Good Reads: Was 2011 a banner year for human rights?
From the downfall of North African regimes to the humanitarian interventions in Ivory Coast and Libya, 2011 appears to have been the year when citizens and leaders took a stand on human rights.
Scan the headlines and you might feel like the world is going down the tubes. War, famine, power struggles, economic collapse, climate change – none of these problems seem to be going away, and some problems seem to be getting worse by the day.Skip to next paragraph
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But in at least one area – human rights – there seems to be some major progress, both because of citizen activism from below and political leadership from above.
Three major dictatorships have fallen across North Africa – in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya – at least partly at the hands of their own people. Citizen protests spread as far away as Bahrain and Yemen, Malawi and Swaziland, and while Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has held onto power through a brutal repression that has killed thousands of Syrians, it has come at the cost of his country’s economic and political isolation.
Numbered are the days, at least in Africa, when leaders could simply grab and hold onto power perpetually through falsified elections. Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo tried that, after losing elections to Alessane Ouattara, and a combination of street protests and pro-Ouattara military might (along with some French military intervention) shut Gbagbo’s power grab down. This week, as the Democratic Republic of Congo enters a dicey period, where two men – President Joseph Kabila and opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi – claim to have won Nov. 28 elections, the international community will doubtless attempt to find a negotiated settlement, after election observers have declared that voting results “lack credibility.”
Watch the Monitor for continuing coverage on Congo.
In this week’s Atlantic, Stewart M. Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations lists some of these successes and notes that the key ingredient in all these struggles is a galvanized popular will for the respect of human rights. Quoting the findings of a global opinion survey by worldpublicopinion.org, Mr. Patrick notes that citizens even in authoritarian countries are beginning to demand more and more freedom.