Five Human Rights stories you probably didn’t know about

Over the past year, thousands of civilians were brutally murdered during confrontations in Syria, people in Mali fell victim to an escalation in human rights abuses and women in Afghanistan and Pakistan continued to suffer great discrimination. But underneath the radar, away from international attention, governments and armed groups are also abusing the rights of men, women and children in many other countries. Here are five of them: Bolivia Survivors of human rights violations – including torture and enforced disappearances – committed during the military and authoritarian regimes (1964-1982) and their relatives have been sitting in front of the Ministry of Justice in La Paz for nearly a year. They complain that the authorities are denying them full reparations, including economic compensation, for the abuses they or their loved ones suffered in the past. In March 2004, a law was passed regarding the victims’ right to be compensated for the abuses suffered. According to official information, of the 6,000 applications received, only 1,714 people were qualified as beneficiaries. All other applications were rejected.Survivors of abuse and their relatives complain that conditions imposed by the authorities to claim any compensation have been extremely restrictive. Authorities would request, for example, medical certificates from torture sufferers, death certificates and other documents which would be difficult or impossible to obtain. On 8 February this year, a man attacked Victoria López, one of the victims sitting in front of the Ministry. He shouted at her, complaining about the presence of the crowd on the street and hit her with a stick. The man was handed over to the police, who then released him without interrogation.Guinea Bissau Ten months after a military coup in April 2012 imposed repressive measures to stifle criticism of the new authorities, attacks on human rights and the suppression of fundamental freedoms are still commonplace in this West African country. Demonstrations remain banned, journalists are hassled, harassed or arrested, and extra-judicial executions from the time of the coup have not been investigated while their perpetrators are still at large. Last October freelance journalist António Ali Silva fled the country after soldiers went to his house and reportedly threatened to kill him. Silva had previously been arrested and beaten for writing about the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces in his blog. As well as violations of civil and political rights, the economic and social situation has deteriorated sharply in Guinea Bissau following the coup, leading to a precarious humanitarian situation. Food is scarce and expensive, schools have been closed and hospitals lack essential medicines. Macedonia Being Roma in Macedonia is not easy, and for Romani women, the situation is even harder as they face high levels of discrimination when trying to access education, find a job or receive health care. The female student drop-out rate is very high, which Amnesty International believes is due to, amongst other things, the fact that stereotypes about how Romani parents fail to value girls’ education weigh heavily on teaching staff’s expectations of Roma schoolchildren. The authorities have done very little to improve the situation – international pressure has only led to half-hearted measures that have never been effectively implemented.   In January 2013, Amnesty International published a briefing on the Macedonian government’s failure to take special measures to guarantee the rights of Romani women and girls. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is reviewing its findings.   United Arab Emirates Hidden beneath the United Arab Emirates’ glittering façade of lavishly appointed skyscrapers, and the assured smiles of the country’s human rights officials lies a shoddy track record on human rights. In the UAE of today, torture is carried out with near-impunity and opposition activists including prisoners of conscience are routinely detained and held – some for many months – without charge or trial. In 2011, five dissidents were sentenced to prison terms. Foreign workers, including female domestic workers, continue to be denied substantive rights. Women are discriminated against in law and practice and the death sentence continues to be imposed. In January 2013, the UN Human Rights Council scrutinized the UAE’s human rights record, after it pledged in 2008 to make significant progress. The night before, 94 activists were put on trial for criticizing the government. The coincidence of these two events highlights, so far, promises that are barely skin deep.   Viet Nam Largely off the media radar, Viet Nam is turning into one of South East Asia’s largest prisons for human rights defenders. Over the past two years, the government has intensified its crackdown on freedom of expression, imprisoning dozens of bloggers, peaceful political activists, writers, lawyers, business people and even songwriters. Human rights defenders often face decade-long prison sentences following trials that are far from fair and transparent. The courts use Orwellian-sounding charges, including “conducting anti-state propaganda” or “activities aimed at overthrowing the government”, despite freedom of expression being guaranteed in the Vietnamese Constitution. On 24 September 2012, for example, three Vietnamese bloggers were sentenced to between four and 12 years in prison for “spreading propaganda against the state”. Nguyen Van Hai, Ta Phong Tan and Phan Thanh Hai, co-founders of the Free Vietnamese Journalists Club in 2007, had been campaigning for a free press and other pro-democracy issues.The trial lasted only a few hours, while several of the bloggers’ supporters and relatives were arrested to stop them from attending the proceedings.