The recent pressure on civil society and independent media in Kenya is not only a significant threat to democracy in a geopolitically important country, but also the predictable outcome of the international community’s failure to punish earlier, comparable state-driven repression in Ethiopia, another African nation that is viewed in Western capitals as a strategic partner.
This week, Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly approved a new constitution, taking a crucial step forward in the democratic transition that began after the overthrow of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. The constitution has been widely hailed for its guarantees of fundamental human rights and civil liberties, including freedom of conscience, due process, and freedom of worship. But if Tunisian activists had not lobbied vigorously for the last-minute passage of amendments to safeguard media independence, the new constitution might have been received as a major defeat for freedom of the press.
The current peace negotiations on Syria and South Sudan hold out the hope of mitigating and even resolving two of the world’s most destructive civil wars. But the talks are undermined by the glaring absence of women, who account for most of the millions of people displaced by the conflicts and will have an important role to play in any postconflict political process.
In Egypt, the “revolution is coming no matter what,” says Ahmed Hassan, protagonist of the documentary film The Square, which will be released tomorrow. The film tells the interwoven stories of activists who converge on Tahrir Square in early 2011 for the mass protests that brought down President Hosni Mubarak, then carry on the struggle for freedom as the revolution veers off course under an interim military government and the presidency of Mohamed Morsi.
At the end of 2013, the Chinese government announced an adjustment to its “one-child” policy, allowing couples to have two children if either spouse is an only child. Some commentators applauded the change as a human rights improvement, but a closer look suggests that it will have little effect on the Communist Party regime’s intrusive management of Chinese citizens’ most personal decisions.
There are two conflicting narratives that describe the current territorial standoff in the East China Sea. One favors China and isolates Japan. The other, which makes China the odd man out, has been all but ignored by those it would so clearly benefit.
Around the world, millions of people carried on the struggle for freedom and human rights in 2013. There were gains, to be sure, but unfortunately many more setbacks. Here are some of the best and worst developments in human rights over the past year.