Aung San Suu Kyi

Photo: Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki

The depraved slaughter of civilians in Syria, which began with sniper fire on peaceful demonstrators and later degenerated into bombings of residential areas and execution-style killings of women and children, masks a darker truth.  While the violence of the current crackdown distinguishes Syria today, it emerges from decades of brutal dictatorship, and equally brutal dictatorships are alive and well across the globe.  They tend to get noticed only when particularly gross abuses take place or they escape attention almost entirely.  For close to one-fourth of the world’s population, intense repression has become routine.

Burma’s parliamentary by-elections on Sunday were seen as a make or break moment for the reform process that has taken place over the last two years. The country, long ruled by one of the world most repressive authoritarian regimes, inaugurated a new parliament and a nominally civilian government in early 2011, though both are still dominated by the military and its allies. The authorities have since taken a series of other steps, such as the release of some political prisoners that were designed to improve relations with democratic powers including the United States. The international community in turn has sought to engage the new leadership and encourage further reforms.

The year 2011 will be remembered as one of immense political and social change around the world, particularly the Middle East. On this International Human Rights Day, Freedom House looks back at a few of the best and worst developments of the year with respect to their long-term implications for the global state of human rights.

Hillary Clinton’s impending visit to Burma will be the first by a U.S. secretary of state in 50 years. It comes after a year of tentative reform by a nominally civilian government that has raised hopes for a more comprehensive political opening, but this optimism needs to be tempered by caution.

Freedom House urges member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and major trading partners - including India and China - to take immediate steps to impose targeted sanctions on Burma's military leaders.

Freedom House calls upon the Indian government to break its silence over the sham trial of Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and to pressure Rangoon to unconditionally release the Nobel peace laureate immediately.

Freedom House is deeply disturbed by Burma’s decision to put pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on trial again and calls on the Association of South-East Asian Nations to pressure the Burmese government for her release.

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