sharia law. In 1997, the army, threatening a coup, pressured the prime minister, Necmattin Erbakan, to resign. In 1998, the parliament outlawed the Welfare Party outright and banned Erbakan from participation in politics for five years. 

But in 2002, a party called Justice and Development, seen as a replacement of the Welfare Party, won an overwhelming majority of seats in parliament (367 out of 550 seats). Turkey's high 10 percent threshold for entering parliament resulted in only one other party gaining seats, the social democratic and secularist Republican People's Party. In its platform, Justice and Development (AK) abandoned previous Islamist goals and replaced them with two main planks: ending corruption and leading Turkey into the EU. The AK’s leader and Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, once jailed for fomenting religious intolerance, led the adoption of a flurry of reforms (including abolishing the death penalty and economic reforms) to move Turkey towards EU standards. 

Negotiations for EU accession began in 2004, but stalled over the issue of Cyprus, a member of the EU. In 1974, Turkey occupied one-third of the ethnically mixed island to prevent its annexation by Greece. A standoff has existed ever since. As part of signing the Customs Union with the EU — a first step to accession — Turkey agreed to take steps to normalize relations between the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but was seen as failing to do so. Negotiations eventually resumed, but Germany and France then stalled talks on human rights issues and Turkey’s failure to acknowledge the genocide of Armenians in 1915-16 (see Majority Rule/Minority Rights section below). Recently, as part of the agreement between the EU and Turkey to control migration from Syria, the negotiations are set to resume (see Current Issues below). Erdogan has said that he hopes EU accession will take place at least by October 29, 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Turkish republic.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

As it pursued economic reforms and EU membership, the AK party also sought to end military intrusion in politics and the secularist discrimination of religious practice, in particular bans on wearing basic head scarves (hijabs) and normal religious practice (such as daily prayers) at public institutions. As in 2002, the AK party handily won national elections in July 2007. Having their first opportunity as a majority in parliament to elect a president, AK members selected Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, who quickly convened a constitutional commission and ordered a referendum later that year on amendments introducing direct national elections for the president and enhancing the president’s powers. The amendments also reduced the assembly’s term to four years and the president’s term to five years (with a maximum of two terms).

In 2011, national elections for parliament had similar results to those in 2002 and 2007 but the AK party’s portion of the vote declined slightly to 49.5 percent (327 seats), while 26 percent (135 seats) went to the Republican People’s Party and 13 percent (53 seats) to the Nationalist Movement. Thirty-five seats were won by independents connected to the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which ran independent candidates for direct seats to get around the high ten-percent threshold for entering parliament as a party. The first direct presidential elections were scheduled for August 2014 with Erdogan expected to be the AK’s candidate (see below). 

Majority Rule, Minority Rights 

Turkey’s constitution, after being amended in the 2007 referendum, has established a mixed parliamentary-presidential system with only limited checks and balances on the majority’s abuse of power. Formally, the constitution continues to recognize minority rights, protect fundamental individual rights, and establish constitutional limits. In practice, the Republic of Turkey has not adhered to essential principles of majority rule and minority rights. Before the Justice and Development (AK) party came to power in 2002, the military interfered in politics, overthrew democratically elected governments, limited religious expression, and repressed the Kurdish minority. Since 2002, the government under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to address many of these issues (adopting reforms in accordance with EU standards, reducing the military’s role in politics, improving treatment of the Kurdish minority, and generally giving a democratic voice to a new majority favoring religious values). But basic problems of respect for minority rights remained and in recent years the government has grown increasingly authoritarian. There are several issues raised concerning majority abuse of power and abuse of minority rights, which are intertwined. 

The Turkish-Armenian Issue 

One issue relates to a significant historical event. As Ottoman rule was breaking down during World War I, various nationalities sought autonomy and independence. From 1915 to 1917, Turkish forces and Armenian nationalists fought a war marked by the massive killings of Armenian civilians by Turkish forces. Turkish historians dispute the number and circumstances of deaths, and the official government position is that there was no targeted killing of an ethnic group and there were atrocities on both sides in the conflict. Most international scholars, however, agree that genocide took place, with between 1 and 1.5 million Armenian deaths. After Armenia regained independence with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, it sought recognition by national governments and international institutions for its claim of genocide and pressure on the government of Turkey to take responsibility for the crime. Despite the Turkish government’s voicing strong opposition, a number of national parliaments, including that of France, adopted legislation recognizing the Armenian government’s position. Turkey's refusal of Armenia’s claims affected negotiations on EU accession as well as attempts at re-establishing relations between the two neighbors.

