Reviewed by Rizwana Naqvi
THE year 2011 was a tumultuous one with concerns for human rights voiced around the globe. It started with millions of people taking to the streets against autocratic regimes, demanding freedom, justice and dignity. They protested for their rights, including political freedom.
Amnesty International Report 2012: The State of the World’s Human Rights documents the state of human rights in 2011. In five regional overviews and a country-by-country survey of 155 countries and territories, the report shows how demands for human rights continue to resound around the globe. The main topics dealt with include restrictions on freedom of expression, suppression of dissent, discrimination against and violation of the rights of women, migrants, refugees and indigenous communities.
The year 2011 was marked by demands for change in the Arab World. The uprisings started in Tunisia and Egypt where they soon bore fruit as governments succumbed to public protests. This encouraged and ignited protests in many other countries, especially in North Africa and the Middle East, where millions thronged the streets demanding freedom despite the brutal repression of protests.
However, the struggle for rights was not confined to the Middle East and Africa. In Europe and Central Asia, as well as the Asia Pacific region, people repeatedly challenged injustices in the face of increased government repression. In several states that were formerly a part of Soviet Union, regimes strengthened their grip on power by stern measures such as crushing protests and arresting opposition leaders.
Critics of the states and human rights defenders were dealt with severely and, at times, had to pay a high price for raising their voice. Journalists trying to expose abuses of power, human rights violations and corruption were targeted in a number of countries. In Pakistan, at least nine journalists were killed during the year; others were harassed and abused at the hands of intelligence agencies, security forces, political parties or militant groups.
Poverty remained another serious human rights issue. The Amnesty International reports that millions of people are still living in poverty without access to essential services such as clean water, sanitation, health care and education. Violence and discrimination against women is widespread in many countries, sometimes as a result of cultural norms and traditions besides other reasons. In many countries, non-implementation of legislation to combat gender-based violence and the failure to punish those responsible for crimes against women helped create a climate of tolerance for violence.
In Europe, legislations, policies and practices discriminating against Roma people continued, with Roma communities forcibly evicted in several countries including France,Italy and Serbia.
Moreover, refugees and migrants were denied the protection of the law in a number of countries. Amnesty documents the treatment meted out to thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. At least 1,500 people drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean, often in over crowded and un-seaworthy vessels. Those who survived the crossing are facing hardships in Europe, where authorities, instead of dealing with the situation as a humanitarian crisis, are more concerned with intercepting, detaining and expelling migrants. Many European countries, including France and the UK, have refused to resettle any refugees displaced by the conflict in Libya, although they had supported Nato involvement in the country.
Migrant workers, too, continued to face challenges in year 2011. While many governments in Asia and the Gulf statesrely on migrant workforce, they fail to protect their rights. Women domestic workers remained especially vulnerable with their own governments taking little or no interest in their plight.
In the USA, along its border with Mexico, immigrants suffered discrimination at the hands of law enforcement officials and continued to encounter barriers to education and health care. Migrants’ rights defenders came under unprecedented attack in Mexico, especially those working at shelters providing humanitarian assistance to migrants.
Despite the endorsement of the 2007 UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by many countries they continued to be threatened, harassed, forcibly evicted or displaced, attacked or even killed in an attempt to exploit natural resources. In countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico, Indigenous Peoples were forced off their lands. Peru was an exception, though. It passed a landmark law in 2011 making it mandatory to hold consultations with Indigenous Peoples before embarking on development projects on their ancestral lands.
At the same time, Amnesty International also documented progress in some areas such as the global trend towards abolition of the death penalty and landmark steps towards justice in Europe with the arrest of General Ratko Mladic and Croatian Serb Goran Hadzic, on trial for crimes committed in the 1990 wars in formerYugoslavia.
Perhaps the most significant advance in terms of human rights in Asia was the decision to free more than 300 political prisoners in Myanmar and to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to contest parliamentary elections. However, continued harassment and detention of some dissidents and opposition activists suggest limits to the reforms.
Amnesty International Report 2012 shows that as people are becoming more aware of their rights they cannot be kept suppressed for long. As the demand for human rights grows it becomes more important for rulers and leaders to rise to the challenge and respond positively.
Amnesty International Report 2012:
The State of the World’s Human Rights
419pp. Price not listed