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:
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.
2. Six weeks before the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a number of high-profile prisoners, including members of Pussy Riot, the Greenpeace Artic 30 and Mikhail Khodorkovski.
3. This past year, Amnesty’s Crisis Prevention and Response team used satellite imagery to shed light on the scale of human rights abuses and trends in conduct of conflict in crisis hot spots. From North Korea to Eritrea, Sudan to Syria, these images served not only as important insight into some of the biggest human rights stories of the year, they may someday serve as evidence in bringing human rights abusers to justice.
4. On April 2, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the landmark Arms Trade Treaty after over 2 decades of campaigning by Amnesty International. Originally dismissed as “ludicrous,” the treaty will help foster peace and security by preventing the flow of arms into countries where they will be used to commit atrocities.
5. On May 2, Maryland became the 18th U.S. state to abolish the death penalty when Governor Martin O’Malley signed a bill repealing capital punishment in the state.
6. On Oct. 22, Amnesty International published the report ‘Will I Be Next?': U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan, reporting on drone strikes by the U.S. in Pakistan’s tribal areas between 2012 and 2013 that Amnesty is concerned may have resulted in unlawful killings that may constitute extrajudicial executions or war crimes. The report received international attention (White House and State Department press secretaries were grilled about the report the next day) and Nabeela, a young girl who witnessed her grandmother being killed by a drone strike, was flown to the U.S. to testify before Congress.
7. Beatriz, a 22-year old Salvadoran woman denied medical treatment by her government, was finally allowed to undergo the emergency procedure that saved her life.
8. After over 41 years in solitary confinement in Louisiana, Herman Wallace was freed when a U.S. district judge overturned his conviction and ordered his immediate release from prison. The victory was bittersweet, however: Herman died of terminal cancer two days after his release.
9. One hundred fifty-five prisoners remain at the Guantanamo Bay, despite the fact that 76 have been cleared for transfer. But 2013 saw some progress in regards to the detention facility: President Obama appointed staff to lead the effort to close the detention facility, Congress rolled back some restrictions on transferring detainees to other countries, and 11 detainees were transferred, including the last of the Uighurs cleared for transfer.
10. In February 2013, Congress finally reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), with new provisions to extend protections to Indigenous women, the LGBT community and immigrant women.
11. In November, the International Violence Against Women Act was also reintroduced in Congress after a successful hearing in the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission where Amnesty presented testimony (link to hearing). The legislation would permanently integrate gender-based violence prevention and response into all U.S. government programming overseas.
12. In early April, Abdullah al-Qahtani was at risk of execution in Iraq. But then, an amazing thing happened. We emailed a petition out to Amnesty members and within 24 hours, received over 30,000 signatures. Abdullah is still alive and we believe pressure from activists likely helped spare his life.
13. Thanks to pressure from Amnesty International activists and other groups, both the FY2013 and FY2014 National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAA) include provisions that require the Department of Defense to support the security of Afghan women and girls during and after the security transition process.
14. On July 24, a federal district court upheld the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s “Conflict Minerals Rule,” requiring certain companies reporting to the SEC to publicly disclose whether their products rely on minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Industry groups have appealed the ruling, and Amnesty is urging the district court to uphold the rule.
15. As crises escalated in the Central African Republic, Syria and Turkey, Amnesty International had researchers on the ground to document and report on human rights abuses as they were happening.