Orhan Pamuk

In Turkey, the government actively prosecutes anyone who challenges the official version of events under Article 301 of the Anti-Terror Act. The most notable case was the arrest in December 2005 of Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s most famous writer who was later awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his depictions of the multi-ethnic and multi-religious culture of Istanbul. Pamuk was charged with defaming the state by claiming in an interview that one million Armenians were killed in 1915–16 and 30,000 Kurds were killed by the military in the anti-insurgency campaign during the 1980s–90s (see below). International protests resulted in dismissal of the charges, since further prosecution endangered the government’s EU accession policy. But EU insistence that Article 301 of the Anti-Terror Act be rescinded has been ignored and it remains in effect. 

In January 2007, the assassination of an editor of an Armenian-language newspaper by a Turkish nationalist shocked the public. Prime Minister Erdogan and other officials denounced the murder and hundreds of thousands marched through the streets in mourning. Prompted by this event, President Gul traveled to Armenia on an official visit in September 2008, the first Turkish head of state to do so. But an agreement to establish diplomatic relations foundered over Turkey’s insistence on a resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the neighboring Turkic country of Azerbaijan (see Country Study). Since Gul’s visit, there have been joint scholarly efforts to examine the historical evidence to determine what happened in 1915–17, but Turkish officials have continued to reject the assertion that genocide took pace, especially during events marking the centennial of the tragedy. 

The Kurdish Minority

Another ongoing issue is Turkey's treatment of its Kurdish minority. The Kurds have a distinct language, culture, and national history dating back more than two millennia. They live in a broad mountainous region that spans Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Fourteen million Kurds live in Turkey alone (20 percent of Turkey's population), mostly in the southeastern part bordering Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Turkish authorities have viewed the Kurds’ strong self-identity with suspicion and antithetical to forging a common Turkish nation. 

After the government formally banned the Kurdish language in 1982, an armed insurgency aimed at creating a separate state was launched by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a Marxist-Leninist movement backed by the Soviet Union. Thirty-five thousand people were killed and one million people were displaced over the next 17 years, during which Turkish military forces and the PKK were both accused of widespread abuses. The war was suspended in 1999 with the capture of the PKK's leader, Abdullah Ocalan, but resumed five years later on a limited scale. Ocalan was sentenced to death, but the penalty was commuted to life imprisonment when the death penalty was abolished as part of the EU accession process to conform to EU standards. From prison, Ocalan encouraged his followers to end the insurgency and to relocate to the northern Kurdish province of Iraq, where Kurds had achieved autonomy under the new Iraq constitution adopted by popular referendum following the US invasion. 

As Prime Minister, Erdogan had contradictory policies towards the Kurdish minority, alternating from allowing greater use of the Kurdish language to increasing air raids on Kurdish bases in Iraq and arresting people en masse for their association with the PKK or a civic Kurdish movement (KCK) that the government links to the armed insurgency. Starting in 2012, Erdogan stepped up efforts at reconciliation, initiating a government dialogue with Ocalan, still in prison, and other Kurdish leaders to end the conflict. The PKK agreed to suspend fighting and relocate its forces outside of Turkey. A number of restrictions on the Kurdish language were lifted as part of a democratization package introduced by Erdogan in parliament in September 2013, including allowing Kurdish-language education in private schools and some greater autonomy. Many detainees were released under a new law limiting pre-trial detention to 5 years (although more than two thousand people remained held under antiterrorism laws). 

The conflict in neighboring Syria has put a halt to these initiatives. The government has sided with opponents of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and demanded his removal from power (see Syria Country Study), but it has withheld support to Kurdish areas besieged both by the Syrian government and the Islamic State terror group. After an influx 1 million refugees fleeing the conflict, including 130,000 Syrian Kurds, Turkey closed its border and prevented Turkish Kurds from joining Syrian Kurdish fighters. The air force recently began bombing Kurdish units fighting the Assad regime (claiming they are part of the PKK’s campaign to create a single Kurdish state). Conflict with the PKK, which carried out retaliatory activities within Turkey, was resumed in a campaign related to the AK’s election campaign (see also below). of majority abuse of power and the abuse of minority rights are intertwined.

