The first four months of 2011 witnessed an unprecedented surge of ordinary people speaking up for their rights and demanding change. Inspired by political upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa, protesters peacefully called for greater freedoms in Sudan and Azerbaijan, while online activists in China urged a ‘Jasmine Revolution’. But the authorities’ repressive attempts to silence these voices through arrests and detentions, ill-treatment and prison sentences continued.
Civilians elsewhere also paid a heavy price for exercising their civil and political rights. Hundreds were killed during Nigeria’s election period in April, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced by post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire still fear reprisals if they return home.
In contrast, 2011 has seen some victories for international justice, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia’s sentencing of three former generals for crimes committed during the Balkans war. Another step was made on the path towards ending the death penalty, as Illinois became the USA’s 16th abolitionist state.
Yet entrenched human rights abuses and insecurity continued unabated in many countries. In Mexico, 11,000 migrants were abducted during a six-month period alone, and in Colombia, more human rights activists were killed. Amid increased Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, questions about security are also mounting following the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.
Worldwide, the struggle for free expression, security and human rights is in sharper focus than ever.
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