This year’s epic human rights wins
Over the last year, almost seven million Amnesty International supporters have taken action - protesting, writing, petitioning and much more - to defend and advance human rights everywhere.
It’s had a huge impact: people who have been unfairly imprisoned have been released; laws have been changed and brave people around the world have stood up and taken action!
Prepared to be inspired by our end-of-year-round-up of 2018’s epic human rights wins…
In February, Teodora del Carmen Vasquez was finally freed from jail in El Salvador, when a court reduced her outrageous 30-year sentence. She had already spent a decade behind bars after having a stillbirth, which led to her being accused and convicted for having an abortion - illegal in El Salvador. From petitions to protests, we had been campaigning for Teodora to be freed since 2015. Amnesty Norway even took over the airwaves to broadcast a distress signal to raise awareness of her case. Amnesty International continues to campaign for decriminalization of abortion in El Salvador to prevent future cases like Teodora’s, where women are punished rather than having their reproductive rights protected.
In Mexico, Sergio Sánchez was released from prison after spending almost eight years jailed for murder based on false and inconsistent evidence and following his conviction in a flawed trial. His lawyers believe that the work of Amnesty supporters, who participated in marches and demonstrations, was fundamental to achieving his release.
We also saw the release of detained activists, journalists and bloggers in Ethiopia, including Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience Eskinder Nega. Amnesty supporters wrote numerous letters to Eskinder and it didn’t go unnoticed.
I received letters of support from Amnesty International through my family. It helped keep my morale up, and it lifted the spirits of my family
In Ukraine, the government approved a new curriculum for primary schools which, for the first time, includes a human rights component. Amnesty Ukraine’s tireless advocacy and participation in the working group tasked with curriculum development has contributed to such a positive outcome.
The death sentences of 14 prisoners in Benin were commuted after concerted advocacy efforts by Amnesty. We visited the men in prison, met with the Minister of Justice and President of the National Assembly to call for the commutation of the death sentences, and set up an online and offline petition. This came after positive developments in Gambia, where a moratorium on executions was announced.
We saw the power of solidarity in Ukraine in March, after police pandered to groups who used threats and violence against demonstrations for women’s rights to mark International Women’s Day. They falsely accused one of the organizers, Olena Shevchenko, of breaching rules of public assembly for a “provocative” banner carried by some of the demonstrators. By the time she went to court on 15 March, Amnesty Ukraine had issued a social media call which reached thousands of people, and the courtroom was packed with journalists and supporters, as well as people from foreign embassies. The court ruled she had committed no offence and closed the case.
We had some rare good news from Myanmar in April, when numerous prisoners of conscience were among 8,000 people released in a prisoner amnesty announced by the new President Win Myint. We had been campaigning for the release of Kachin pastors Dumdaw Nawng Lat and Langjaw Gam Seng and Lahpai Gam, who were among those released.
In early April, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Constitutional Court ruled that victims of wartime rape and other civilian victims of war should not be required to pay court fees in cases when their reparation claims are rejected. Together with TRIAL International, we have long been advocating for the abolition of fees in such cases, and this move may encourage other survivors to seek justice and reparation.
The amazing result of the Irish referendum which overturned the constitutional ban on abortions marks a big victory for women’s rights. It was an outcome arising from years of dedicated work by activists, including Amnesty International. In 2015, we released the report, Ireland: She is not a criminal – The Impact of Ireland’s Abortion Law, where we documented the barriers and stigmas associated with abortion through personal testimonies from women. In 2018, the importance of people power was highlighted yet again, as men and women travelled back to Ireland to vote and make their voices heard.
This is a campaign about hope, this is about realising and prioritising women’s health and safety. That, in itself, is a fantastic turning point
It was great to see the release of opposition leader and prisoner of conscience Anwar Ibrahim after the surprising election result in Malaysia, which saw Najib Razak defeated by his political mentor Mahathir Mohamad. His release is a landmark moment for human rights in the country and offers a real hope of more reforms.
At the end of May, Burkina Faso's parliament adopted a new penal code that abolishes the death penalty in the penal code.
Moldova’s Ministry of Education adopted a human rights education curriculum developed by Amnesty Moldova for primary and high schools. This success – a first in the region – follows a pilot initiative, in which close to 700 students from 22 schools participated.
Following our extensive work on Syria, the US-led Coalition finally announced its re-evaluation of previously closed cases regarding accusations of civilian casualties. They initially denied and condemned our findings on the civilian casualties in Raqqa, before further new evidence from our investigations came to light. At the end of July, the Coalition actually admitted to 77 of the 79 cases we documented on our June report, and upped their civilian death figures in Raqqa by 300%. We still believe this is only the tip of the iceberg, and we’ve launched a new Decoders project called “Strike Tracker” and will be partnering with other organizations, including Airwars, to build a much more comprehensive picture of the civilian deaths caused during the offensive. We’ll make our findings public in early 2019.
We launched a landmark report on accountability for crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya population in Myanmar. The report identified specific military and security units, as well as 13 individual officials, suspected of perpetrating crimes against humanity. Two days before the launch, the EU announced sanctions against seven security force officials – six of whom were on our list.
Artist Liu Xia was finally allowed to leave China for Germany in July, after almost eight years of illegal house arrest, where she’d been held ever since her husband Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. During that time, she was closely monitored by state security agents and could only be reached by phone in limited circumstances. Earlier this year, Amnesty International and PEN launched a campaign calling for the release of Liu Xia, with a host of well-known writers reading excerpts from her poems.
17-year-old Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi was released 21 days short of completing an eight-month prison sentence. She was wrongfully imprisoned by Ofer military court in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on the premise that she posed a threat to armed and heavily protected soldiers.
