This week, human-rights abuses across the globe came under fresh scrutiny with the release of the annual report by Human Rights Watch. The extensive paper examines human-rights abuses in 90 countries throughout 2013, and tackles pervasive issues like child marriage in South Sudan, the human toll of constructing the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia, and the human-rights case for drug legalization.
However, even among the worst cases, a few countries stand out.
This week, diplomatic talks about Syria are finally taking place in Switzerland. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, singled out the on-going Syrian civil war as the deadliest conflict of last year.
Last August, a chemical-weapons attack in Damascus, Syria killed more than 1,000 people. Though President al-Assad claimed it was the work of the country’s rebels, Assad himself is widely believed to be the culprit.
With new apparent evidence of mass torture, the situation could be worse than previously thought. Roth condemns the international community's reaction to events inside Syria as "painfully narrow," and with over two million Syrians now displaced and 10 million in need of humanitarian aid, Syria remains susceptible to further abuses until a solution is reached.
Yes, human rights abuses take place at home, too. In 2013, the extent of the NSA's dystopian mass surveillance and data collection program was revealed, and with that, Edward Snowden bid farewell to the States indefinitely, flying to Russia without looking back. (If he did, he'd likely be charged with espionage.)
And the catch-all phrase "national security"? According to Roth, it's "an excuse of violating rights." And for all his promise, President Barack Obama has not closed Guantanamo Bay, and has not outlined a clear legal framework around the issue of drones, writes the Human Rights Watch paper:
With respect to drones, the Obama administration has not followed its own stated policies or made clear what legal framework it believes governs specific strikes. Though formally eschewing the Bush administration’s “global war on terrorism,” the Obama administration has asserted that it is in an armed conflict with the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and “associated forces” with no geographic boundaries. It has engaged in targeted killings in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, saying it is at war with these armed groups or claiming national self-defense, Roth, said in the report.
Egypt "feigned democracy" in 2013 by holding an election that was doomed from the start, according to Human Rights Watch: Egypt adopted the form, but not the substance, of democracy by permitting controlled elections.
Following the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood government, the newly installed government of Gen. Adbel Fattah al-Sisi cracked down on demonstrations in a wave of repression and killed hundreds of protestors. The Muslim Brotherhood was also declared a terrorist organization, and basic human rights were further restricted in the country.
Democratic Republic of Congo
In 2013, rebel group M23 finally laid down their weapons, and worked towards a political solution in the DRC after months of atrocities in the country.
Even though the rebels were seemingly defeated, a December 2013 U.N. report claimed that they continued to recruit soldiers from Rwanda, the neighboring nation that controversially supported them. Without that support, the group, which conducted a reign of terror including executions, sexual violence, and the recruitment of child soldiers, fell apart. However, the area remains vulnerable.