From the downfall of North African regimes to the humanitarian interventions in Ivory Coast and Libya, 2011 appears to have been the year when citizens and leaders took a stand on human rights.
Scan the headlines and you might feel like the world is going down the tubes. War, famine, power struggles, economic collapse, climate change – none of these problems seem to be going away, and some problems seem to be getting worse by the day.
But in at least one area – human rights – there seems to be some major progress, both because of citizen activism from below and political leadership from above.
Three major dictatorships have fallen across North Africa – in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya – at least partly at the hands of their own people. Citizen protests spread as far away as Bahrain and Yemen, Malawi and Swaziland, and while Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has held onto power through a brutal repression that has killed thousands of Syrians, it has come at the cost of his country’s economic and political isolation.
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