2011 Highlights: Human Rights in the Rear View Mirror

As the year comes to a close, Article 3 takes pause to reflect on a breathtaking year in human rights. From the Cairo streets to Wall Street, people around the globe demanded freedom, dignity and equality - in some cases toppling governments. Social media tools enabled human rights to go viral unlike anything seen before. Democratic elections took place in Eqypt, Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia. The U.S. Secretary of State publicly stands on the side of LGBT rights.

In looking back on the sweeping events, here are our top picks of the most notable stories and moments of 2011.

Death of Two Notorious Dictators: Col Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, and one of the world’s most brutal tyrants, met his end after months of intense fighting between Gaddafi loyalists and rebel fighters. Kim Jong Il, leader of the world’s most reclusive country, died suddenly. News of his death was kept secret for two days. We hope 2012 ushers in the fall of another: President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

A Sad Farewell: The global human rights community mourns the loss of Tim Hetherington,Vaclav Havel and Wangari Maathai.

Most Visceral Videos: (1) A defenseless Egyptian woman was viciously beat in Cairo by helmeted officers. The incident was caught on video and ignited a furor by pro-democracy women and activists around the globe. (2) A powerful short film produced by Human Rights Watch on their behind-the-scenes work in Egypt, Libya and Syria during the Arab protests.

Defining Moment:Nobel Peace Prize officials underscored the importance of bringing women to the peace table by awarding this year’s prize to three extraordinary women: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman.

One-Year Anniversary of An Unforgettable Act:December 17, 2010, a fruit vendor named Mohammed Bouaziz set himself ablaze in Tunisia. This single act of fatal defiance was the spark that ignited a revolution through-out the Middle East and North Africa, which still rages on today in the region. One year later, Bouaziz remains an unforgettable symbol of the "Arab Spring."

Unleashed Uprisings: Without question, 2011 was the year of revolutions and protests. Singularly the most breathtaking was the "Arab Spring", followed next by the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Other countries who often severely crack down on protesters and dissidents such as China and Russia might take heed in 2012.

The Newest Nation: Sudan split into two countries and South Sudan became the world's newest nation. South Sudan officially celebrated its independence on July 9th in Juba.

Historic Resolution: Multilateral intervention on humanitarian grounds in Libya was widely deemed an unprecedented success because the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine was finally invoked by the UN Security Council to protect civilians. For more discussion, visit Will To Intervene.

Extraordinary Philanthropy: Billionaire George Soros gives $100 million (USD) in the form of a ten year “challenge grant” to Human Rights Watch, the largest grant ever made by Soros to a nongovernmental organization.

Most Notable Field Reports: Atlantic Philanthropies commissioned Jonathan Fanton along with Zachary Katznelson to write a report on Human Rights and Philanthropy. The result: Human Rights and International Justice: Challenges and Opportunities at an Inflection Point. Two other landmark reports worth reading, if you missed them: Untapped Potential: European Foundation Funding for Women and Girls by Mama Cash and Steadfast in Protest: a 2011 report on the situation of human rights defenders worldwide by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

On Courage and Inspiration: Olivier Bercault and Eve Ensler, two veteran activists each cut from a different cloth but sewn together for defying the odds against cancer and trauma. Olivier, a war crimes investigator and human rights researcher, bravely recovered from life-threatening injuries resulting from a near fatal automobile accident. Eve, an activist and playwright, fought uterine cancer with grace and today, healthy, she continues to advocate for Congolese women via the City of Joy.

A Noteworthy New Film: Last month, we had the chance to see sneak preview of the powerful new film: Miss Bala, produced by actor and producer Diego Luna (Milk and Y tu mamá también). The film is Mexico's official selection for the Oscars and will premiere across the U.S. in January 2012. The film, which is drawing raves for its superb acting and innovative style, tackles the subject of Mexico's drug war from the perspective of a naïve beauty pageant contestant.

Most Overlooked Place:Somalia, a bleak and lawless country fraught with famine, drought, disease, piracy and warring factions which, in combination, have cause nearly 1 million deaths.

Decent into Chaos: Syria's unrest continues to spiral into violent conflict. Most international observer's fear the deteriorating situation may be prolonged and bloody with civilians suffering the most at the hands of the Assad government. It's time to "end this tragedy."

“Flickers of Progress”: Secretary Clinton makes an unprecedented visit to Myanmar (Burma), which included a meeting with oppositional leader Aung San Suu Kyi, to test their commitment to reform and human rights after years of dictatorship and isolation.

Favorite Tweet: “I'd like to think God let Havel and Hitchens pick the third.” By Joshua Treviño (@jstrevino) tweeting on the death of Kim Jong Il.

A Few Worthwhile Reads:The Idea of Justiceby Amartya Sen; Haiti After the Earthquake by Paul Farmer; Unbrokenby Laura Hildebrand; and The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the Frontline in the Global Fight for Women’s Rights, seven stories edited by Minky Warden.

Stunning Statistic: The world’s population hits 7 billion.

Trends to watch and/or support in 2012:

Technology and Internet Freedom: We plan to stay attuned to the human rights implications of technology, particularly the threat to cyber activists and human rights defenders utilizing technology tools. We are keeping an eye on Sergey Brin and his recently formed foundation, the Brin Wojcicki Foundation, as well, we like to follow Arvind Ganesan and remain curious about Access.

International Justice & Accountability: If “the arc of history bends towards justice,” then 2012 should be a defining year for International Justice. We encourage more support and attention towards the strengthening of international justice mechanisms and institutions. We like to follow and support everything and anything by Richard Dicker as well as the Coalition for the International Criminal Court.

Modern Day Slavery: A shout out to Google.org for donating $11.5 million (USD) to fight global slavery! The donation is believed to be one of the largest corporate initiatives ever to fight modern slavery. We like to follow Humanity United, whose mission and grantees seeks to put an end to the practice.

Photo credit from top to bottom: Motley News (Occupy Wall Street), PBS (Clinton and Suu Kyi).