Current Issues

In recent years, the government of Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s leadership, both as prime minister and after being elected president in 2014, has increasingly abused its power in a manner to silence critics, weaken political challengers, impose religious conformity, and violate minority group rights. In general, majority rule has been used not to respect minority rights but to strengthen the ruling party’s and Erdogan’s hold on state power. 

The Gezi Park Protests and Their Aftermath

Growing disenchantment with government abuse of power erupted in May 2013 when tens of thousands of people protested the demolition of Gezi Park in Taksim Square, Istanbul’s last remaining large public space, for a shopping mall. After police attacked demonstrators, the Taksim Square gatherings grew into a broad national movement involving several million people voicing protest against Erdogan’s authoritarianism and the AK party’s imposition of religious restrictions (such as limits placed on alcohol sales). Trade union federations supported the demonstrators by organizing a general strike. Erdogan ordered police on June 16 to clear the square and disperse nationwide protests. The police attacks resulted in 11 deaths, 8,000 injuries, and 3,000 arrests. Three hundred were sentenced to significant prison terms. As a result of the crackdown, the EU again suspended the next phase of membership talks with Turkey, but the government continued to forcibly disperse other opposition protests and May Day demonstrations. A new law enacted in January 2014 made it a crime for medical personnel to treat injured protesters absent government approval. 

Restrictions on Freedom of Expression

The government has also taken strong action to bring journalists and others to court on criminal charges under Article 301 of the Anti-Terror Act and laws against defaming the state or religion. In recent years, hundreds of scholars, authors, and others have faced charges for free expression, mostly for reporting on national minority issues. For example, the editors of Turkey’s largest newspaper, Cumhuriyet, were arrested in November 2015 for publishing the contents of a video alleging that the government was siphoning off humanitarian assistance funds in order to send arms to anti-Assad fighters in Syria; both were released in April when the Constitutional Court ruled their arrests as invalid.In addition, more than 1,800 people have faced both civil and criminal cases for “insulting the president” since Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the presidency (see below). Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey 149th in press freedom out of 180 countries. 

Dozens of journalists investigating corruption of government officials have been pressured to resign from their jobs. Freedom House reports that such targeted repression has generally succeeded in intimidating other journalists to adopt self-censorship, especially in local media (see Freedom House Special Report in Resource links). In February 2014, the parliament approved restrictions on the internet, leading to citizens’ protests that were dispersed by force by police. In March 2014, prior to local elections, the government ordered restrictions on Twitter and YouTube following postings of recordings regarding a growing corruption scandal. The Constitutional Court removed the bans and internet restrictions but the government succeeded in using special courts to pressure social media sites to remove accounts of government critics. The government also began prosecutions under a blasphemy law. In one notable case, world renowned pianist Fazil Say was tried for “inciting hatred” and “insulting Islam” after writing a jocular Tweet about religious officials. He received a suspended sentence. Many other cases followed. 

The Rule of Law, Corruption and Political Power

The government’s effort to reduce the role of the military in political affairs initially earned international praise but over time questions arose over its abuse of the rule of law. In the prosecution of two conspiracy cases, dubbed “Ergenekon” and “Sledgehammer,” more than one thousand military officers and civilians were arrested (most held for several years of pre-trial detention); more than 500 were ultimately prosecuted on charges of taking part in plots to overthrow Turkish governments (most were convicted). The broad sweep of arrests and trials prompted the chiefs of staff of the armed forces, navy, and air force to resign in July 2011. New appointments by the AK cemented its own political control over the military. In early 2014, however, Prime Minister Erdogan did an about-face and stated that the trials had used false evidence to frame the defendants and charged the prosecutors with “a conspiracy against the national army.” Later that year, the Constitutional Court overturned the convictions of most of the military officers and ordered their release and retrial. 

The reason for the reversal was Erdogan’s need to discredit the law enforcement and judicial system after prosecutors brought bribery charges against businessmen — sons of several of Erdogan’s closest ministers — involved in government construction projects. The ministers were forced to resign in late December 2013. Erdogan’s own son was accused of amassing a large fortune illegally. In response to the scandals, Erdogan accused the prosecutors and police officials in charge of forming a “parallel state” on behalf of a former political ally turned critic, Abdullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who leads a popular educational and social religious movement. The government removed or reassigned 5,500 police officers, prosecutors, and judges suspected of being tied to Gulen’s network and the bribery charges were dropped against the ministers’ sons. In April 2014, the government requested extradition of Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, on charges of “attempting to overthrow the government.” Extradition has not been granted and Gulen denies the charges, but in widely circulated taped sermons he has criticized Erdogan for authoritarian rule and encouraged support for opposition candidates in elections. In December 2014, police arrested the editor of Turkey’s largest daily newspaper, Zaman, which is critical of the government and sympathetic to Gulen, along with twenty other journalists and editors, charging them with forming a terrorist plot directed at another Islamic group. 

