Top 5 Human Rights Failures of 2010

As the new year begins, most news sites have been putting together their lists of such trivial matters as the top 10 movies or the top 10 sporting moments of 2010. Much of this irrelevant blabber draws great attention, as people look back on fond memories of another year gone by.  But while this distraction takes place, we forget the great injustices and unfulfilled promises and look at our leaders and contemporaries through a rose-coloured monocle.

But if my resolutions of a new year are to fulfilled, I must not ignore the great disappointments in human rights of 2010. So, here is my list of the top 5 greatest human rights failures of 2010.

5. China ignores the political freedom of Nobel Peace Laureate, the world watches on – While it is clear that Liu Xiaobo has had his right to freedom of expression for a great many years, his plight and struggle was brought to the forefront once again by the Nobel Committee when they awarded him with 2010’s Nobel Peace Prize for “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China”. China has not only continued to keep Liu Xiaobo, an author of the human rights blueprint for China, “Charter 08”, in detention for “subverting state power”, in violation of his fundamental right to freedom of expression, but they also went one step further. This step involved making other pathetic States complicit in their human rights abuses by calling on them to decline their invitation to attend the awards ceremony. States that did not attend the ceremony include Russia, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Morocco, and Iraq, all of whom deserve their place at number 5 on our list, together with China.

4. Israeli continuation of settlement building in the West Bank – In the middle of peace talks aimed at resolving the Israel – Palestine conflict, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allowed a partial freeze on the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank to expire. The building of settlements in occupied territory is illegal under international law and it violates the rights of the Palestinian people to access their land and fully enjoy their property, as well as to clean water and adequate housing. How the Israelis plan to reach an agreement on a two-state solution in peace talks with settlement building continuing is a mystery. The US should also be mentioned here as they failed to pressure Israel into extending the settlement building freeze (or even  making it permanent) and, in early December 2010, the Obama administration even gave up on pressuring Israel into continuing the freeze. Israel and the US are good company for each other at number 4.

3. US whistleblower Manning in solitary confinement without trial – When the US detained Private Bradley Manning for disclosing secret US documents to whistleblower website Wikileaks they could have been forgiven. Unfortunately, the conditions of Private Manning’s detention have become public and are evidence of striking violations of his human rights. On 23 December 2010, the Guardian newspaper reported that claims had been made that Private Manning was being held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. It is also alleged that this treatment has been the norm for Private Manning since his arrest in July 2010, a startlingly long period to be held in solitary. But, if we put this all in context, Private Manning is in solitary confinement for leaking secret documents only. I was always under the assumption that solitary confinement was for dangerous prisoners and for acts committed in prison, not outside. He has been held without trial since July 2010 and in conditions that at the very least amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.  The US has already been implicated in lower entries of our Top 5, but this at number 3 is their first solo nomination. For shame.

2. Iran holds woman on death row for adultery – Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother, was convicted of adultery in Iran and sentenced to death by stoning. Despite pleas from human rights organisations and various governments, Iran has been defiant in its plans to put this woman to death. Ms Ashtiani has stated that she was under duress when she confessed to committing adultery, leading to questions of whether she was afforded to the fullest extent her right to a fair trial and whether her confession was fairly obtained. Additionally, stoning in this case is likely to involve burying Ms Ashtiani up to her breast and then pelting her with stones until she dies. This cannot but be considered inhuman and degrading treatment, if not torture, a grave violation of human rights. We at the Human Rights Forum Blog are also against the death penalty under any circumstances as a violation of the fundamental right to life. Iran, position number 2 is yours.

1. President Obama prepares executive order permitting indefinite detention – Many people may criticise me for singling out the US on an alarmingly frequent rate in this Top 5, especially considering that there are many other States where human rights violations would appear to occur as a matter of course. However, the US views itself as a beacon of light in the field of protecting human rights and believes that its record is beyond question. So, surely we should hold them to a higher standard, should we not? Accordingly, when Barack Obama’s administration prepared an executive order, bypassing congress and the courts, that sets up a new legal regime for indefinite detention, my immediate reaction was, “how the hell can this guy go from wanting to close down Guantanamo Bay to not only keeping it open but to allowing his people to keep those guys there indefinitely?” I still do not have a good answer to this question, but I am duly concerned. The right to be brought promptly to trial is fundamental. Yet, the executive order allows indefinite detention without trial, so detainees at Guantanamo Bay might as well forget a civilian trial, heck, even a military trial. The US knows that it cannot successfully prosecute prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in civilian courts because many of them were tortured and any evidence obtained under those circumstances will be inadmissible in a US civilian court (as it should be). But rather than take responsibility for their actions in interrogating terror suspects, the US prefers to hold them without trial. President Obama you have earned the number 1 spot this year.

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