14 Shocking Global Human Rights Violations of 2013
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From rampant violence and sexual abuse against women, to the commission of crimes against humanity by dictators, 2013 was a year filled with pervasive human rights violations worldwide. Government response to the atrocities was disappointing, marked by lack of transparency and accountability, blatant malevolence and a disregard for human life. Yet, international human rights advocates remained tenacious, inciting massive protests and public condemnation in an effort to demand an end to the culture of impunity. Here are some of most outrageous travesties of justice that captured our attention and had us up in arms this year.
1. Unsafe labor conditions in Bangladesh led to world’s worst garment industry tragedy as thousands died in horrific building collapse.
On April 24, the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which housed six factories that produce clothing for Western brands, collapsed, killing over 1000 factory workers and injuring over 2500 people. While the owners of the factory came under fire for ignoring previous warnings of cracks in the wall, many pointed the blame at global corporations like Walmart and the Gap for exploiting workers for cheap labor and failing to provide adequate fire and building safeguards in factories where their products are made. Worldwide protests ensued with a view to putting pressure on major retailers to sign a legally binding accord aimed at improving labor conditions in Bangladesh, which to date has 100 signatories.
2. Egypt’s epidemic of violence and sexual abuse resulted in more than 600 deaths and 91 women assaulted in four days of riots at Tahrir Square.
On the first anniversary of the election of President Mohamed Morsi on June 30, thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in Tahrir Square in Cairo demanding the dictator’s resignation. During the four days of protests, at least 91 women were attacked and sexually assaulted by mobs, while government leaders and police stood by and failed to intervene. Some women required extensive medical surgery after being subjected to brutal gang rapes and sexual assault with sharp objects. After the protests, survivors came forward to tell their stories and demand better protections for women. While the protests led to the end of Morsi’s presidency, the government downplayed the violence, prompting international calls to improve law enforcement and bring perpetrators to justice. These actions proved fruitless, as security forces again came under fire in August for using live ammunition against citizens resulting in 638 deaths.
3. Burma committed ethnic cleansing against thousands of Rohingya Muslims; 28 children hacked to death and mass graves uncovered.
Burma’s quasi-civilian government was accused of committing crimes against humanity in the Rakhine State for forcibly displacing more than 125,000 Rohingya Muslims, the religious minority. A Human Rights Watch report revealed that authorities denied tens of thousands of stateless Muslims access to humanitarian aid, destroyed mosques, conducted mass arrests and issued a public statement promoting ethnic cleansing. Security forces stood aside and directly assisted Arakanese mobs in attacking and killing Muslim communities. In October, at least 70 Rohingya were killed in a day-long massacre in which 28 children hacked to death. Four mass gravesites were uncovered. The persecution stems from a long internal conflict in Burma essentially emanating from an arbitrary citizenship law passed in 1982 which denies Burmese citizenship to Rohingya on discriminatory ethnic grounds. In recent times, lack of rule of law has led to thousands of Rohingya fleeing the country.
4. North Korea’s large-scale human rights abuses revealed: 120,000 prisoners held in gulags, citizens starved and publicly executed by firing squad.
North Korea’s appalling human rights record is no secret. Following the death of Kim Jong-il in 2011, any hope of improvement in the country was short-lived with the appointment of successor, Kim Jong-un. The young dictator quickly became more ruthless than his father, inflicting mass atrocities against his population. In September, a UN investigation revealed shocking evidence from defectors who compared life in DPRK to that of the German-run concentration camps in WWII. Prisoners in the gulags lucky enough to escape described atrocities including witnessing a woman forced to drown her own baby in a bucket. 120,000 people are still thought to be held in gulags. Public executions by firing squad have also continued at unprecedented levels under Jong-un’s rule, including the execution of the dictator’s own uncle and former girlfriend. The Security Council has been criticized for failing to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court, a move that seems unlikely given North Korea’s long alliance with China.