Elections and the Refugee Crisis

Against this backdrop, the AK party again won municipal elections in April 2014, retaining the mayoralties and city councils of most major cities. In August 2014, Recep Tayyip Erdogan won Turkey’s first direct national election for president under the amended constitution, with 51.4 percent of the vote against three candidates. As president, Erdogan ceded the leadership of the AK party to the new Prime Minister (the former Foreign Minister) Ahmet Davutoglu, but he remained the country’s dominant politician. With parliamentary elections approaching in June 2015, Erdogan promised to push for changes in the constitution to enhance the presidency’s powers and control over the national government if the AK won sufficient seats. The elections, however, were a major rebuff to the ruling party, which garnered just 41 percent of the vote and lost its majority in parliament for the first time since 2002. The secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) retained its position as the main opposition with 25 percent, while the Kurdish-dominated People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which risked running a slate of candidates instead of independents, surpassed the 10 percent barrier to win 13.2 percent, surprising most analysts. The rightist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) won 16 percent.

While it appeared that AK’s hold on power had been loosened, Prime Minister Davutoglu deliberately avoided any serious coalition talks with the CHP over two months and when the time-frame for forming a government expired President Erdogan called new elections for November 2015. By then, his strategy was clear: he asserted a stronger nationalist position against the Kurdish minority and ordered a renewed military campaign against the PKK, including sieges of main Kurdish cities. The government took no action as Islamic State terrorists carried out assassinations and major suicide attacks aimed at Kurdish refugees from Syria; the inaction fueled retaliatory attacks by PKK and Kurdish youth, while the Erdogan government encouraged mob attacks on Kurdish civilian and political offices. As elections approached, the government also cracked down on dissent by arresting numerous journalists, pressuring media outlets to fire others, and ordering the closure or takeover of major media outlets, including four opposition newspapers associated with the Gulen movement. In the year’s second election, held on November 3, citizens responded to Erdogan’s call to support “order” and the AK retook its majority in parliament with nearly 50 percent of the vote. The Kurdish HDP barely surpassed the 10 percent threshold. Since the elections, the government has heightened its pressure on opposition media, including taking over a major news agency and putting the editors of two major newspapers on trial for espionage. The government has also intensified its military campaign against the PKP and bombed Kurdish positions and refugee areas in Syria in response to several PKP terrorist attacks in Turkey (even though some of these attacks are claimed by ISIS).

The elections also took place in the midst of the months-long refugee crisis, with more than 1 million refugees from Syria and the Middle East making desperate crossings into Europe by land and sea after fleeing war, conflict, or desperate conditions in refugee camps. By November, it was estimated that there were also 2.2 million refugees in Turkey. German Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to Istanbul just prior to the elections to arrange with President Erdogan an agreement for Turkey to halt the refugee migration to Europe, especially illegal smuggling networks, in exchange for major support from the EU (3 billion Euro) and an agreement to resume EU accession negotiations without consideration of Turkey’s human rights violations. The agreement was formally agreed to in March 2016 despite protests by Cyprus and amid concerns by human rights organizations that the terms might violate refugee rights by requiring the forcible return of migrants to Turkey after crossing into the EU. Human rights groups have also expressed concern that Turkey is using the agreement to continue repression of the Kurdish minority and extend its military campaign against Kurdish camps in Syria.

Since signing the agreement, President Erdogan has further challenged the EU’s tolerance of his authoritarian policies. In April, he proposed that a law be passed stripping citizenship from “sympathizers of terrorism,” threatening a widespread sweep against Kurdish activists as well as participants in the Gulen education movement, which has been deemed a terror organization. In early May 2016, he forced his successor as Prime Minister and leader of the AK party, Ahmet Davutoglu, who was considered a more moderate and liberal politician balancing Turkish politics, to resign. As well, Erdogan is utilizing an arcane German law against insulting foreign leaders to file civil and criminal suits in German courts against individuals who have harshly criticized his crackdowns on freedom of expression and the Kurdish minority. Most notably, Erdogan has filed suit against a comedian who recited a provocative and purposefully crude poem deriding the Turkish leader on German television. These court actions have given rise to widespread criticism of the German government for tolerating the Turkish leader’s effort to infringe freedom of expression. (For ongoing issues, see Resources for links to articles in the Economist and The New York Times and also reports by Freedom House, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders.)

