The end (of 2012) is nigh

Today is my last day in the office for the year, and tomorrow could be my last day on earth. There’s some controversy around whether or not the Mayan calendar predicts that tomorrow; 21.12.12 - which is almost a palindrome (can’t believe that word isn’t reversible) is to be the day the word ends.

The Guardian have gone all out on the issue – with guides on how to make ready for the apocalypse and a quiz on how prepped you are – and why not? If they’re wrong to mock, there won’t exactly be an opportunity for the egg-on-their- face to be pointed out. But there is a serious consequence for people who have warned of the pending ‘end of days’. In China, people have been arrested en masse for suggesting the end is nigh. Some reports say up to 1,000 arrests have already taken place.

At the risk of parodying Carrie Bradshaw, all this talk of the end of days got me thinking; if this was the last year ever, how did it measure up?

Well 2012 might not have seen the seismic shifts that its predecessor did – but it was clear that the ‘Arab Spring’ is far from over. Syria is still locked in a deadly standoff between people who oppose Assad, and government forces. With some reports numbering the casualties at 40,000 – many of them civilians, it has been a year of enormous tragedy and hardship for Syrians. With fresh warnings today of the increasingly partisan nature of the conflict – this story of a husband who reportedly killed his wife epitomises a country divided and there is no obvious end in sight.

Tahrir Square has once again been the stage for mass protests, this time over new powers President Morsi has sought for himself.  As last year, people are protesting to ensure meaningful democracy and basic rights.

It’s quite a task to reduce the year to highlights – but the on-going change in Burma signified by Aung San Suu Kyi’s election as a member of Burma’s parliament has to be up there. In China, a hand-over of power which comes only every once in a decade took place, with little chance of a break with the old regime. China has had a bad year, with more than 75 people setting themselves on fire in protest over China’s policy towards Tibet this year, and the daring escape from illegal house arrest of blind human rights lawyer Chen Guancheng early in the year, which shed an international spotlight on the persecution of state critics.

Meanwhile, in Africa, there has been worrying unrest in Mali and the DRC – and the now notorious “kill the gays” bill in Uganda, signifies a concerning trend of increased homophobia across Africa – watch this space for an Amnesty report on that early next year.

Our report out today on Greece which documents a sharp increase in racist attacks on migrants, points to a pattern of increased racism in parts of Europe, triggered in part by the austerity crisis. If a measure of a country is how it treats its most vulnerable, then the failure of governments to protect in both Italy and Greece highlighted this week – show the Nobel Prize winning EU has some serious ground to cover.

The Press Association has published a list of words of the year – including ‘Gangham style’, ‘Games Makers’, ‘Fiscal cliff’ and ‘Romneyshambles’, all of which bring the year’s highs and lows flooding back. Other memes included Kony 2012 (was that only 2012?) and Leveson, according to Yahoo.

But perhaps one of the best litmus tests of the year is the roll call of iconic people who the year will be remembered for. At first I thought the Guardian has succumbed to the old trap of sourcing stories from the Onion, when they reported that Kim Jong-un   was voted Time magazine readers' person of the year. It seems users of online messageboard4Chan hijacked the poll.

But when the magazine’s editors made their own choice for the top spot, it turned out to be another of the supreme leaders - Obama – his infamous ‘four more years’ picture clocked in as the most shared on twitter of the year.  The first listed runner-up, though, stole the spotlight for my money. It  was Malala Yousafzai. The magazine says of her “In trying to silence this Pakistani schoolgirl, the Taliban amplified her voice. She is now a symbol of the struggle for women’s rights all over the world.” Here here. You can listen again to extracts from her diary read out by 14-year-olds in the UK on radio four, here.

As we stand on the threshold of a new year, it’s tempting to look ahead to next year’s challenges and to imagine what we will be reporting this time next year (if we make it) – will the two imprisoned members of punk rock band Pussy Riot be released? Will we have secured a bullet proof global arms trade treaty? Will yet more countries have abolished the death penalty, or will still more have resumed its use? Will Kony be caught? Will the UK get a bill of rights or stick with the act? The questions you could pose are endless. But I for one hope we have more time available to us. There is much to do before we sleep.

Take part in Amnesty’s annual end-of-year Write for Rights campaign here


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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.
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