In Mauritania, two anti-slavery activists were released, after serving two years of their three-year imprisonment. Abdallahi Matallah Seck and Moussa Biram spoke to us “Your support made me feel that we are not alone in our fight for justice in Mauritania,” said Biram. “I would like to express my gratitude to each Amnesty member. Thanks for your amazing work to release anti-slavery activists in Mauritania. Thanks for standing against injustice. We are proud of your work.”
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska’s National Assembly adopted the Law on Protection of Victims of Wartime Torture, which will finally recognize victims of sexual violence, including rape, committed during the conflict and provide them redress and support. Amnesty, along with local partners, has long campaigned for legislation of this kind to guarantee access to justice and reparation for survivors of wartime sexual violence.
Taner Kılıç, the Honorary Chair of Amnesty International Turkey, was released from prison on 15 August after more than 14 months behind bars. He was reunited with his family after being released by a court in Istanbul. Over a million people around the world called for the release of Taner and other human rights defenders imprisoned in Turkey. His ordeal is not over as his trial continues. On his release, Taner thanked his supporters and said he hopes the campaign for his release helps to highlight the situation of other victims of politically motivated prosecutions in Turkey. Taner was arrested in June 2017 on baseless charges of “membership of a terrorist organization”.
After 735 days behind bars, the prominent land and human rights activist Tep Vanny was finally released. She was amongst a large number of human rights activists and protesters in Cambodia to receive a royal pardon, just six months before the end of her sentence for peacefully protesting. More than 200,000 people around the world had joined our campaign for her release.
I hold out my hand to thank those who have campaigned to get me free and to allow me to reunite with my children and parents. You comforted me and stopped me from feeling alone. I appreciate your kindness and your work to improve human rights around the world.
Days after an Amnesty International communication, 38,000 supporters took online action against mass detentions of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities held in detention in northwest China. One of the Kazakhs we spoke to in Almaty, Kazakhstan, believes that the release of her 13-year-old daughter was due to our campaigning efforts on her case. Additionally, a Uighur man in the United Arab Emirates was released after our campaign to prevent his forcible return to China.
At long last, India’s Supreme Court decriminalized consensual same-sex relations between adults and added that any discrimination on basis of sexual orientation is a violation of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
Amnesty’s research and campaigning to expose the widespread labour abuses in Qatar has been an ongoing effort. In September, the authorities announced they had abolished the exit permit for most migrant workers. The permit previously prevented migrant workers from leaving Qatar without their employer’s permission. It is one of the first major reforms implemented as part of Qatar’s partnership with the International Labour Organization and follows years of Amnesty research and campaigning to expose widespread labour abuse in Qatar, including at sites linked to the 2022 World Cup.
The European Parliament echoed Amnesty’s calls and voted through a through a resolution calling for an international ban on fully autonomous weapons systems or ‘killer robots’. It aims to prevent the development, proliferation and use of autonomous weapon systems that can select their own targets and kill without human involvement in decision-making.
Rwandan opposition leader, Victoire Ingabire, and popular singer, Kizito Mihigo, were released from prison after being pardoned by President Kagame. Although they are still under restrictions, we acknowledged the releases as a step in the right direction. Victoire Ingabire’s conviction on charges relating to views she had expressed violated her freedom of expression. There were also violations of her fair trial rights. Amnesty has been raising concerns around Ingabire’s case for several years.
On World Day Against the Death Penalty, the new Malaysian government announced that it planned to fully abolish the death penalty. This built on years of advocacy in Malaysia, including with former opposition members who are now in power. In the days that followed, the death penalty was also found to be unconstitutional in the state of Washington, making it the 20th abolitionist State in the US.
Blogger “Mother Mushroom” was released after two and a half years in prison in Viet Nam. Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, also known by her blogging pseudonym, Mẹ Nấm (Mother Mushroom) was arrested on 10 October 2016, held incommunicado until 20 June 2017 and sentenced to 10 years in prison on 29 June 2017.
"This good news, which comes as a relief after two years behind bars, should also be a reminder of Vietnam's worsening record of jailing anyone who criticises the regime," Nicholas Bequelin of Amnesty International said in a statement.
"While Mother Mushroom is no longer imprisoned, the condition for her release was exile and there are over one hundred people languishing in jail because they peacefully spoke their mind - in public, on blogs or on Facebook."
Following years of campaigning, the North Gauteng High Court ruled the South African government could not issue a license for proposed titanium mining in Xolobeni without the consent of indigenous communities. It was a huge win for the people of Xolobeni who have long fought for their right to be consulted and give or withhold consent regarding decisions about mining on their ancestral land.
“We live in a peaceful, beautiful area where we share everything – food, land and love. The elites have discovered what we have and want to take it away from us,” said Nonhle Mbuthuma, a human rights activist from the Amadiba community. “Some of my colleagues have been killed, and I know I could be too. But I am not scared.”
The proposal to put Swiss law above international law was defeated after Swiss people voted to defend human rights in a recent referendum.
The Swiss people showed that they had not fallen for deceptive promises but instead used the ballot box to send out a clear signal that they want to live in a society where human rights apply to everyone
We published our ‘Not Enough Impact Report, to celebrate Amnesty’s achievements in the last year, and the brave people that have helped make them possible. More importantly, we took the opportunity to reflect on what is still to be done, and the people who persist in the struggle against injustice.
We launched Write for Rights, the world’s biggest letter writing campaign. This year, Amnesty is shining a spotlight on brave women human rights defenders who have been jailed, tortured and even killed for their work. We want to show them they are not alone and that people all over the world are inspired by their bravery. You’ve been standing with them and writing thousands of letters of support. We can’t thank you enough for all your support, campaigning and letter-writing. It truly changes lives!