Majority Rule/Minority Rights: Country Studies — Netherlands

Netherlands Country Study

Rankings in Freedom in the World 2016: Status: Free. Freedom Ranking: 1; Political Rights: 1; Civil Liberties: 1.


The Netherlands, situated in on the North Sea, across from Great Britain, emerged from Catholic Spain's control in the 16th century to become a continental European power having a dominant position in trade and control over significant foreign colonies. Considered the first true capitalist country for having developed some of the basic mechanisms of a free market economy (stock-trading companies and a stock exchange, e.g.), the Netherlands also became a model welfare state after World War II.

The Netherlands

A constitutional monarchy, the king has largely formal and ceremonial duties and the Netherlands is governed under a parliamentary political system. The Netherlands remained neutral in both World Wars but was occupied by Nazi Germany from 1940-44, during which period more than two-thirds of its Jewish population was sent to death camps. After liberation from Nazi occupation, the Netherlands returned to its previous democratic stability. Predominantly Nederland, or Dutch, by ethnicity (83 percent), the population is religiously mixed, with significant Catholic and Protestant populations, and also a large number of ethnic minorities, many of whom migrated from former colonies. At one million people, the Muslim minority is one of the largest in Europe. Due to its history, the Netherlands maintained a formal policy of “multiculturalism” that stressed the coexistence of Catholic and Protestant “pillar” communities and forged a shared Dutch culture. Applied to the mostly Muslim immigrant community, however, the policy tended to foster alienation and isolation. Two assassinations by political and religious fanatics in the early 2000s, the rise of anti-immigrant political parties, and increased religious extremism have challenged the Netherlands' tradition of tolerance and socially liberal policies and given rise to an intense public debate over policies dealing with ethnic and religious minorities and immigrants. 

The Netherlands is a small country both in size (131st out of 195 countries, with an area of 41,850 square kilometers) and in population (ranked 65th with just under 17 million people). Yet, the Netherlands has among the world's most dynamic economies, although somewhat slowed by the 2008–09 international economic crisis. In 2014, the Netherlands ranked 17th in the world in nominal GDP at $881 billion in total output and 13th in the world in nominal GNI (Gross National Income) per capita at $44,333 annually, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Netherlands is considered among the least corrupt countries in Transparency International’s annual perceptions survey (ranked 8th best among 173 countries in openness and transparency in 2016).


The provinces of the Low Countries — what is today the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg — declared independence from Charles V of Spain in 1568, sparking the Eighty Years War. The seven northern provinces (Nederlands) gained effective independence under the Union of Utrecht in 1579 but were granted formal independence by Spain only in 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years Wars fought between Catholic and Protestant states in Europe. The Seven Republics of the Netherlands was formed under the monarchy of the Protestant House of Orange, which now stands as the longest-lasting constitutional ruling family in Europe. In 1677, William III of Orange married his first cousin Mary, daughter of the future James II of England. After William invaded England to depose the Catholic James II as part of The Glorious Revolution, William and Mary ruled jointly, briefly uniting the British and Dutch thrones.

The Dutch Golden Age Netherlands also became the first and most successful capitalist country, inventing public stock companies, share trading, a stock exchange, and insurance, among other standard tools of commerce today.

The period from 1584 to 1702 is known as the Golden Age in Netherlands history, an era of expanded trade, economic development, colonial expansion, international influence, and significant contributions to Europe’s intellectual Enlightenment and culture. With its major cities on the North Sea, the Netherlands became one of the great seafaring nations of the world and established trading posts and colonies in strategic places, including South Africa, Indonesia, Suriname and various Caribbean islands, and, before ceding it Britain in exchange for the Spice Islands, New Amsterdam, later renamed New York. Aside from New Amsterdam, which thrived as a relatively independent entity, the Netherlands treated its colonies in much the same way as Great Britain, by exploiting resources, using inhabitants for forced labor, and restricting liberties of the indigenous population.

Although the country was late to industrialize, the Netherlands was highly innovative in the development of technology, forms of seafaring, and ways of protecting its below-sea-level cities through waterways. The Netherlands became the first and most successful capitalist country, inventing public stock companies, share trading, a stock exchange, and insurance, among other standard tools of commerce. It also introduced innovative means of farm production as well as use of the windmill for energy, both of which continue to be part of the foundation for the Netherlands economy.

