2011: A year of progress for human rights
Human rights lept forward in 2011 with the Arab Spring. Smaller steps also indicate progress, including a more forceful Arab League with Libya and Syria, grassroots protests in Russia, and respect for rule of law with the extradition of Laurent Gbagbo to the Hague.
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Or consider that people at the grassroots seem to have found their voices in some of the most surprising places. It was not just in Tahrir Square or at Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that average citizens took to the streets. Russia, long thought a “hotbed” of passivity, has been rocked by protests over electoral fraud and widespread corruption.Skip to next paragraph
China, which experiences thousands of minor citizen revolts each year over such issues as corruption and environmental damage, usually leaves their resolution to local officials. But demonstrations in Wukan, Guangdong Province, over secret land deals and the killing of a local villager became so large, raucous, and well-publicized that higher-ups felt the need to step in to negotiate.
Even in repressive Kazakhstan, oil workers have refused to give up their protests over wages and working conditions despite a brutal government response. Thanks to the Internet, citizens in every corner of the globe (with the exception of North Korea) are learning that even the most authoritarian government cannot afford to ignore its people’s will forever.
Or finally look at respect for the rule of law. True, Muammar Qaddafi was summarily executed by the Libyan rebels. But Laurent Gbagbo, former Ivory Coast strongman, was transferred by his adversaries to The Hague following his indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity committed after refusing to concede his defeat for reelection.
International law is still a fragile instrument and the ICC’s failure to win any convictions of those it has indicted means that its effectiveness has not yet been proven. But Mr. Gbagbo’s transfer, with the support even of countries like the United States that has failed to join the Court, reflects recognition that legal remedies can often be more attractive than military ones.
All this progress is not to deny that rape continues largely unabated in Congo or that China continues to hold thousands in prison without trial or that Robert Mugabe continues to use force and fear to sustain his rule in Zimbabwe. Burma may slip back into total repression and who knows when North Korea will emerge from it. Occasionally human rights even regress.
But at the end of the day, the fundamentally positive direction of change is clear. For human rights, 2011 was a year far more deserving of celebration than tears.