As Amnesty International launches its annual report on human rights on the eve of its 50th anniversary, the world stands on the threshold of historic change.
Courageous people are standing up and speaking out in the face of bullets, beatings, tear gas and tanks. This bravery is sending a signal to repressive governments that their days are numbered. But they are fighting back.
The international community, including the UK Government, must decide if they stand on the side of reform or repression.
AI report on “The state of the world’s human rights”, released on Friday, says that growing demands for freedom and justice across the Middle East and North Africa and the rise of social media offer an unprecedented opportunity for human rights change – but this change stands on a knife-edge.
Says Salil Shetty, Amnesty International Secretary General: “Not since the end of the Cold War have so many repressive governments faced such a challenge to their stranglehold on power. The demand for political and economic rights spreading across the Middle East and North Africa is dramatic proof that all rights are equally important and a universal demand.
…The call for justice, freedom and dignity has evolved into a global demand that grows stronger every day. The genie is out of the bottle and the forces of repression cannot put it back.”
Unprecedented access to information, means of communication and networking technology, as social media networks, are fuelling this new global activism.
But government are fighting back. Governments in Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen have shown a willingness to beat, maim or kill peaceful protestors to stay in power. Even where dictators have fallen, the institutions that supported them still need to be dismantled and the work of activists is far from over. Repressive governments such as Azerbaijan, China and Iran are trying to pre-empt any similar revolutions in their countries.
The Amnesty report, a global overview that exposes abuses in 157 countries, indeed reveals restrictions on free speech in at least 89 countries; torture and other ill-treatment in at least 98 countries; cases of prisoners of conscience in at least 48 countries; and documents unfair trials in at least 54 countries.
AI is urging the international community to seize the opportunity for change and ensure that 2011 is not a false dawn for human rights.