FORTY-FIVE percent of the world's people now live in democracies. But only 20 percent enjoy full political rights and civil liberties.
``Never before have there been as many countries attempting to play by the democratic rules,'' states Freedom House in its lastest annual report on the state of world freedom, issued today. ``Many of these democracies, however, remain fragile and often are incapable of providing for the basic rights of their citizens.''
``It is an encouraging paradox in the sense that there is a strengthened inclination around the world to adhere to democratic principles,'' says Adrian Karatnycky, president of the New York-based human rights group. ``That means that there's a broader number of countries that represent a zone of opportunity for the expansion of liberty and freedom.''
Of the world's 191 nations, 114 are formal democracies in 1994, up from 63 a decade ago, according to the report, ``Freedom in the World.''
Seven nations joined the democratic camp this year, including Ukraine, which held national and local elections; South Africa, where 40 years of white minority rule came to an end; and Haiti, where the restoration of a democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrande Aristide, has given democracy another chance.
But of the 114 democracies, 37 are only ``partly free,'' meaning that the right of individual expression is circumscribed.
One democracy - war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the government has been unable to maintain civil order in the face of internal ethnic strife and foreign intervention - is ranked by Freedom House as ``not free.''
The report says ethnic strife lies behind the abridgment of political liberties in other democracies as well, including India and Turkey. Elsewhere - notably Russia and Ukraine - civil liberties are restricted because democratic institutions have not fully developed after decades of Communist rule.
A third category of ``partly free'' nations includes Latin American countries where high-levels of corruption and/or the influence of drug cartels has been a barrier to expanding personal freedoms.
Freedom House has issued comprehensive annual reports on the state of world freedom since 1972. Democracy provides the best environment for creating economic growth, the report contends. Moreover, of the 353 wars fought since 1819, it notes, none have been fought between two established democracies.
``Democracies do not war against each other,'' the report states.
Paradoxically, even as many democracies struggle to survive, the foreign aid needed to help them is about to come under the knife in the new Republican Congress. The report says the United States should cut existing aid to nations that have poor human rights records, and focus it on emerging democracies and partly free societies.
``Ignoring their plight now may result in greater costs later,'' Mr. Karatnycky says.
The report ranks 21 countries, including China, Sudan, Syria, and North Korea, as the world's ``most repressive.''
``The worst of the worst this year are Iraq, Sudan, and North Korea,'' says Freedom House senior scholar Joseph Ryan.
Most states on the ``most repressive'' list have a majority Muslim population and are under pressure from Muslim extremists; are postcommunist societies; or, like Bosnia, are multiethnic societies in which power is not held by a single, dominant ethnic group. ``Frequently, the `Not Free' have two or three of these characteristics,'' the report states.
Although economic deprivation can contribute to the abridgment of political liberties, there are exceptions. The Gulf states of Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia are examples of prosperous nations where liberties are abridged. In a number of poor nations, such as Bolivia and Botswana, political freedoms have taken root.