The popular movements across North Africa resonated with people in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in countries with repressive governments. Trade unionists, students and opposition politicians were inspired to organize demonstrations. People took to the streets because of their political aspirations, the quest for more freedom, and a deep frustration with a life in poverty. They protested against their desperate social and economic situation and the rise in living costs.
On 11 August 2011, Judge Patrícia Acioli was shot 21 times outside her home in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, by members of the Military Police. Her long track record of presiding over criminal cases implicating Brazilian police officers in human rights violations had made her a target of numerous death threats. In October, 11 police officers, including a commanding officer, were detained and charged with her killing. It was reported that, at the time of her death, Judge Acioli had been presiding over the investigation into allegations of extrajudicial executions and criminal activity by the policemen involved. Her death was a serious blow to the human rights movement in Brazil, but her tireless pursuit of justice remains an inspiration to countless others who, like Judge Acioli, refuse to let human rights violations go unchallenged.
As winds of political change blew in from the Middle East and North Africa, several governments in the Asia-Pacific region responded by increasing their efforts to retain power by repressing demands for human rights and dignity. At the same time, the success of uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt inspired human rights defenders, activists, and journalists in Asia to raise their own voices, using a combination of new technologies and old-fashioned activism to challenge violations of their rights.
Early one spring morning in a small village in Serbia, one of Europe’s biggest manhunts came to an end. General Ratko Mladić, wanted among other things for the murder of 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica, was finally set to face justice. Two months later Croatian Serb Goran Hadžić, the last remaining suspect wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, was also detained in Serbia and subsequently transferred to The Hague.
For the peoples and states of the Middle East and North Africa, 2011 was a truly momentous year. It was a year of unprecedented popular uprisings and tumult, a year in which the pent-up pressures, demands and protests of a rising generation swept aside a succession of veteran rulers who, almost until they fell, had appeared virtually unassailable. Others, at the year’s end, were still clinging to power but only through the most ruthless means, their futures hanging in the balance. The region as a whole was then still reeling amid the continuing tremors and aftershocks of the political and social earthquake that exploded in the first months of the year. Although much remained uncertain, the events of 2011 appeared likely to be every bit as significant for the peoples of the region as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire had been for the peoples of Europe and Central Asia.