Establishment of Parliamentary Democracy

In 1795, Napoleon's imperial army defeated the Netherlands and it was incorporated into the French Empire. With Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was restored in a union with Belgium and Luxembourg. But in 1830 Belgium declared its independence and in 1839 Luxembourg followed suit, leaving the republic with its original seven regions. Since 1848, the Netherlands has had a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary legislative system; it has functioned ever since except during the Nazi occupation. From that time, the parliament, or States General, which first met in the 15th century, has had a popularly elected House of Representatives and an indirectly elected senate. The franchise depended on limited property or wealth qualifications until 1917, when universal male suffrage was established; women gained the right to vote in 1919, the same year as in the U.S.

Neutrality and Occupation

The Netherlands remained neutral in both world wars, but in 1940 Nazi Germany ignored its neutrality and occupied the country as part of its campaign to conquer all of Europe. A Dutch government was formed in exile in London and urged resistance. Under an oppressive Nazi administration, Dutch workers were placed into forced labor. The country's sizable population of Jews was ruthlessly rounded up for transport to extermination camps, despite extraordinary efforts of non-Jews to hide them (the Netherlands has the highest proportion of any country of “righteous Gentiles” honored by Israel for attempting to save Jews during the Holocaust). Before the Netherlands was liberated in 1945, an estimated 100,000 Dutch Jews had been killed, 70 percent of the prewar Jewish population, the third highest proportion among countries in Europe. (The harrowing story of Netherlands Jews is related in The Diary of Anne Frank.)

The Postwar Expansion

Like much of Western and Northern Europe, the Netherlands rebuilt its democratic government after the war and experienced both dynamic free-market growth and the development of a broad social welfare policy. It became again one the world’s largest economies and had high rates of per capita income growth. Post-war governments granted independence to former colonies such as Indonesia and Western New Guinea in 1949 (the latter became part of Indonesia in 1962), but a composite kingdom was created in 1954 made up of its remaining territories in the Caribbean. One territory, Suriname, gained independence in 1975, while others have retained country status (Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten) or municipal status (Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba) within the composite kingdom. After constitutional reforms enacted in 2009, residents of these islands, known informally as the Caribbean Netherlands, have the right to vote in both Dutch and European Parliament elections

After the experience of Nazi occupation, political parties rejected the country’s former neutrality in foreign policy and joined NATO as an original member in April 1949. In 1952, it helped to form the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner of the European Economic Community (today's European Union). Internationally, the Netherlands has also sought to stand out as a country with strong concerns for human rights and humanitarian issues. It provides a fixed part of its GDP for foreign assistance (0.75 percent or $5.81 billion in 2015) and offers sanctuary to refugees, especially from former colonies.

Majority Rule, Minority Rights

The Netherlands remains a constitutional monarchy. The monarch’s constitutionally defined duties still include nominating the government, signing laws into effect, and chairing the Council of State, but today these are considered ceremonial and not substantive. (The parliament in 2012 revoked the monarch’s role to mediate in the post-election formation of governments.) Succession is still determined by heredity. On April 30, 2013, in an unusual occurrence, Queen Beatrix abdicated her throne after 33 years in favor of her son, Willem-Alexander, who was crowned the same day.

The Constitution of the Netherlands also establishes a parliamentary democracy with full protections for individual freedoms and minority rights. After amendments in 1956, the bicameral parliament (Estates-General) consists of a 75-member First Chamber (Eerste Kamer) or Senate and a 150-member Second Chamber (Tweede Kamer) or House of Representatives. The Second Chamber is directly elected at least every four years by proportional representation, according to party lists. Members to the First Chamber are elected for four-year terms by provincial parliaments selected through provincial elections.

Political Majorities and Minorities

Political parties represented in parliament are highly diverse, including Catholic and Protestant-based parties as well as conservative and liberal, anti-immigrant and pro-immigrant, social democratic and socialist, and environmental parties. While Dutch politics have generally had two leading parties, one right and one left, no party has dominated politics over any extended period of time. There is a low threshold for political party representation (two-thirds of one percent) and between six and ten parties are generally represented in parliament. No party has won a majority of seats in post-war elections. As a result, there has been a series of coalition governments, usually based on left and right political divisions but also in many cases unity governments.