World Human Rights Day

We look at three significant moments in 2011

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Human Rights Day on December 10 aims to highlight the work of human rights defenders around the world. Observed every year, the date commemorates the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Whether they act as individuals or groups, anonymously or otherwise, defenders of human rights work to end discrimination by campaigning for effective laws, reporting on and investigating violations and supporting victims. We look at three particularly memorable moments for human rights defenders and activists around the world in 2011.

Long-awaited Khmer Rouge trial begins
Backed by the UN, a genocide tribunal has begun its second trial, this time taking to task the highest level of surviving leaders from the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, which saw some two million people killed
or starved to death in the ’70s. Shown in the main image, from right, are Ieng Sary, the regime’s foreign minister; Khieu Samphan, the head of state; and Nuon Chea, second in command to the late Pol Pot, who will all face trial for crimes against humanity. A fourth, Ieng Thirith (pictured above left), one of the Khmer Rouge’s founding members and the most powerful woman, has been deemed incapable of standing trial, while Cambodia’s most wanted – Pol Pot, the founder and leader of the Khmer Rouge who died in 1998 – will, like many others who have also died, never be brought to justice. Survivors who lost family members have waited a long time for those responsible to be brought to trial, after the country originally asked the UN to help set up a tribunal back in the ’90s, with one finally established in 2006, but through which only one person has been convicted to date.

Nobel Peace Prize triumph for women
Three female activists and leaders were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. Pictured below, from left, are Yemeni journalist and pro-democracy activist Takawkul Karman, who has led a non-violent protest movement against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh for a number of years; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia and Africa’s first democratically elected female leader; and Leymah Gbowee, founder of a peace movement in Liberia that played a vital role in putting an end to the country’s violent civil war. When announcing the prize, the Nobel committee’s press release stated: ‘We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society’. The committee declared that the award be divided in three equal parts between the women for ‘their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.’

Posthumous human rights award for Tunisian fruit seller
Five Arab Spring activists, including Tunisian fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi, who sparked revolutions across the region after setting himself on fire, were honoured this year with Europe’s Sakharov human rights prize. Bouazizi, who succumbed to severe burn injuries, shared the prize with four other activists, including Egyptian blogger Asmaa Mahfouz and former Libyan prisoner Ahmed al-Zubair Ahmed al-Sanusi. They were recognised for contributing to ‘historic change in the Arab world’, according to a statement by European parliament president Jerzy Buzek, who went on to say that their actions were ‘a symbol for all those working for dignity and fundamental rights in the Arab world and beyond.’
For more on Human Rights Day, see www.un.org/events/humanrights

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