In human rights activism, as in life, a new year brings fresh challenges as well as opportunities for change.
As 2013 kicks off, Amnesty International staff, members, and supporters around the world are gearing up for another year of hard-fought human rights campaigning.
Global campaigns are being waged to effect far-reaching human rights change – to win a bullet-proof Arms Trade Treaty, to further the march towards abolishing the death penalty and to demand dignity for the world’s poor who are disproportionately affected by human rights abuses.
But the organization also hopes to achieve human rights impact on a wide range of other issues at the local and regional levels in countries around the world.
We caught up with some staffers at the organization’s London-based International Secretariat, to find out what hopes they have for positive change in the year ahead.
Here is a glimpse at just a handful of the many situations they are keeping a close eye on.
"Around the world, we hope governments and UN bodies alike will take firm action in 2013 to ensure human rights are protected so that everyone can enjoy their dignity and freedom. We need an end to the selective condemnation and silence." – Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director, spoke about Syria, where brutal state repression of peaceful mass demonstrations snowballed into an internal armed conflict between government and opposition forces that has spread across the country – killing more than 60,000 men, women and children since February 2011, according to the UN.
"We’re hoping that in 2013 we’ll see the end – as soon as possible – of the UN Security Council’s alarming inability to act decisively in the face of a relentlessly increasing number of gross human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. Referring the dire situation in the country to the International Criminal Court would send a strong message that those who commit such abuses will be brought to justice.
At the same time, all countries with influence on parties to the conflict – not least those supplying weapons – should exert pressure to stop the indiscriminate attacks on residential areas that are exacting such a heavy toll on civilians and prepare to prevent, when the fighting stops, the deadly reprisals that are currently being threatened."
Paule Rigaud, Deputy Director of the Africa Programme, pointed to hopes that civilians would be better protected in conflicts around the continent:
"In African countries where armed conflict has put civilians at risk – including Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali – we would like to see security forces taking to heart their responsibility to protect civilians and refraining from committing human rights violations as they confront armed groups or terrorist threats. At the same time, armed groups must halt attacks against civilians."
Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor to Amnesty International, had this to say on his return from a meeting with the new Dominican President in late 2012:
"The time is ripe for the Dominican Republic to really reform its police to tackle the soaring rates of killings and torture they are implicated in – the new President has acknowledged the need for reform, and now political will must translate into concrete change for all Dominicans in 2013."
"We hope the recent public outrage over the shooting of a young schoolgirl in Pakistan and the death of a woman who was gang-raped in Delhi will translate into real change for ordinary women and girls across South Asia who face pervasive violence in their daily lives." – Catherine Baber, Deputy Director of the Asia-Pacific Programme.
"We hope states around the world will ensure the law effectively addresses gender-based violence and discrimination, including violence targeted at women because of their religion, ethnicity, caste or other identity. The law must be used to protect, not target, people seeking to exercise their rights without harm to others.
Human rights defenders, particularly those who defend women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights and those campaigning for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, are particularly targeted for discrimination, harassment and violence. The rights of all individuals, including human rights defenders, must be protected." – Stephanie Schlitt, researcher and policy adviser on gender.
"I’d like to see lawmakers, judges, and public officials take decisive, positive action to uphold equality before the law and reject discrimination wherever it occurs.
It’d be great, for example, to see African leaders condemning homophobic attacks and vetoing proposed legislation that targets gay men, lesbians, and bisexual and transgender people. I’d also like to end the year with a strong decision from the US Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and affirming equality in civil marriage." – Michael Bochenek, Director of Law and Policy.
"In 2013 we hope European countries and the EU as a whole take strong action to fight discrimination in Europe. In particular, the EU and its member states must effectively challenge discriminatory policies and practices against Roma and other minorities in education and housing.
We are hoping that the European Commission will start actively using its existing tools to ensure compliance of member states with the EU anti-discrimination law." – Marek Marczyski, Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Programme.
"We continue to witness governments that choose to imprison and harass people who speak out against repression. But for every Pussy Riot or Liu Xiaobo, I hope in 2013 that we continue to see thousands of people who will take action so that injustice cannot be ignored." – Emily Nevins, Campaigns Programme Director
"We hope that in 2013 governments will make good on their obligation to implement human rights education and training for all – in line with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training adopted just over a year ago. One of the greatest barriers to the implementation of human rights is lack of awareness and respect for them.
Human rights education empowers individuals to enjoy and exercise their rights and to respect and uphold the rights of others – while at the same time holding to account those who abuse and violate human rights.
Together with campaigning, advocacy and our research work, human rights education is a critical approach for Amnesty International, and others within the global human rights community, to achieve human rights change in 2013." – Sneh Aurora, International Human Rights Education Manager.