It’s rare Amnesty activists get a moment to stop and take a breath. But with the start of a new year comes the opportunity to take stock of the progress we’ve made and the successes we helped accomplish in 2013. There’s still much to be done, but we hope the list below will help inspire all of us in the year to come:
Yorm Bopha was 29 when she was arrested on September 4, 2012 on spurious charges. She is a prominent activist from the Boeung Kak Lake community who is facing up to five years’ imprisonment if found guilty at her trial. She is a prisoner of conscience (Photo Credit: Jenny Holligan).
1. In 52 years, Amnesty International activists have helped free tens of thousands of Prisoners of Conscience around the world. In 2013, we continued that trend. Human rights activists freed this year included Yorm Bopha in Cambodia, Kartam Joga in India, Filipino poet Ericson Acosta, Yemeni journalist Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi’ and Iranian human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh.
By Neil Sammonds, Syria Researcher at Amnesty International
Sitting on a thin mattress inside a ramshackle structure on a muddy hilltop, elderly Abu Fares told me how he came to live in poverty in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region.
For the past 11 months, he and his wife – along with around 200 families – have been eking out a living in makeshift shelters on the outskirts of the overcrowded Domiz refugee camp near the city of Dohuk.
Amnesty said in a report released in October that the U.S. carried out unlawful drone killings in Pakistan, some of which could amount to war crimes or extrajudicial executions. The Administration refused to confirm or deny our account or publicly commit to investigating potentially unlawful killings.
By Naureen Shah, Advocacy Advisor at Amnesty International USA
Nearly every month of 2013 brought a devastating revelation about the secret U.S. drone program, which has reportedly involved more than 400 drone strikes and killed more than 4,700 people. Here’s a look back at the secrets that were exposed, the promises made, and the ugly realities that remain:
January 2013: The White House reportedly finalizes a lethal “playbook” with rules for the secret killing of terrorism suspects. The CIA conducts drone strikes in Pakistan, but they are reportedly exempt from the playbook’s rules.
“There’s a sense that you put the pedal to the metal now,” the Washington Post reports an unnamed U.S. official as saying about the CIA’s continued killings.
Lieutenant Islam Bibi Helmand’s top female police officer (R) talking to a colleague on March 8, 2013. Known as the most senior female police officer in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, Bibi was shot dead on July 4, 2013 by unknown gunmen while being driven to work. The attack is seen as part of a series violence against top women officials (Photo Credit: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images).
Elsie De Laere, our Afghanistan country specialist, co-authored this piece.
The situation is unfortunately not unfamiliar yet it deteriorates with each passing day: Afghan women working to protect and advance their rights continue to face growing threats to their lives and safety.
Well-documented threats to female Members of Parliament and government, women’s human rights defenders, and female police officers occur on a daily basis, all set against the terrifying backdrop of an uncertain future currently being shaped by attempts to revoke provisions of the country’s Elimination of Violence Against Women law and potential peace negotiations with the Taliban and other insurgent groups that threaten to rollback gains for women’s human rights.
The massive displacement crisis stemming from Syria’s ongoing conflict is increasingly visible from space. Satellite images on Google Earth reveal the growth of what in some cases looks like the emergence of whole new cities over the last two years.
A new project published today by one of our volunteers, Richard Cozzens, presents some of the most compelling images, providing a grim snapshot of the dire humanitarian situation in and around Syria. The satellite images show camps in the countries that are most affected by the influx of refugees, such as Turkey and Jordan. For example, what was an empty spot in the desert in September 2011 is now the huge refugee camp Zaatari in Jordan.
Incredibly, the White House is staying silent on yesterday’s news of an alleged drone strike in Yemen that reportedly killed 15 people traveling to a wedding.
“President Obama: End Your #GameOfDrones Now,” University of Texas-Austin
Even though President Obama called civilian casualties “heartbreaking tragedies” in a May 2013 speech, his Administration has been unwilling to acknowledge specific killings, let alone investigate and provide compensation or reparation to survivors and families.
This includes the family of grandmother Mamana Bibi, who was who was struck and killed by a drone’s Hellfire missiles while gathering vegetables in her family’s fields in October 2012. Though her grandchildren visited members of Congress earlier this year, the White House has never publicly recognized the killing or the family’s loss.
“I hope I can return home with a message,” Mamana Bibi’s grandson told members of Congress. “I hope I can tell my community that Americans listened.”
The White House can still change course and ends its policy of secrecy. We are calling on President Obama to publicly commit to investigating all credible reports of potentially unlawful killings, including those documented in our report.
It’s time to stop the silence, and start being accountable.
In October 2012, Mamana Bibi was killed in front of her grandchildren while gathering vegetables in her family’s large, vacant fields in Pakistan. She was blasted into pieces by a drone strike that appears to have been aimed directly at her.
For this report, Amnesty International reviewed all 45 reported U.S. drone strikes that occurred between January 2012 and August 2013 in North Waziristan, a region in northwest Pakistan which has seen the vast majority of this type of targeted killings. The organization conducted detailed field research into nine strikes, based on rare access to the region and more than 60 interviews with survivors, eyewitnesses, residents and officials.
Faced with a spike in sexual violence against female protesters, Egyptian women are overcoming stigma and recounting painful testimonies to force silent authorities and a reticent society to confront “sexual terrorism” (Photo Credit: Mahmud Khaled/AFP/Getty Images).
By Tarah Demant, Amnesty International USA Co-Chair, Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group
It took Miriam Isaura López Vargas several weeks to piece together what happened to her after she was tortured and raped by Mexican soldiers. On February 2, 2011, the 30-year-old mother of four had just dropped three of her children at school in the city of Ensenada, in northern Mexico, when two men wearing balaclavas forced her into a white van and took her away.
“They tortured me. They repeatedly put wet cloth over my face and poured water over it so I couldn’t breathe. They gave me electric shocks,” she explained.
Blogger and prisoner of conscience Hossein Ronaghi Maleki.
Hossein Ronaghi Maleki was a 24-year-old computer whiz and blogger when he was arrested in Iran in December 2009. After spending most of the last four years behind bars as a prisoner of conscience, he is now in a deplorable condition, in dire need of medical attention that he is not receiving.
After having one kidney removed because of a kidney disorder contracted in the filthy prison where he was kept, he now has a serious infection in his remaining kidney.
Incredibly, when he was re-arrested in August 2012 after spending a short period of time out of prison to get an operation, he was brutally beaten in the kidney area, causing his surgical wound to bleed.
As we unpacked the model drone for our last action, it was hard to ignore the biting chill in the mountain air in Salt Lake City. While we were preoccupied with the tour, winter had come. We’d pushed on as the days grew shorter and nights grew colder. We pushed on, feeling the presence and power of the thousands now standing with us around the country, and knowing that 9-year-old Nabeela Bibi’s call for justice for her grandmother, Mamana, must not be ignored.