2009: horribilis or mirabilis?
Everyone loves a list. Shortlist and Stylist mazagine’s popularity are testimony to the success of the format. All the media are chock-a-block with end-of-year lists. And … well, not wanting to be left out, here’s my own end-of-year round-up. So, in no particular order, here’s my Top 10 Human Rights Stories Of 2009:
1: Gaza - Israel’s beginning of the year military offensive into Gaza was initially carried out with almost no journalists able to cover it, but reports soon emerged of indiscriminate Israeli attacks, the illegal use of white phosphorus and wounded civilians left to die. In September the Goldstone report called for war crimes investigations into both Hamas and Israeli war crimes.
2: Guantánamo and torture memos - on 22 January (his second day in office) US president Barack Obama issued orders for Guantánamo to be closed within a year. (Unfortunately we now know that this is not going to happen). In April the US declassified memos that had authorised CIA torture, including waterboarding. But Obama said no officials would be prosecuted.
3: UK collusion in torture - in February Binyam Mohamed’s return from Guantánamo catapulted the issue of possible UK complicity into torture of “war on terror” detainees into the headlines. The UK government then spent most of the year fighting to keep secret documents that may show that Mohamed’s torture was ordered by the US and known about by the UK’s intelligence services
4: Arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir - in March the International Criminal Court showed it means business over Darfur by issuing a warrant for Bashir’s arrest. In October the trial of Radovan Karadic got underway - another key milestone in the fight for justice in the face of the worst human rights abuses.
5: Pakistan’s Swat Valley offensive - in May the Pakistani army’s military offensive against the Taliban and other armed groups in the Swat Valley region led to a humanitarian crisis as thousands of civilians fled the fighting. There were unconfirmed reports of suspected fighters being summarily killed by Pakistani forces.
6: Sri Lanka - the crushing of Tamil rebels in May brought with it numerous accounts of Sri Lankan army abuses, including alleged summary executions of surrendering Tamil fighters. The imprisoning of hundreds of thousands of people in razor-wired camps made the situation even worse.
7: Control Orders ruling - in June the House of Lords ruled against the UK government’s system of using secret evidence to put people under “control orders” (effectively house arrest). In July a Palestinian man - Mahmoud Abu Rideh - won the right to leave the UK after being under a control order for four years; a psychiatrist had said that his control order had had “the most deleterious effects on his mental health".
8: Iran - the disputed June elections led to the most serious protests in Iran for decades. An alliance of pro-democracy activists, trades unionists, women’s rights activists and others have since been the target of attacks by pro-government militia groups, and hundreds have been arrested and many allegedly tortured and raped in detention.
9: Aung San Sui Kyi’s trial - in August there was international condemnation of a Burmese court’s ruling that Aung San Sui Kyi must serve a further 18 months of house arrest after an uninvited man visited her lakeside house. Amnesty described the decision as “shameful” and pointed out that she is one of over 2,000 political prisoners detained in the country.
10: Guinea - on 28 September the mass rape and killing of scores of people who were attending a political rally in a football stadium led to calls - including from Amnesty - for an international inquiry. It also became clear that despite Guinea’s poor human rights records, arms and weapons trainers had for years been going to Guinea, exposing a lack of arms controls safeguards. (In October the UN voted to introduce a new global arms trade treaty - after a long campaign by Amnesty and others).
OK, obviously this a subjective snapshot. It’s by no means definitive. In fact, consider this a sort of “list-off” if you want! In other words, if you’ve got strong views about what should have been in the list but wasn’t, post a comment. Even post your own list.
Right, was it annus horribilis or mirabilis? Hmmm, I’d say probably neither. When you look at the world through human rights spectacles there are always a lot of terrible things to report; but usually also some push-back and even solid achievement.
So now, we, the Amnesty media blogging team, will say goodbye until we return on 4 January. Thanks for all your interest and all your comments during 2009. And here’s wishing for a 2010 which is more mirabilis than horribilis.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.