Next Monday, Kenyans will go to the polls for what are regarded as the most important general elections in the country’s history. But these voters face a less than inspiring choice. Regardless of whom they elect, it is doubtful that the process will result in a much-needed transformation of the dominant political culture, which is characterized by ethnic favoritism, widespread corruption, and impunity for human rights violations.
Driven by a growing fear of its own people and their demands for better governance, the Sudanese regime is intensifying its assault on humanitarian organizations and human rights activists, both at home and abroad.
In April 2012, President Obama went all-in rhetorically when he asserted that preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a "core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States." Such statements are in part an outgrowth of the American public's horror at the genocide and atrocities of recent decades in places like Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur. But as the limited U.S. response to the ongoing conflict in Syria illustrates, there is not yet a full understanding of the centrality of preventing mass atrocities to our national security.
Charles Taylor, one of West Africa’s most infamous political figures, was arrested and handed over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2006 to be tried for crimes committed during that country’s brutal civil war. Last month, after a trial that lasted almost five years, featured 115 witness testimonies, and cost approximately $250 million, the court found Taylor guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, sexual slavery, and the conscription of child soldiers. The prosecution requested an 80-year prison sentence. Today, the former Liberian president was sentenced to 50 years, to be served in a British correctional facility. Taylor’s legal team is likely to appeal.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been mired in severe instability and violent conflict since 1994, with rival militias, foreign governments’ proxy forces, and ordinary civilians clashing against a backdrop of underdeveloped social services, lucrative natural resources, and pervasive lack of government accountability. A small step forward came in 2009, when a peace agreement provided for the absorption of a major rebel group into the Congolese national army. Last month, however, the rebels’ former leader, Bosco Ntaganda, defected from the army along with hundreds of soldiers, launching a fresh rebellion and plunging the eastern DRC back into conflict. Violence between the newly baptized M23 rebel group and government forces has displaced at least 45,000 people since April 27, and there are reports that Ntaganda has returned to his past practice of forcibly recruiting child soldiers.
Côte d’Ivoire was once a promising model of economic prosperity and stability for West Africa, but in the last decade alone it has fallen prey to two civil wars, untold human misery, and large-scale impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations. The complex problems currently besetting the country are linked to the failure of its leaders to both commit to and successfully foster genuine democratic principles and practices.
At the end of November, a Kenyan High Court judge ruled that Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir should be arrested “should he ever set foot in Kenya.” The decision is a welcome sign that Kenya’s judiciary is emerging from its long subservience to the country’s powerful and often unaccountable executive branch, and that international law might soon be catching up with more alleged war criminals.
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.