15 Human Rights Success Stories of 2013

By Natalie Butz, Communications Specialist at Amnesty International USA

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).

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.

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Will Sunday’s Presidential Elections Be a Victory for Human Rights in Honduras?

“The human rights situation in Honduras seems to deteriorate every day. It looks like no one is safe from the widespread violence and insecurity. Those defending human rights are particularly exposed to abuses and attacks.
-Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International’s Americas Deputy Program Director.

On Sunday, November 24, Hondurans will vote for their next president. Amnesty International recognizes this as an historic opportunity to improve human rights in the Central American nation. AI has sent an open letter to all of the candidates outlining specific actions that the next president must take in the areas of

  • Human Rights Defenders
  • Public Security
  • Impunity
  • Individuals & Communities at Risk (Indigenous, Garífuna, Campesinos, Women, & LGBTI)

Amnesty is very concerned about the safety of human rights defenders and journalists during and immediately after the elections. Please send a message to President Lobo that he must guarantee the protection of these individuals before, during, and after Sunday’s elections. We suggest you also send President the following tweets in English and Spanish:

  • .@PEPE_LOBO Will you publicly commit to zero tolerance of attacks against #humanrights defenders & journalists during #Honduras elections?
  •  .@PEPE_LOBO ¿Se comprometerá a cero tolerancia de ataques contra periodistas y defensoras/es de #DDHH durante #EleccionesHonduras?

Please also tweet the presidential candidates to tell them to protect human rights:

  • .@andrespavon_ @VilledaMauricio Will you commit to protect #humanrights defenders & journalists? #EleccionesHonduras
  • .@JuanOrlandoH @XiomaraCastroZ Will you commit to protect #humanrights defenders & journalists? #EleccionesHonduras
  • .@SalvadorNasrala @RomeoVasquezV @OrleSols @Pinusd_HN Will you commit to protect #humanrights defenders and journalists? #EleccionesHonduras

Success without Victory: Taking the Long View on Justice in Guatemala

Former military leader Efrain Rios Montt's conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity has been overturned, but there is reason to hope (Photo Credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images).

Former military leader Efrain Rios Montt’s conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity has been overturned, but there is reason to hope (Photo Credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images).

Update: This post was updated on May 23, 2013 to provide more context for the significance of the overturned conviction of Rios Montt.

Amnesty International joined human rights organizations from Guatemala and all around the world in applauding former Guatemalan Dictator Rios Montt’s historic conviction on charges of genocide on May 10. The trial established his responsibility as intellectual author for the murder of 1,771 Ixil indigenous people and the forced displacement of tens of thousands from the Ixil triangle region of southern Quiché Department.

It took over thirty years to bring Rios Montt to justice. The trial faced numerous delays and obstacles, including many procedural appeals and challenges by the defense and a ten day suspension of the trial in April during which an annulment of the proceedings by a lower court was resolved.

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How Do You Defeat a Dictator When He Gets to Write the Rules?

NO_ecard_AmnestyI didn’t think it was possible. As a student at Rutgers in 1988, I sarcastically asked my friends, “Who do you think is going to win the referendum in Chile? Pinochet or Pinochet?”

Following his bloody overthrow of the democratically elected Allende Government in 1973, Pinochet murdered thousands of dissidents and outlawed opposition parties. Like many dictators, he legitimated his rule by holding a plebiscite on a “constitution” that gave him unchecked power in 1980. He was able to do so, of course, because the climate of fear and impunity guaranteed his victory.

Facing growing international pressure to step down, General Pinochet tried to pull this same trick again in 1988, by offering a pseudo-election in which Chileans could vote to either let Pinochet remain in office for another eight years or hold a presidential election the following year. Given that he was writing the rules again, how could human rights activists and other opposition groups possibly win? It seemed hopeless.

But it wasn’t! No!, an Oscar-nominated film, tells the story of the brave and creative Chileans who helped their fellow citizens stand up and say, “NO!” to repression. This movie opens in New York and Los Angeles on February 15. You can find a list of theatres and dates for other cities by clicking here.

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Israel/Gaza: International Monitors and Arms Embargo Needed NOW

A doctor checks vital signs of haneen Tafish by light of his mobile phone in Al Shifa hospital, Gaza City, November 15, 2012. Haneen Tafish eventually died from her injuries. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Amnesty International is calling for the  prompt deployment of international monitors and an arms embargo on both Israel and armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas de facto administration in Gaza, to offer more civilian protections immediately and monitor and document violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Since the assassination by Israel of Hamas leader Ahmad al-Ja’abari on November 14 in Gaza City, there has been an escalation of violence between Israel and armed Palestinian groups in Gaza that has left scores dead and injured.  The conflict shows no signs of abating and looks to be repeating the same mistakes made during operation ‘Cast Lead’ four years ago.

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