The Best and Worst Human Rights Developments of 2014
It has been a grim year on the whole, but 2014 was not without its bright spots. The following were some of the best and worst human rights developments of the past 12 months.
Brazil's Internet Bill of Rights
While much of the world slipped backward on internet freedom during the year, Brazil staked out a leadership position with its widely praised “Marco Civil da Internet” legislation. The law, dubbed the “Internet Bill of Rights,” embraces net neutrality, protects the privacy of ordinary users, and guarantees equal access to the internet for all.
Hong Kong's Democracy Movement
The Chinese government’s announcement that all candidates for chief executive of Hong Kong would have to be approved by a pro-Beijing committee—despite long-standing promises to grant universal suffrage to the autonomous city—drove thousands of students into the streets to demand their political rights. Although police have gradually dispersed the protest camps, the debate is far from over, and Hong Kong’s people have shown the Chinese Communist Party that they are a force to be reckoned with.
Indonesia's presidential election
Unlike his six predecessors, Joko Widodo did not emerge from the military or political elite. Instead, the new president of Indonesia had his start as a middle-class furniture entrepreneur and worked his way up through local elected offices. Not only did Jokowi win on an anti-corruption platform, but soon after his election he swore in his deputy, a member of the country’s ethnic Chinese and Christian minorities, to replace him as governor of Jakarta.
Tunisia's new constitution and elections
Nearly four years after ousting its authoritarian ruler and igniting the Arab Spring, Tunisia held free and fair parliamentary elections and its first ever democratic presidential election, all under a constitution adopted in January. These successes came just a year after the assassinations of two prominent politicians had left many wondering whether democracy in the region would ever be possible.
Human rights gains for LGBTI people
LGBTI communities enjoyed a particularly successful year, despite the recent rise of harsh laws in countries like Russia and Nigeria. In September, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution asking the human rights commissioner to investigate violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, further solidifying the international community’s recognition of the human rights of LGBTI people. Legal victories for same-sex marriage in the United States and 20 other countries, most recently in Finland, are evidence of an upward trend in the democratic world.
Criminal violence in Mexico
The suspected killing of 43 students by corrupt security forces and associated criminal groups in Mexico shocked the world, but it is hardly the country’s first or even largest mass murder in recent years. Beyond the crimes and grave sites discovered by authorities, over 22,000 disappearances from 2006 to 2012 have gone uninvestigated.
Boko Haram in Nigeria
#BringBackOurGirls trended worldwide after Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist group, abducted over 250 schoolgirls in April. The militant force, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden,” has ravaged the country for the last five years. However, none of its campaigns have been as deadly as those this year, when it killed thousands of civilians, including schoolgirls and boys. The government’s sometimes passive, sometimes indiscriminately violent and often mendacious response to the threat has been not just ineffective but actually counterproductive.
The Russian government's aggression, at home and abroad
It should not be surprising that a government with little regard for human rights at home would have little respect for the rights of its neighbors. Yet the Kremlin’s seizure of Crimea and de facto invasion of eastern Ukraine—following the immensely corrupt Sochi Winter Olympics—shocked even the most jaded Russia experts. While the world watched the bloodshed and skullduggery in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin cracked down harder domestically, silencing attempts to acknowledge Russian troop deaths, ramping up propaganda and censorship, and indirectly punishing his own people with travel restrictions and bans on European goods in retaliation for sanctions.
Escalating repression in China
When Xi Jinping took the reins as Communist Party chief and president, he promoted the goals of the “China Dream.” However, after two years of his rule, his dream has turned out to be a nightmare for many Chinese. Xi and his cohort have stepped up repressive campaigns against perceived threats to the party’s rule, including activists who criticize the persecution of religious minorities. In one recent example, Ilham Tohti, China’s most prominent advocate for the rights of Uighurs, was sentenced to life in prison for supposedly inciting separatism.
Turkey's internet crackdown
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his colleagues are not Twitter’s biggest fans. Earlier this year, the government temporarily pulled the plug on Twitter and YouTube after dozens of recordings implicating the leader and his inner circle in corruption were leaked onto the sites. In September, only days after hosting the Internet Governance Forum, Erdoğan approved a law tightening his control of the internet in Turkey, adding to a series of other moves away from democratic norms.
The Islamic State crisis
The militant organization calling itself the Islamic State emerged by mid-year as the most brutal, ambitious, and startlingly successful jihadist group in the Middle East. The Sunni extremist force took control of much of western Iraq and eastern Syria, slaughtering or driving out those who would not adhere to its crude imitation of Islamic law, and cruelly murdering foreign aid workers and journalists who it could not sell for ransom.
Egypt's new dictactorship
Former army general and 2013 coup leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi completed the undoing of the varied hopes held by Egyptians who had forced authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak from office in 2011. After securing the presidency in a rigged vote, Sisi ruled without a parliament and oversaw a range of new rights abuses. The politicized courts abetted his efforts, dispatching hundreds of suspected opponents to prison and possible execution in hasty mass trials, and even dismissing all charges against Mubarak.
This post originally appeared on Buzzfeed. All images taken from Flickr/Creative Commons.
Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.