Hoping for better human rights

Hoping for better human rights

Last year was marred by human rights violations. We all hope to see improvements this year.

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to mainland dissident Liu Xiaobo for his continuous fight for human rights and the rule of law.

Liu was arrested in June 2009 for "inciting subversion of state power". He was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

The award did not change much in terms of human rights in China.

Milk activist Zhao Lianhai was also jailed for "disturbing social order". He fought for the rights of parents whose children became ill from drinking tainted milk.

These high-profile imprisonments reveal the central government's unwillingness to accept and respect fundamental human rights, such as freedom of speech.

The central government may have succeeded in suppressing public opinions in the short run, but as education and civic awareness grow, people will become more disgruntled under the rule of terror. Social harmony can only be achieved through implementation of the rule of law.

In Moscow, a high-profile political trial took place. Tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was found guilty of new charges of embezzlement and money laundering last year.

Khodorkovsky was first arrested in 2003 on charges of fraud. He was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2005.

In 2009, a new trial of Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev began in Moscow for fresh charges on embezzlement and money laundering. In December 2010, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment. Khodorkovsky could be in jail until 2017.

The case has been dubbed a political trial manoeuvred by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin from behind the scenes. Critics claim that Khodorkovsky was "silenced" for his support of the opposition party.

This form of rule by terror shows the lack of human rights. Citizens are not protected by law. In a trial where the victim was denied even the basic due process rights, Russia has moved closer towards re-establishing the authoritative rule under the Soviets

But the human rights offences do not end there. The clampdown on WikiLeaks and the trial of Julian Assange may have violated the freedom of expression, according to the UN High Commission on Human Rights. The case will be closely watched this year.

Last but not least, in a few days' time we will see the results of the Sudanese referendum on whether to remain as one country or to be split into two. The outcome may well be our first test of the integrity of law and order in 2011.

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